Af­ter dig­ging through dis­cards, biotech start­up is mak­ing a $45M bet it can fix a failed can­cer ther­a­py

The re­sults were clear: Nap­tu­momab estafe­na­tox failed to pro­long over­all sur­vival for re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma pa­tients in a large tri­al, de­fin­i­tive­ly enough that Ac­tive Biotech ef­fec­tive­ly shelved it in 2013.

But three years lat­er NeoTX, a scav­enger start­up that had been dig­ging through drugs that failed in hopes of find­ing a sub­pop­u­la­tion with a bio­mark­er that the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­er had missed, stum­bled up­on the da­ta and saw the un­ex­pect­ed gem they were look­ing for.

Ash­er Nathan

“Their Phase I da­ta was stel­lar, great Phase I, and then they had this Phase II that failed pri­mar­i­ly be­cause they added the wrong drug,” Ash­er Nathan, CEO and co-founder of NeoTX, told End­points News as he un­veils $45 mil­lion in new fi­nanc­ing.

In­ter­fer­on al­pha was “ab­solute­ly the wrong drug” to com­bine with nap­tu­momab estafe­na­tox as it negat­ed cer­tain qual­i­ties of the ex­per­i­men­tal fu­sion pro­tein, Nathan said. More im­por­tant­ly, Ac­tive Biotech didn’t re­al­ly know just the kind of po­ten­tial they had in a plat­form tech that binds to the tu­mor and coat it with a bac­te­r­i­al “su­per­anti­gen” that at­tracts an im­mune at­tack.

“This is a nat­ur­al im­mune re­sponse as op­posed to if you look at oth­er tech­nolo­gies like bis­pecifics, where they gauge CD3 mol­e­cules, that’s some­thing you’ll nev­er find in na­ture,” Nathan said.

So the Is­raeli biotech li­censed the drug from Ac­tive for $250,000 up­front, and has been col­lab­o­rat­ing to start a Phase I that tests a com­bo of nap and As­traZeneca’s check­point drug, Imfinzi (dur­val­um­ab).

Roger Ko­rn­berg

Roger Ko­rn­berg, a No­bel lau­re­ate, Stan­ford can­cer re­searcher and long­time friend of Nathan’s, helped guide the com­pa­ny’s piv­ot to fo­cus on this ap­proach, which they call se­lec­tive T cell redi­rec­tion or STR. And long­time Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb ex­ec Mar­cel Rozencweig is on­board as CMO, lead­ing a small of­fice in Prince­ton, New Jer­sey in prepa­ra­tion for a tri­al ex­pan­sion to the US.

They are en­rolling pa­tients with a wide range of sol­id tu­mors to the Phase Ib dose es­ca­la­tion tri­al — from pan­cre­at­ic ade­no­car­ci­no­ma and ovar­i­an can­cer to prostate can­cer and triple neg­a­tive breast can­cer — as nap­tu­momab tar­gets the on­cofe­tal anti­gen 5T4.

Oth­er drug­mak­ers have mount­ed ef­forts to hone in on 5T4, rang­ing from Sanofi and Ox­ford Bio­med­ica’s Phase III can­cer vac­cine to Pfiz­er’s ear­ly-stage an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gate to Gen­mab’s pre­clin­i­cal CD3/5T4 bis­pe­cif­ic.

Mar­cel Rozencweig

NeoTX is al­so work­ing on a sec­ond can­di­date hit­ting a dif­fer­ent tar­get specif­i­cal­ly tai­lored to glioblas­toma. They’ve brought David Rear­don of Dana Far­ber on for that pro­gram, which al­so uti­lizes the bac­te­r­i­al com­po­nent.

The team of around 20 has some pow­er­ful — if un­con­ven­tion­al — back­ers. For the Se­ries C, they en­ticed “one of the top 10 rich­est peo­ple in the world,” for­mer Black­stone vice chair­man Tomil­son Hill, Amer­i­can busi­ness­man Paul Marinel­li as well as Ko­re­an in­vestor An­drew Kim.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 119,700+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.