Barbara Weber, Tango Therapeutics CEO (Tango)

It takes two to Tan­go: The biotech us­ing CRISPR to dis­cov­er new can­cer gene tar­gets rides a $353M SPAC deal to Nas­daq

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The lat­est biotech-SPAC deal has ar­rived, and it’s danc­ing its way to Nas­daq to the tune of sev­er­al hun­dred mil­lion dol­lars.

Tan­go Ther­a­peu­tics and its CRISPR-fo­cused search for new can­cer genes is re­verse merg­ing with Box­er Cap­i­tal’s blank-check com­pa­ny, the biotech an­nounced Wednes­day morn­ing. With a spot­light on three lead pro­grams, Tan­go ex­pects to­tal pro­ceeds to equal about $353 mil­lion in the deal, which in­cludes the rough­ly $167 mil­lion held in the SPAC and an ad­di­tion­al $186 mil­lion in PIPE fi­nanc­ing.

CEO Bar­bara We­ber told End­points News that Tan­go had been plan­ning for a tra­di­tion­al IPO at some point this year, hav­ing re­cent­ly fin­ished non-deal road­shows with about 30 to 40 in­vestors. But they shift­ed gears when Box­er, who had pre­vi­ous­ly led the com­pa­ny’s Se­ries B in April 2020, ap­proached Tan­go ex­ecs with the SPAC idea.

“When we looked at the in­vestors that were in the SPAC, they were the same list of peo­ple that we had just spent two months talk­ing to,” We­ber told End­points. “We ac­tu­al­ly didn’t look at any oth­er SPACs; this was a spe­cif­ic de­ci­sion around the Box­er-spon­sored SPAC.”

Blank check com­pa­nies have tak­en Wall Street by storm, and the bio­phar­ma sec­tor has not been left out of the fun. Per an End­points News tal­ly, Tan­go is the fifth life sci­ences com­pa­ny to ride a SPAC to Nas­daq this year, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of 23andMe, Se­ma4, So­ma­Log­ic and Bet­ter Ther­a­peu­tics.

That’s brought in a hefty heap­ing of cash for these fa­bled five, with the group net­ting a com­bined $2.67 bil­lion — or more than half the to­tal raised by the 30 biotechs that went pub­lic through the usu­al IPO in 2021.

And there’s plen­ty more mon­ey wait­ing in the wings. Since the start of this year alone, an­oth­er 31 SPACs have launched and have yet to find a part­ner. This group has a com­bined $7.8 bil­lion wait­ing in their shell ac­counts and in­cludes SPACs from promi­nent in­vestors such as Fore­site, Per­cep­tive, Ed­uar­do Bra­vo and Vin­od Khosla, the lat­ter of whom launched three.

The blank-check com­pa­nies can take up to two years to find a part­ner, and some an­a­lysts have sig­naled an on­com­ing glut giv­en the sheer amount of SPACs go­ing pub­lic over the last sev­er­al months. Ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from SPACIn­sid­er, there have been 308 SPACs in 2021 al­ready, sur­pass­ing the amount from the last two years, when 2020 saw 248 and 2019 had 57.

For Tan­go, though, that means they can con­tin­ue push­ing their CRISPR-based ap­proach to find­ing new tar­get­ed can­cer drugs. The biotech takes ad­van­tage of CRISPR as a re­search tool, us­ing it to dis­cov­er gene pair tar­gets that cre­ate unique vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties in can­cer cells. It’s sim­i­lar to the un­der­ly­ing the­o­ry be­hind PARP in­hibitors — drugs that go af­ter a pro­tein in pa­tients with a mu­ta­tion on one of the pro­teins used to re­pair DNA.

When us­ing CRISPR to knock out genes, Tan­go re­searchers look for those that when knocked out lead to cell death in a con­cept known as syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty. These genes then serve as po­ten­tial tar­gets. Though this process had been the­o­rized for years, it wasn’t un­til CRISPR came along in the last decade that it be­came pos­si­ble to do with pre­ci­sion, We­ber said.

The biotech has three pro­grams it in­tends to ad­vance with Wednes­day’s funds, look­ing to file INDs in each of the next three years. First up is TNG908, an MTA-co­op­er­a­tive PRMT5 in­hibitor, ex­pect­ed in the fourth quar­ter of 2021. We­ber said the mon­ey will help gen­er­ate proof-of-con­cept da­ta for the can­di­date in dif­fer­ent tu­mor types.

There’s al­so a USP1 in­hibitor ex­pect­ed in 2022 and an undis­closed tar­get ex­pect­ed in 2023, both of which are ex­pect­ed to hit the clin­ic thanks to the run­way from these funds. The for­mer is look­ing at the treat­ment of BR­CA1-mu­tant breast, ovar­i­an and prostate can­cer, while the lat­ter is go­ing af­ter STK11-mu­tant lung can­cer.

With the tran­si­tion to be­com­ing a pub­lic com­pa­ny now un­der­way, We­ber said the next steps are to keep plug­ging away at their re­search. She’s promis­ing much more dis­cov­ery work com­ing up be­hind the three lead pro­grams.

“We are dis­cov­er­ing three to four [new] tar­gets a year, so we hope to in the fu­ture con­tin­ue to be ad­vanc­ing an IND for a new mol­e­cule, a new tar­get, every 12 to 18 months for the fore­see­able fu­ture,” We­ber said.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; and more

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Andrew Phillips, Nexo Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Ver­sant, NEA launch new biotech helmed by ex-CEO of pro­tein de­grad­er C4 Ther­a­peu­tics

Long-time biotech venture firms Versant and New Enterprise Associates are backing a new startup run by former C4 Therapeutics chief executive Andrew Phillips.

The fledgling biotech has raised at least $30 million so far, according to paperwork filed with the SEC this week. The round could balloon to $60 million.

Phillips, who left protein degradation startup C4 in 2020 to be a managing director at Cormorant Asset Management, is running the show of the new venture as president, the SEC filing outlines. He also served as interim CEO of Cormorant-backed and Hansoh Pharmaceutical-partnered Blossom Bioscience last year.

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J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.

Dermavant Sciences' first consumer TV ad for its Vtama psoriasis med shows people ready for a new topical treatment.

Roivant’s Der­ma­vant de­buts first-ever TV com­mer­cial for pso­ri­a­sis cream Vta­ma

Dermavant Sciences has been marketing its first product, psoriasis med Vtama, to dermatologists for months, but on Tuesday it rolled out its first consumer campaign. The debut DTC effort including a streaming TV commercial encourages patients to a “Topical Uprising” in a nod to Vtama being a topical cream.

In the new commercial, a swell of people discards scarves and jacket coverings, gathering in the street to converge on a pharmacy to demand a steroid-free prescription. A moment of levity follows when a pharmacist says, “You know you can just talk to your doctor, right?” The gathered crowds collectively says, “Oh.”

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FDA preps for DMD drug gener­ics as Sarep­ta has yet to fin­ish its con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al

The FDA typically releases guidance to help generic drug manufacturers develop new copycats of small molecule drugs, oftentimes in preparation for a brand name product’s patents or exclusivity to expire.

This week, FDA released such bioequivalence guidance for any generic drugmakers looking to take on Sarepta’s Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) drug Exondys 51 (eteplirsen), even though the drug’s sponsor has yet to convert the accelerated approval to a full approval, showing clinical benefit.