Jim Wilson, Tachi Yamada, Stephen Squinto

How much does it cost to boot­strap a gene ther­a­py start­up? Not too much if you're Jim Wil­son, per Pas­sage Bio's $125M IPO fil­ing

Days ago when Deer­field part­ner Bruce Gold­smith jumped to helm Pas­sage Bio, he cit­ed a few rea­sons why it’s an “ex­treme­ly ex­cit­ing time” to be join­ing the gene ther­a­py play­er: IND fil­ings for three lead pro­grams, a da­ta-rich 2021 and an ex­pand­ing pipeline of ex­per­i­men­tal drugs for rare, mono­genic CNS dis­eases.

Bruce Gold­smith

It turns out there’s one more rea­son he held back: The Philadel­phia-based start­up was prep­ping an IPO.

Pas­sage Bio has pen­ciled in $125 mil­lion for its pub­lic de­but on the Nas­daq, with the ma­jor­i­ty of the pro­ceeds go­ing to the three AAV-based prod­uct can­di­dates slat­ed to en­ter the clin­ic in 2020.

Here’s the break­down on the tech be­hind each of them — of­fer­ing a glimpse of the ar­se­nal of de­liv­ery tools co-founder Jim Wil­son has as­sem­bled over the decades:

  1. PBGM01 uti­lizes a next-gen­er­a­tion AAVhu68 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain and pe­riph­er­al tis­sues a func­tion­al GLB1 gene en­cod­ing lyso­so­mal be­ta-galac­tosi­dase, or b-gal, for in­fan­tile GM1 gan­gliosi­do­sis
  2. PBFT02 uti­lizes an AAV1 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain a func­tion­al GRN gene en­cod­ing pro­gran­ulin, or PGRN, for FTD caused by pro­gran­ulin de­fi­cien­cy, or FTD-GRN
  3. PBKR03 uti­lizes a next-gen­er­a­tion AAVhu68 cap­sid to de­liv­er to the brain and pe­riph­er­al tis­sues a func­tion­al gene en­cod­ing the hy­drolyt­ic en­zyme galac­to­syl­ce­rami­dase, or GALC, for in­fan­tile Krabbe dis­ease

There are some com­peti­tors work­ing on each of the dis­eases they are tack­ling, in­clud­ing Ax­o­vant and Lyso­gene for GM1 as well as Alec­tor and Pre­vail for FTD, but Pas­sage Bio was con­fi­dent about be­ing an in­te­grat­ed play­er ca­pa­ble of tack­ling mul­ti­ple “cross-cor­rec­tion­al ther­a­pies” in the CNS.

Wil­son, a well-re­spect­ed pi­o­neer in the gene ther­a­py field, had in­tend­ed for this to be his lega­cy com­pa­ny, Or­biMed part­ner Stephen Squin­to pre­vi­ous­ly told End­points News. Thanks to Wil­son’s con­nec­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia, Pas­sage se­cured a li­cens­ing deal with the uni­ver­si­ty for an up­front of just $2.5 mil­lion in cash and 3,720,000 shares in stock (then val­ued at $0.9 mil­lion) — plus a promise to fund cer­tain pre­clin­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties, the S-1 re­vealed.

The pact cov­ered rights to 12 ther­a­pies in to­tal, and should Pas­sage ex­er­cise those op­tions by the 2022 ex­piry date, up­front fees would be some­where be­tween $0.8 mil­lion to $1 mil­lion. They have al­ready made the call on six; Penn is el­i­gi­ble for up to $16.5 mil­lion in de­vel­op­ment mile­stones and $55 mil­lion in sales mile­stones for each.

That, plus the $10 mil­lion up­front Pas­sage paid Catal­ent’s Paragon sub­sidiary for man­u­fac­tur­ing work, amount­ed to the bulk of the biotech’s ex­pense. While it’s bagged two hefty megarounds, Pas­sage has on­ly burned through $58.7 mil­lion so far.

The syn­di­cate stayed ba­si­cal­ly the same through­out Se­ries A and B, fea­tur­ing Fra­zier Life Sci­ences (13.9%, rep­re­sent­ed by Wil­son’s long­time men­tor Tachi Ya­ma­da on the board), Or­biMed (19.6%), Ver­sant Ven­tures (14.8%) Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures (7.6%), New Leaf Ven­tures (7.0%), Vi­vo Cap­i­tal (7.0%) and Ac­cess In­dus­tries’ AI Pas­sage (6.5%). Wil­son re­tained 7.0% for him­self.

