David Ho (L) and Yaoxing Huang (RenBio)

HIV re­searcher David Ho has a new line of at­tack on SARS-CoV-2, and his fledg­ling start­up is gun­ning for the clin­ic

The famed AIDS re­searcher David Ho start­ed off the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic work­ing to de­vel­op an an­ti­body against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but now he’s be­hind a new biotech that’s tak­ing a slight­ly dif­fer­ent ap­proach to fight the dis­ease.

Ho is a co-founder of Ren­Bio, which pulled in its first fundraise Thurs­day morn­ing with a $24 mil­lion Se­ries A, the com­pa­ny an­nounced. The biotech is pour­ing its first ef­forts in­to a bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­body tar­get­ing two sites on the SARS-CoV-2 spike pro­tein, and is tout­ing ac­tiv­i­ty against sev­er­al Covid-19 vari­ants of con­cern in­clud­ing strains orig­i­nat­ing from the UK, South Africa and Brazil, among oth­ers.

Funds from the raise are ex­pect­ed to help com­plete IND en­abling stud­ies and ad­vance a Phase I/II clin­i­cal tri­al for the bis­pe­cif­ic, dubbed RB-100, some­time around the end of 2021. Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, which hous­es Ho’s lab and li­censed the an­ti­body to Ren­Bio, has re­tained an eq­ui­ty stake in the com­pa­ny, the size of which was not dis­closed.

Yaox­ing Huang is Ren­Bio’s oth­er co-founder, one of Ho’s col­leagues at Co­lum­bia.

When the pan­dem­ic got un­der­way, Ho and his team worked to iso­late an­ti­bod­ies from Covid-19 pa­tients. He not­ed in an an­nounce­ment from Co­lum­bia last Ju­ly that his team had been work­ing “non­stop 24/7 since ear­ly March,” shift­ing their fo­cus al­most en­tire­ly away from AIDS to try to coun­ter­act the pan­dem­ic. They pub­lished their find­ings in Na­ture that month as well.

Two of the an­ti­bod­ies from the lab have since been li­censed to un­named phar­ma com­pa­nies, but Ho warned in a pa­per ear­li­er this year that emerg­ing virus vari­ants pose a threat to mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body ther­a­pies for Covid-19. The South Africa vari­ant was par­tic­u­lar­ly trou­ble­some for the cock­tails, with Ho writ­ing their abil­i­ty to neu­tral­ize was “com­plete­ly or marked­ly abol­ished.”

Neal Padte

Con­cern over such vari­ants was top of mind for Ren­Bio COO Neal Padte and R&D di­rec­tor Rachel Lib­er­a­tore when they de­cid­ed to li­cense Ho’s new bis­pe­cif­ic. Padte had worked with Ho in an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment for about a decade, he told End­points News, and they felt li­cens­ing RB-100 out to Ren­Bio was the best way to get it in­to the clin­ic.

The rise in vari­ants was al­so one of the main rea­sons Ren­Bio de­cid­ed to take on the pro­gram, Lib­er­a­tore said, and with more strains con­tin­u­ing to emerge, she not­ed that a bis­pe­cif­ic mod­el could end up be­ing the new nor­mal to treat fu­ture Covid-19 cas­es.

“I think there’s a grow­ing un­der­stand­ing that the more [ar­eas] a ther­a­peu­tic can tar­get on the virus, the more breadth it will have and hope­ful­ly the longer it will stay rel­e­vant,” Lib­er­a­tore told End­points. “The idea of sin­gle mon­o­clon­als as ther­a­peu­tics is re­al­ly sort of wan­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty in fa­vor of this idea of a mul­ti-pronged ap­proach, whether it’s a cock­tail of mon­o­clon­als or bis­pecifics.”

Though Ren­Bio is get­ting start­ed with this in-li­censed pro­gram, its core tech­nol­o­gy is some­thing sep­a­rate. It’s still fo­cused around an­ti­bod­ies with a lead pre­clin­i­cal can­di­date for SARS-CoV-2, and al­so spun out of work with Ho and Huang.

Rachel Lib­er­a­tore

The orig­i­nal in­ter­est here came from want­i­ng to de­vel­op an­ti­bod­ies against HIV, as it specif­i­cal­ly spawned out of Ho’s AIDS Re­search Cen­ter, Lib­er­a­tore not­ed. Such ther­a­pies are gen­er­al­ly cost pro­hib­i­tive and time-con­sum­ing for pa­tients, how­ev­er, and Ren­Bio’s goal with the plat­form is to ad­dress the af­ford­abil­i­ty and dura­bil­i­ty of an­ti­body ther­a­pies.

“In the HIV field, it is a well-known fact that neu­tral­iz­ing an­ti­bod­ies that ex­ist are very broad and po­tent as pro­phy­lac­tic and ther­a­peu­tic agents, but are very ex­pen­sive,” Lib­er­a­tore said. “We took that and de­vel­oped that at Ren­Bio in­to an idea for the broad-based de­liv­ery of an­ti­bod­ies, but al­so for many oth­er clin­i­cal in­di­ca­tions and in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases.”

