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.”

Spe­cial re­port: Meet 20 ex­tra­or­di­nary women who are su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D

Even though many biopharma leaders have come together in recent years to address its gender gap, the consensus is clear: We still have a long way to go.

Companies this year were 2.5 times more likely than last year to have a diversity and inclusion program in place, according to a recent BIO survey, but women are still largely absent from executive roles. Getting women to enter the industry isn’t the problem — studies show that they represent just under half of all biotech employees around the world. But climbing through the ranks can be challenging, as women still report facing stereotypes, and, unfortunately, harassment.

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Op­ti­miz­ing Oral Drug De­liv­ery us­ing Zy­dis® Oral­ly Dis­in­te­grat­ing Tablet Tech­nol­o­gy to Ad­dress Pa­tient Chal­lenges


Patients prefer oral dosing, but swallowing tablets can be a challenge for many patients.
The Zydis® orally disintegrating tablet (ODT) platform addresses challenges associated with oral dosing, expanding benefits for patients and options for healthcare providers.
A strong growth trajectory is expected for ODTs given therapeutic innovation and continued technology development.

Many patients prefer conventional tablets for the administration of medications, but some geriatric and pediatric patients and those with altered mental status and physical impairments find swallowing tablets to be difficult. Orally disintegrating tablets (ODTs), which dissolve completely without chewing or sucking, offer a patient-friendly dosage form for the administration of small-molecule drugs, peptides and proteins. With the potential for multiple sites of drug absorption, often faster onset action for the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API), and potentially greater bioavailability, ODTs are an attractive option for drug developers considering first-to-market formulations or product line extensions of existing drugs with compatible API. In this report, we look at how innovation in the industry-leading Zydis ODT platform is expanding oral formulation options and bringing benefits to patients.

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Geoffrey Porges (SVB Leerink)

The 2022 wave com­ing? Top an­a­lyst says Big Phar­ma will have more than $1T avail­able to sat­is­fy its grow­ing ap­petite for biotech M&A

All through this year you could practically feel the frustration of the biotech investor class as M&A activity continued to drag behind expectations — or desires. Buyouts of public companies provide the essential juice for keeping stocks lively, and there’s been a notable lack of juice in 2021.

So is all that about to change, big time?

SVB Leerink’s Geoffrey Porges, a longtime student of biotech M&A, thinks so. In a lengthy analysis he put out last week, Porges totted up the cash flow of the major pharmas and determined that there was a good long list of industry buyers who would have around a half trillion dollars of cash to play with in 2022. Leverage that up with added debt and you could get that deal cache to $1.6 trillion.

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Róbert Wessman, Alvotech chairman and founder

Ice­landic bil­lionare's biosim­i­lar com­pa­ny rais­es $450M, preps for Nas­daq launch with SPAC merg­er

As Icelandic billionaire Róbert Wessman tries to take down AbbVie’s megablockbuster Humira in court, he’s also taking his biosimilar upstart to the big time with a $2.25 billion SPAC merger, Nasdaq launch and $450 million raise announced early Tuesday.

While Wessman’s Alvotech has not won FDA approval for any of its biosimilar candidates yet, the company was the first to file with the FDA for approval of its high-concentration Humira biosimilar and to have successfully conducted a switching study in support of a highly-coveted interchangeability designation. But other companies like Amgen, Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer have since caught up ahead of the launches of their own Humira biosimilar competitors in 2023.

Gary Glick, Odyssey Therapeutics founder

Al­ways busy, Gary Glick re­cruits Or­biMed in a mas­sive $218M Se­ries A for enig­mat­ic da­ta sci­ence biotech

Gary Glick is back at it again, founding yet another biotech company. And by the sheer size of its first raise, this may be the biggest one yet.

Glick has assembled what he calls an all-star roster and recruited one of the biggest healthcare investors in OrbiMed to put together a massive $218 million Series A for his newest venture, Odyssey Therapeutics. The launch, announced Tuesday morning and co-led by SR One Capital Management, comes not three months after Glick sold First Wave Bio to AzurRx for $229 million.

Mar­ket­ingRx Matchup: How Ab­b­Vie and Bio­haven ads rank in head-to-head mi­graine chal­lenge

Are you ready to rumble? DTC brands that is. MarketingRx is launching a new monthly feature today called MarketingRx Matchup. We’re pitting two pharma brands’ DTC advertising in the same therapeutic category against each other to find out what consumers and patients really think.

Market research company Leger is handling the polling and analysis each month, and I’ll be writing up the results — along with my own take — inside MRx on the first Tuesday of the month.

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Wendy Lund, Organon chief communications officer

Q&A: Organon chief com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer Wendy Lund talks about the Mer­ck spin­off, women’s health and why it mat­ters

One of Wendy Lund’s earliest jobs was head of marketing at Planned Parenthood. As the youngest person on its management team, she introduced them to emerging new technologies, and in return, she learned the importance of fighting for what you believe in.

Now as chief communications officer at Organon, the women’s health company recently spun off by Merck, Lund is keeping that point top of mind. That’s in part because women’s health hasn’t been a spotlight therapy area for Big Pharma in years. Several companies have spun off, sold or at least considered selling women’s health assets to focus on “core” products.

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Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Pfiz­er re-ups pneu­mo­nia ads as Mer­ck threat looms; Re­al Chem­istry founder CEO Jim Weiss steps back

Every autumn, leaves fall from the trees and people start holiday shopping – and for the last few years Pfizer debuts a new “Know Pneumonia” awareness TV ad. This year the commercial, launched a week ago, features different people who talk about why they got vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Actors portray a young female firefighter with asthma, a mechanic with heart disease and an older woman with her grandchild. A Pfizer spokesperson declined comment on the latest iteration of the long-running campaign.

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Mer­ck pumps the brakes on two more PhI­II tri­als for its lead an­ti-HIV drug

After trial investigators flagged a drop in immune cell counts that an external committee determined was related to treatment last month, Merck has been pausing HIV-related Phase II and III trials ever since.

On Monday, the biopharma company announced it’s pausing enrollment in two of its Phase III trials evaluating its leading anti-HIV drug candidate, which is the once-monthly, oral islatravir.

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