Marcus Kostka, Abalos Therapeutics CEO

In the packed on­colyt­ic virus space, a Ger­man biotech with a unique ap­proach makes in­vestors reach deep­er in­to their wal­lets

When Aba­los Ther­a­peu­tics closed its $12 mil­lion Se­ries A round two years ago, the com­pa­ny was es­sen­tial­ly “two guys, a key and one room,” CEO Mar­cus Kost­ka jokes.

Now, the start­up is 13 em­ploy­ees large, with an are­navirus-based can­cer pro­gram near­ly ready for the clin­ic. And that, ac­cord­ing to in­vestors, war­rants a bit more cash.

Aba­los locked down a $37.6 mil­lion Se­ries A ex­ten­sion on Thurs­day, bring­ing its to­tal raise to near­ly $50 mil­lion. Sev­en­ture Part­ners led the round, with some help from new in­vestors Co­par­i­on, Ven­tu­ra Bio­Med In­vestors, and Hx Bio Ven­tures. A few play­ers from the ini­tial round al­so reached a lit­tle deep­er in­to their wal­lets, in­clud­ing the Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund (BIVF), Grün­der­fonds Ruhr, NRW.BANK and High-Tech Grün­der­fonds (HT­GF).

Kost­ka plans on us­ing the ex­tra cash to put the Düs­sel­dorf, Ger­many-based com­pa­ny’s lead pro­gram in­to a Phase I/II tri­al for mul­ti­ple sol­id tu­mors with­in the next two years.

Aba­los’ sci­ence traces back to a set of broth­ers named Karl and Philipp Lang, who are pro­fes­sors at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Duis­burg-Es­sen and Uni­ver­sität Düs­sel­dorf, re­spec­tive­ly. Through their re­search, the duo iden­ti­fied a spe­cif­ic set of mam­mare­navirus­es that specif­i­cal­ly in­fect can­cer cells, lead­ing to a strong and tar­get­ed im­mune re­sponse against the tu­mor cells.

Are­navirus­es are small, and packed with tiny stolen ri­bo­somes that re­sem­ble grains of sand — hence their name, which is de­rived from the Latin “are­na” for “sand.” It’s al­so where Aba­los gets its name, which is a nod to the blue dunes of Mars’ Aba­los re­gion.

While im­munother­a­pies like CAR-T re-en­gi­neer im­mune cells to see and tar­get tu­mors, like adding radar to a sub­ma­rine, on­colyt­ic virus­es work by light­ing up the tu­mor cells. A virus de­signed to prop­a­gate pri­mar­i­ly through can­cer cells is in­ject­ed in­to a pa­tient, and then the body car­ries out its nat­ur­al im­mune re­sponse to the virus, which hap­pens to be in the can­cer cells.

What dif­fer­en­ti­ates Aba­los’ ap­proach from oth­ers — like Am­gen’s her­pes-virus-based Im­ly­g­ic — is that are­navirus­es don’t them­selves kill cells.

The space saw a rush of in­ter­est from Big Phar­ma a few years ago, with J&J strik­ing a $1.04 bil­lion deal to buy on­colyt­ic virus-fo­cused BeneVir back in 2018, and As­traZeneca and Mer­ck mak­ing their own moves a year lat­er. How­ev­er, the field has a check­ered his­to­ry. Am­gen’s Im­ly­g­ic is still the on­ly ap­proved prod­uct among a slew of fail­ures.

That won’t stop new drug­mak­ers from try­ing, though. Can­del Ther­a­peu­tics took its on­colyt­ic virus plat­form pub­lic back in Ju­ly, pric­ing a $72 mil­lion IPO. And IconOVir un­veiled ear­li­er this year with a vet­er­an on­col­o­gy start­up crew to tack­le the un­solved chal­lenge.

“We con­vinced ad­di­tion­al in­vestors in the re­al­ly, high­ly com­pet­i­tive field of im­muno-on­col­o­gy,” Kost­ka said. “This gives us, re­al­ly, con­fi­dence for the fu­ture.”

