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.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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