Il­lus­tri­ous Cam­bridge sci­en­tists join forces with $129M fund to bet on long plays in biotech

The lat­est tech-fo­cused fund to set up shop in the UK fea­tures an un­con­ven­tion­al group of part­ners: eight promi­nent sci­en­tists from Cam­bridge who have co-found­ed and put their own mon­ey in­to the $129 mil­lion (£100 mil­lion) fund.

Al­ice New­combe-El­lis

Ahren In­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal made its de­but in May, lead­ing a $30 mil­lion Se­ries C for epi­ge­net­ics-based di­ag­nos­tics and ther­a­peu­tics com­pa­ny Cam­bridge Epi­genetix. Its fu­ture in­vest­ments will lie in four over­lap­ping fields: the brain and AI; ge­net­ics and biotech­nol­o­gy; space and ro­bot­ics; and en­er­gy and en­vi­ron­men­tal tech­nolo­gies, the Fi­nan­cial Times re­port­ed.

Shankar Bal­a­sub­ra­man­ian

Shankar Bal­a­sub­ra­man­ian, a pi­o­neer in DNA se­quenc­ing, co-found­ed Cam­bridge Epi­genetix and rec­om­mend­ed that the fund in­vest in the com­pa­ny. Ahren then con­sult­ed with both its sci­ence part­ners and out­side in­vestors, in­clud­ing British in­sur­ance com­pa­ny Avi­va, Lon­don-based Wit­ting­ton In­vest­ments (known for its de­part­ment store hold­ings) and “wealthy US fam­i­lies.”

“We con­sid­er it a ma­jor pos­i­tive for Ahren to have priv­i­leged ac­cess to in­vest in the lat­est tech­nolo­gies of our suc­cess­ful found­ing sci­ence part­ners,” Man­ag­ing Part­ner Al­ice New­combe-El­lis — a Cam­bridge grad­u­ate her­self in math­e­mat­ics and as­tro­physics — told the FT.

Greg Win­ter

New­combe-El­lis added that the close in­volve­ment of these well-con­nect­ed sci­en­tists, the pur­suit of high-risk, high-re­ward op­por­tu­ni­ties, and a readi­ness to hold in­vest­ments long term dif­fer­en­ti­ate Ahren from nor­mal ven­ture cap­i­tal funds. She plans to raise a sub­stan­tial amount of fol­low-up fund­ing in the fall.

Steve Jack­son

Aside from Bal­a­sub­ra­man­ian, three of the oth­er sci­ence part­ners come from the bio­phar­ma sphere: Greg Win­ter, an ex­pert in mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies whose first biotech start­up was cred­it­ed with dis­cov­er­ing the mega-block­buster drug Hu­mi­ra; Steve Jack­son, a re­searcher at the Gur­don In­sti­tute and two-time en­tre­pre­neur, in­clud­ing a biotech that was sold to As­traZeneca; and Ven­ki Ra­makr­ish­nan, who shared a No­bel prize for his work on the ri­bo­some.

Ven­ki Ra­makr­ish­nan

“The vi­sion of in­vest­ing in com­pa­nies that can re­al­ly make a big im­pact on the world — and sup­port­ing them for the long haul — ap­peals to me,” Ra­makr­ish­nan, al­so pres­i­dent of Britain’s pres­ti­gious Roy­al So­ci­ety, said to the FT. “A big prob­lem in Britain is in­no­v­a­tive com­pa­nies sell­ing out too quick­ly, usu­al­ly to Amer­i­cans.”

Physi­cist Andy Park­er, as­tro­physi­cist Mar­tin Rees, and John Daug­man and Zoubin Ghahra­mani — em­i­nent re­searchers in AI and ma­chine learn­ing — are the oth­er co-founders of Ahren.

We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology

ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development

CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at with any issues.

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Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: Pay­back? An­a­lysts say Sarep­ta was blind­sided by an FDA re­jec­tion dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry re­venge

In one of the least anticipated moves of the year, the FDA has rejected Sarepta’s application for an accelerated approval of its Duchenne MD drug golodirsen after fretting over safety issues.