Lib­er­a­tore added that the team’s train­ing in in­fec­tious dis­eases led them to this area first, de­spite the broad in­ter­est. Be­hind the pre­clin­i­cal SARS-CoV-2 can­di­date, Ren­Bio is al­so de­vel­op­ing a pro­gram for in­fluen­za and po­ten­tial­ly HIV.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Un­lock­ing ESG strate­gies for growth with Gilead Sci­ences

RBC Capital Markets explores what is material in ESG for biopharma companies with the ESG leads at Gilead Sciences. Gilead has long focused on sustainability but recognized a more robust framework was needed. Based on a materiality assessment, Gilead’s ESG strategy today focuses first on drug access and pricing, while also addressing D&I and climate change. Find out why Gilead’s board is “acutely aware” of the contribution that ESG makes to firm’s overall success.

On the hunt for the next Mod­er­na, in­vestors have pumped 'plat­form plays' with cash. Can any­thing slow the run­away train?

It didn’t take an expert to see that mRNA platforms could be huge.

Julie Sunderland partnered with both Moderna and BioNTech about a decade ago while she was running program-related investments for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — and even then the potential for their platforms was obvious despite some well-founded concerns about whether the next-gen tech would ever cross the finish line.

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Covid-19 roundup: White House re­veals vac­cine do­na­tion plan; EU opts in for an­oth­er 150 mil­lion dos­es from Mod­er­na

President Joe Biden’s administration on Monday revealed the distribution list for 55 million of the 80 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines America plans to donate to lower-income nations:

Roughly 14 million doses will head to Latin America and the Caribbean, for a list of countries that includes Brazil, Argentina, Dominican Republic, Panama and Costa Rica.
Another 16 million doses are headed to Asia to help the following countries: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Maldives, Bhutan, Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Cambodia, and the Pacific Islands.

Neu­rona Ther­a­peu­tics is dash­ing to the clin­ic with its cell ther­a­py for epilep­sy — but first, an­oth­er ven­ture round

Six years ago, a band of neuroscientists from the University of California, San Francisco combined decades of research and jumped into the hunt for an off-the-shelf cell therapy. Now, that team is sprinting toward the clinic with a treatment for epilepsy — but first, it’s making a pit stop at the venture well.

Neurona Therapeutics unveiled a $41.5 million round on Tuesday morning, bringing the San Francisco-based biotech’s total raise to $135 million. The cash will be used to advance the company’s pipeline, including an upcoming Phase I/IIa for its lead candidate, NRTX-1001, in chronic focal epilepsy.

Viswa Colluru, Enveda Biosciences

A Re­cur­sion vet­er­an is map­ping plant life to chart a course to new ther­a­pies — and in­vestors like what they see

One of the earliest employees at AI biotech Recursion Pharmaceuticals is leading a new company, and he’s just closed a hefty Series A to get things moving.

Enveda Biosciences pulled in $51 million in the raise, the company announced Tuesday morning, with the goal of pushing some of its preclinical programs further along. Led by CEO Viswa Colluru, Enveda aims to research how machine learning can utilize natural biology to create new therapies for Wilson’s Disease, NASH and Parkinson’s disease, among others.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) with reporters in the Senate Subway (Graeme Sloan/Sipa via AP Images)

Top Wyden pri­or­i­ty for drug price re­forms: Medicare ne­go­ti­a­tions

As the Biden administration tries to wrangle the details of its infrastructure bill, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) took a concrete step forward on drug pricing reforms on Tuesday and unveiled five principles for such reforms, including providing Medicare with the ability to negotiate prices.

“Allowing the Secretary of HHS to negotiate the price Medicare will pay creates a much needed mechanism to achieve fairer prices when the market has failed to do so,” Wyden wrote.

Fred Upton and Diana DeGette

New DARPA-like NIH agency preps for re­al­i­ty as E&C un­veils bi­par­ti­san Cures 2.0 draft bill

House Energy & Commerce leaders Fred Upton (R-MI) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) on Tuesday released new draft legislation with wide-ranging implications for public health, the FDA, NIH, and that would create a new, $6.5 billion federal advanced research agency under NIH, with an aim to cure cancer, Alzheimer’s and other difficult diseases.

Similar to DARPA, the new NIH division to be known as ARPA-H, would be run by a small group of program managers with more latitude to pursue high-risk, high-reward projects that other government agencies would likely shy away from.

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Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Mer­ck­'s Keytru­da blazes a path in first-line cer­vi­cal can­cer, mak­ing good on drug­mak­er's push for ear­li­er pa­tients

In the years since I/O wonder drug Keytruda’s initial approval, Merck has struck an aggressive clinical trial program, which is now firmly focused on earlier lines of therapy. The drugmaker has scored some success there so far, and now it’s earned one of its biggest wins yet.

Keytruda plus chemotherapy with or without background Avastin significantly extended patients’ lives over those dosed with a placebo control in first-line patients with persistent, recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer, according to top-line data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-826 study revealed Tuesday.

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End­points News is now 5 years old. Here's how you can sup­port us for the next phase of growth

Endpoints News turned five years old over the weekend. I wanted to mark the happy occasion by extending our deepest gratitude to Endpoints’ premium subscribers while outlining several other ways to support us as we go broader and get bigger this year and beyond.

Same as any business, we’ve got to create value and get paid for delivering it. So if you depend on Endpoints to stay abreast on biopharma developments, we depend on you too.