Jump­ing on an­ti-ag­ing band­wag­on, Y Com­bi­na­tor joins hunt for the $100B pill

An­ti-ag­ing up­starts have been pop­ping up across the biotech land­scape, with a slate of biotechs rac­ing to­wards a mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ty worth un­told bil­lions to the win­ners — or so the trea­sure seek­ers tell us. And now, af­ter mak­ing a name ac­cel­er­at­ing tech stars like Drop­box, Airbnb, and Stripe to the big-time, promi­nent ear­ly-stage Sil­i­con Val­ley in­vestor Y Com­bi­na­tor wants a piece of the an­ti-ag­ing pot of gold.

Healthspan and age-re­lat­ed dis­ease will be the first fo­cus of YC Bio, a for­mal pro­gram to for Y Com­bi­na­tor to fund life sci­ence com­pa­nies still in the lab phase. Now that the ac­cel­er­a­tor has fund­ed some bio star­tups — Gink­go and Per­lara among them — it has learned enough to take on this new ex­per­i­ment, pres­i­dent Sam Alt­man wrote in a blog post.

Sam Alt­man

“[W]e think there’s an enor­mous op­por­tu­ni­ty to help peo­ple live health­i­er for longer, and that it could be one of the best ways to ad­dress our health­care cri­sis,” wrote Alt­man.

Here’s how it works: YC Bio is of­fer­ing longevi­ty star­tups any amount be­tween $500,000 and $1 mil­lion for 10% to 20% own­er­ship, as well as free lab space and ac­cess to ex­perts (That’s com­pared to $120,000 and 7% own­er­ship in stan­dard YC deals). It’s a spe­cial track, but these com­pa­nies will go through the three-month cy­cle with all the oth­er com­pa­nies in their batch.

The ap­pli­ca­tions are open now, but we will have to wait un­til June to see these new faces of an­ti-ag­ing. And Alt­man seems con­fi­dent about the uber-fan­tas­tic prospects that await the biotech win­ners.

“You could make a pill that added two years to a per­son’s life that would be a $100 bil­lion com­pa­ny,” he said in an in­ter­view with MIT Tech Re­view.

Play­ers long in the game, though, re­call that the same kind of hype cy­cle drove Glax­o­SmithK­line to buy Sir­tris for $720 mil­lion, on­ly to shut it down 5 years lat­er and ab­sorb the re­main­ing slow-mov­ing pro­grams in its R&D group. Google’s stealthy Cal­i­co and some more re­cent en­trants like Ju­ve­nes­cence, though, have been keep­ing the flame burn­ing.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Pfiz­er scoops up an an­tibi­ot­ic in rare M&A deal, bag­ging a vir­tu­al start­up op­er­at­ing on a shoe­string bud­get

Pfizer is stepping up with a rare antibiotics buyout deal today, grabbing Palo Alto, CA-based Arixa Pharmaceuticals in a bid to add a new oral version of avibactam, a beta lactamase inhibitor — or BLI — approved back in 2015 as part of the IV treatment Avycaz.

The Arixa acquisition follows some encouraging Phase I responses demonstrating that 60% to 80% of the oral drug is absorbed into the bloodstream. Only 7% of the IV version is absorbed orally, far below the 30% threshold Arixa has pointed to as a therapeutic threshold. The buyout gives Pfizer’s hospital group a line on a new oral combo with antibiotics like ceftibuten to go after drug-resistant cases of urinary tract infections and other ailments.

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Stephen Hoge, Moderna president (Moderna)

On morn­ing of FDA Covid-19 ad­comm, Mod­er­na com­pletes PhI­II en­roll­ment, putting them neck-and-neck with Pfiz­er

Weeks away from a potential EUA application, Moderna announced they have completed enrollment in their 30,000-person Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial, with over a third of volunteers non-white and a quarter over the age of 65.

The announcement caps what has been the most closely-watched recruitment race in the history of drug development, as Pfizer and Moderna rushed to get enough volunteers to prove whether or not experimental vaccines could actually protect people from contracting Covid-19. Pfizer reached that mark on Sept. 15. Moderna said around the same time that they would slow down enrollment to ensure they enrolled enough participants from minority and at-risk groups.

Can B cells break the bound­aries of cell ther­a­py? Long­wood start­up has $52M to prove a new en­gi­neer­ing tech

Back in December 2017, as the cell therapy world was still basking in the virtually back-to-back approvals of two pioneering CAR-Ts, researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute reported a scientific first in a different corner of the field: engineer B cells to treat disease.

The team, led by David Rawlings and Richard James, eventually worked with Longwood Fund to start a biotech around those findings. And now Atlas Venture and RA Capital Management are coming on board to lead a $52 million launch round, joined by Alta Partners, for Be Biopharma.

Bo Cumbo, AavantiBio CEO (file photo)

Bo Cum­bo jumps from the top com­mer­cial post at Sarep­ta to the helm of a gene ther­a­py start­up with some in­flu­en­tial back­ers, big plans and $107M

After a 7-year stretch building the commercial team at Sarepta, longtime drug salesman Bo Cumbo is jumping to the entrepreneurial side of the business, taking the helm of a startup that’s got several deep-pocket investors. And he’s not just bringing his experience in selling drugs.

He tells me that when he told Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram about it, his boss got excited about the venture and opted to jump in with a $15 million investment from Sarepta to add to the launch money, alongside 3 of the busiest investors in biotech.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

With lumasir­an on the FDA's doorstep, Al­ny­lam reads out new PhI­II da­ta in PH1

Just over a month away from its December PDUFA date, Alnylam flaunted new data from two Phase III studies to back lumasiran in primary hyperoxaluria type 1 (PH1), a rare liver condition.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech snagged a priority review for the candidate back in June, and got positive feedback from the EMA’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use just last week. Lumasiran uses RNA interference (RNAi) to silence the gene for glycolate oxidase, an enzyme used in the production of oxalate.

News brief­ing: UK biotech 4D phar­ma heads for Nas­daq via SPAC; Dr. Red­dy's shuts down man­u­fac­tur­ing af­ter cy­ber­at­tack

Another pharma company is intending to use a SPAC to join the Nasdaq.

4D pharma, a UK-based biotech, is reverse-merging with a blank check company in a deal worth up to $37.6 million. The move will give 4D pharma a new Nasdaq ticker, which will be $LBPS, using the American Depositary Share program. 4D will continue to trade on the London stock exchange under its previous ticker.

As a result of the move, 4D pharma will gain $14.6 million in cash held by the blank check company, dubbed Longevity $LOAC. The merger is expected to be completed in early 2021, after which shares will be immediately tradeable on Nasdaq.

HHS secretary Alex Azar (at the podium) and FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn (Pete Marovich/Getty Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Azar open­ly plan­ning Hahn ouster — re­port; Vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions like­ly to get vac­cines by Jan­u­ary

The relationship between HHS secretary Alex Azar and FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn has deteriorated to the point where Azar has suggested replacing Hahn, according to a Politico report.

Azar was angered by the FDA’s pushback of the Trump administration’s proposals for authorizing Covid-19 vaccines, so much so that he began openly floating potential replacements for Hahn. The report cited six unnamed sources that said Azar discussed bringing up Hahn’s removal to the White House.

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