In a statement that arrived after the bell on Monday, Sarepta explained the CRL, saying:

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FDA de­ci­sion on Ver­tex's CF triple will come just ahead of planned CEO shake­up

Vertex has clinched a priority review for the all-important cystic fibrosis triple that will blaze the trail for treating a large group of patients unhelped by its current drugs.

FDA regulators have set a PDUFA date of March 19, 2020, just a year after the Boston biotech posted positive Phase III results showing that people with two F508del mutations experienced statistically significant improvements in lung function after a 4-week regimen of VX-445, tezacaftor and ivacaftor. After reviewing 24-week data among patients with one F508del mutation and one minimal function mutation — and thoroughly comparing the VX-445 triple with another combo featuring VX-659 on scores like safety, drug-drug interactions, and photosensitivity — Vertex ultimately went with VX-445.

An MIT spin­out kills one of its ‘liv­ing ther­a­peu­tics’ af­ter flunk­ing an ear­ly-stage study — shares rout­ed

Just a few weeks after bagging $80 million in a deal to collaborate with Gingko Bioworks on its special blend of engineered bacteria used for “living therapeutics,” little Synlogic in Boston $SYBX is tossing one of its two clinical programs after watching an early-stage study go down in defeat.

Their Phase Ib/IIa study for SYNB1020 to counter the accumulation of ammonia in the body, a condition called hyperammonemia or urea cycle disorder, floundered at the interim readout, forcing the biotech to kill it and reserve its cash for pipeline therapies with greater potential.

Elan­co to buy Bay­er's an­i­mal health busi­ness for $7.6B, as deal­mak­ing gath­ers steam in the sec­tor

Last week, Elanco explicitly dodged answering questions about its rumored interest in Bayer’s animal health business in its post-earnings call. On Tuesday, the Eli Lilly spinoff disclosed it was purchasing the German drug maker’s veterinary unit in a cash-and-stock deal worth $7.6 billion. 

Elanco $ELAN has been busy on the deal-making front. In April, it laid out plans to swallow its partner, Kansas-based pet therapeutics company Aratana $PETX. A July report by Reuters suggested a potential Bayer deal was being explored, and Bloomberg last week said the deal was imminent, citing sources. 

As­traZeneca's di­a­betes drug Farx­i­ga helps pa­tients with heart dis­ease and with­out di­a­betes in land­mark tri­al

Months ago, data on J&J’s $JNJ Invokana indicated the diabetes drug conferred cardiovascular (CV) benefit in patients who do and do not have preexisting CV disease. On Tuesday, AstraZeneca’s $AZN rival treatment, Farxiga, was shown to cut the risk of CV death or the worsening of heart failure in patients with heart disease, in a landmark trial.

The treatments, in addition to Jardiance from Eli Lilly $LLY, belong to a class of diabetes drugs called sodium-glucose co-transporter 2 (SGLT2) inhibitors, which work by curbing the absorption of glucose via the kidneys so that surplus glucose is excreted through urination.

Levi Garraway. Broad Institute via Youtube

Roche raids Eli Lil­ly for its next chief med­ical of­fi­cer as San­dra Horn­ing plans to step down

We found out Monday morning where Levi Garraway was headed after he left Eli Lilly as head of oncology R&D a few days ago. Roche named Garraway as their new chief medical officer, replacing Sandra Horning, who they say is retiring from the company.

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Af­ter a posse of Wall Street an­a­lysts pre­dict a like­ly new win for Sarep­ta, we're down to the wire on a crit­i­cal FDA de­ci­sion

As Bloomberg notes, most of the Wall Street analysts that cover Sarepta $SRPT are an upbeat bunch, ready to cheer on the team when it comes to their Duchenne MD drugs, or offer explanations when an odd setback occurs — as happened recently with a safety signal that was ‘erroneously’ reported last week.

Ritu Baral Cowen
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