With his rare dis­ease ex­pe­ri­ence gleaned from years at Alex­ion, Squin­to ini­tial­ly took up the CEO role be­fore pass­ing the reins to Gold­smith. His com­pen­sa­tion pack­age for the past year to­taled $2.2 mil­lion com­pen­sa­tion, and he con­tin­ues to be part of the team as in­ter­im head of R&D.

Chief tech­ni­cal of­fi­cer Alex Fo­topou­los and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Gary Ro­mano re­ceived $2.25 mil­lion and $2.02 mil­lion, re­spec­tive­ly.

MedTech clinical trials require a unique regulatory and study design approach and so engaging a highly experienced CRO to ensure compliance and accurate data across all stages is critical to development milestones.

In­no­v­a­tive MedTech De­mands Spe­cial­ist Clin­i­cal Tri­al Reg­u­la­to­ry Af­fairs and De­sign

Avance Clinical is the Australian CRO for international biotechs providing world-class clinical research services with FDA-accepted data across all phases. With Avance Clinical, biotech companies can leverage Australia’s supportive clinical trials environment which includes no IND requirement plus a 43.5% Government incentive rebate on clinical spend. The CRO has been delivering clinical drug development services for international biotechs for FDA and EMA regulatory approval for the past 24 years. The company has been recognized for the past two consecutive years with the prestigious Frost & Sullivan CRO Best Practices Award and a finalist in Informa Pharma’s Best CRO award for 2022.

Mathai Mammen (Rob Tannenbaum, Endpoints News at BIO 2018)

Math­ai Mam­men makes an abrupt ex­it as head of the big R&D group at J&J

In an after-the-bell shocker, J&J announced Monday evening that Mathai Mammen has abruptly exited J&J as head of its top-10 R&D group.

Recruited from Merck five years ago, where the soft-spoken Mammen was being groomed as the successor to Roger Perlmutter, he had been one of the top-paid R&D chiefs in biopharma. His group spent $12 billion last year on drug development, putting it in the top 5 in the industry.

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Samantha Du, Zai Lab CEO

Any­one still look­ing for a CD47? Zai Lab shelves PhI pro­gram af­ter re­view­ing 'com­pet­i­tive land­scape'

Over the past few years, the promise of blocking CD47 — a “don’t eat me” signal co-opted by cancer cells — has sent drugmakers big and small into a frenzy. But one biotech is now bowing out.

Zai Lab is deprioritizing ZL-1201, its CD47 inhibitor, scrapping plans for a Phase II trial. It will now “pursue out-licensing opportunities,” the company said in its Q2 update. The decision was based on a review of the competitive landscape, it added, without going into further details.

Illustration: Kim Ryu for Endpoints News

Why non-opi­oid pain drugs keep fail­ing — and what's next for the field

In 1938, Rita Levi-Montalcini was forced to move her lab into her bedroom in Turin, as Mussolini’s facist government expelled Jewish people from studying or working in schools in Italy. Levi-Montalcini, then just a few years out of medical school and using sewing needles as scalpels in her makeshift lab, would soon discover nerve growth factor, or NGF, in chicken embryos.

Her discoveries formed the basis of our understanding of the peripheral nervous system and how cells talk to each other, and Levi-Montalcini went on to win the Nobel Prize in 1986. Much later, NGF was hailed as a promising target for new pain therapies, with some analysts quoting an $11 billion market. However, the latest anti-NGF candidate, Pfizer and Eli Lilly’s tanezumab, was rejected by the FDA last year because of a side effect that dissolved bone in some of its patients.

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Ted Love, Global Blood Therapeutics CEO

Up­dat­ed: Pfiz­er scoops up Glob­al Blood Ther­a­peu­tics and its sick­le cell ther­a­pies for $5.4B

Pfizer is dropping $5.4 billion to acquire Global Blood Therapeutics.

Just ahead of the weekend, word got out that Pfizer was close to clinching a $5 billion buyout — albeit with other potential buyers still at the table. The pharma giant, flush with cash from Covid-19 vaccine sales, apparently got out on top.