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

Credit: Shutterstock

How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Peter Nell, Mammoth Biosciences CBO

UP­DAT­ED: Jen­nifer Doud­na spin­out inks a Mam­moth CRISPR deal with Ver­tex worth near­ly $700M

When a company gets its start in gene editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s lab, it’s bound to make headlines. But three years in, the fanfare still hasn’t died down for Mammoth Biosciences. Now, the Brisbane, CA-based company is cheering on its first major R&D pact.

Mammoth unveiled a nearly $700 million deal with Vertex on Tuesday morning, good for the development of in vivo gene therapies for two mystery diseases. The stars of the show are Mammoth’s ultra-small CRISPR systems, including two Cas enzymes licensed from Doudna’s lab over the past couple years, Cas14 and Casɸ.

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James Peyer, Cambrian CEO

Brent Saun­ders joins $100M Se­ries C for a com­pa­ny out to be the Bridge­Bio of ag­ing

About a year ago, James Peyer, a CEO and co-founder of the little known longevity biotech Cambrian Biopharma, was trying to find some R&D talent last year when he met with more than a bit of experience in that department: David Nicholson, the former R&D chief of the erstwhile pharma giant Allergan.

It turned out Nicholson already had an interest in Peyer’s field. In their Allergan days, he and COO Brent Saunders held weekly meetups where they tried to figure out how to take the company’s dominance in aesthetics — which, until recently, was often what people meant by anti-aging science — and expertise with more traditional drug development, and use it to make drugs that extend people’s lifespan.

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An­gion's or­gan dam­age drug strikes out again, this time in high-risk kid­ney trans­plant pa­tients

After flopping a test in Covid-19 earlier this year, Angion’s lead organ damage drug has now hit the skids again in kidney transplant patients.

Angion and partner Vifor Pharma’s ANG-3777 failed to beat out placebo in terms of improving eGFR, a measure of kidney function, in patients who had received a deceased donor kidney transplant and were at high risk of developing what is known as delayed graft function, according to Phase III results released Tuesday.

(Photo courtesy Pfizer)

FDA's vac­cine ad­comm votes al­most unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of Pfiz­er's Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Tuesday voted 17-0, with one panelist abstaining, that the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for children between the ages of five and 12.

The vote will likely trigger a process that could allow the shots to begin rolling out as early as next week.

The vaccine, which is one-third of the adult Pfizer dose, proved to be about 90% effective in a placebo-controlled trial in which about 1,500 kids in this age range received the vaccine, and only about 12% of those receiving the vaccine had any adverse event. All serious adverse events in the trial were unrelated to the vaccine.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na chips in fur­ther on African vac­cine sup­ply — but ad­vo­cates are call­ing for even more

In a sign of its growing commitment to the continent, Moderna will supply up to 110 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union, the company announced Tuesday. And CEO Stéphane Bancel said it’s just the first step.

“We believe our vaccine can play an important role in addressing the needs of low-income countries given its combination of high Phase 3 efficacy against COVID-19, strong durability in the real-world evidence, and superior storage and handling conditions. We recognize that access to COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world and we remain committed to helping to protect as many people as possible around the globe,” Bancel said in a statement.

An image of Alzheimer's brain tissue. The red show gingipains, a protein from P. gingivalis, intermixing with neurons (yellow) and glial cells (green)

An Alzheimer's dark­horse fails its first big tri­al, but of­fers hope for a long-over­looked hy­poth­e­sis

Three years ago, Cortexyme emerged out of obscurity with some big-name backers and an unorthodox approach to treating Alzheimer’s.

They moved their drug into a pivotal study the next year, offering one of the first major tests for a hypothesis that has fluttered on the outskirts of Alzheimer’s research for decades: that, in many cases, the disease is driven by infectious agents — the havoc they wreak in the brain and the inflammation the body uses to try to fend them off. And that quashing the infection could slow patients’ cognitive decline.

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