The deal immediately swells Pfizer’s previously tiny sickle cell disease portfolio from just a Phase I program to one with an approved drug, Oxbryta, plus a whole pipeline that, if all approved, the company believes could make for a $3 billion franchise at peak.

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Bernhardt Zeiher, outgoing Astellas CMO (Astellas)

Q&A: Astel­las' re­tir­ing head of de­vel­op­ment re­flects on gene ther­a­py deaths

For anyone who’s been following discussions about the safety alarms surrounding the adeno-associated viruses (AAV) commonly used to deliver gene therapy, Astellas should be a familiar name.

The Japanese pharma — which bought out Audentes Therapeutics near the end of 2019 and later built a gene therapy unit around the acquisition — rocked the field when it reported three patient deaths in a trial testing AT132, the lead program from Audentes designed to treat a rare muscle disease called X-linked myotubular myopathy (XLMTM).

When the company restarted the trial, it adjusted the dose and instituted a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But tragically, the first patient to receive the new regimen died just weeks after administration. The therapy remains under clinical hold, and just weeks ago, Astellas flagged another safety-related hold for a separate gene therapy candidate. In the process of investigating the deaths, the company has also taken flak about the way it disclosed information.

Big questions remain — questions that can have big implications about the future of AAV gene therapies.

Bernhardt Zeiher did not imagine any of it when he first joined Astellas as the therapeutic area leader in inflammation, immunology and infectious diseases. But his ascent to chief medical officer and head of development coincided almost exactly with Astellas’ big move into gene therapy, putting him often in the driver’s seat to grapple with the setbacks.

As Zeiher prepares to retire next month after a 12-year tenure — leaving the unfinished tasks to his successor, a seasoned cancer drug developer — he chatted with Endpoints News, in part, to discuss the effort to understand what happened, lessons learned and the criticism along the way.

The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Endpoints: I want to also ask you a bit about the gene therapy efforts you’ve been working on. Astellas has really been at the forefront of discovering the safety concerns associated with AAV gene therapy. What’s that been like for you?

Zeiher: Well, I have to admit, it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. We acquired Audentes. Huge amount of enthusiasm. What we saw with AT132 — that was the lead program in XLMTM — was just remarkable efficacy. I mean, kids who went from being on ventilators, not able to eat for themselves, sit up, do things like that, to off ventilators, walking, you know, really — one investigator called it this Lazarus-like effect. It was just really dramatic efficacy. And then to have the safety events that occurred. So they actually occurred within that first year of the acquisition. So we had the three patient deaths. Me and my organization became very, very much involved. In fact, Ed Conner, who had been the chief medical officer, he left after some of the deaths, but I stepped in as the kind of acting chief medical officer, we had another chief medical officer who was involved, and then we had a fourth death, and I became acting again for a period of time.

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HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

US weighs new route of ad­min­is­tra­tion for mon­key­pox vac­cine as cas­es climb — re­port

Less than a week after HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra declared monkeypox a national health emergency, reports have emerged that the US plans to extend its vaccine supply by opting for a different route of administration.

Officials are expected to call for intradermal injection of Bavarian Nordic’s Jynneos vaccine — the only shot approved specifically for monkeypox in the US — as opposed to subcutaneous injection, unnamed sources told both the New York Times and Washington Post on Tuesday.

'Messy at best': Is the US re­peat­ing the same Covid mis­steps with mon­key­pox mes­sag­ing?

When Kyle Planck first suspected he might have monkeypox in late June, he went to the CDC website and found six photos of different types of lesions. And that was about it for general public information.

Planck, who is a sixth-year PhD pharmacology researcher at Weill Cornell, kept looking though and found a separate part of the CDC website meant for healthcare professionals. There he found a medical slide deck with more pictures, professional journal articles and more details about symptoms and diagnosis.

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Andy Jassy, Amazon CEO (Isaac Brekken/AP Images for NFL, File)

Up­dat­ed: FDA slaps Ama­zon with a warn­ing let­ter for sell­ing OTC mole re­moval prod­ucts

The FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research on Tuesday released a warning letter sent last week to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy in Seattle for selling mole removal products over-the-counter, or, as the FDA explains, “introducing, delivering, or causing the introduction or delivery into interstate commerce of products that are unapproved new drugs.”

“There are no over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that can be legally sold for mole or skin tag removal, and FDA has safety concerns about drugs marketed OTC directly to consumers for these uses,” the agency said in its Aug. 4 warning.