Leen Kawas, Athira founder and former CEO (Athira)

Leen Kawas, Alzheimer’s CEO who re­signed in da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, re­turns to launch in­vest­ment firm with bil­lion­aire

Leen Kawas, the start­up founder and CEO who unit­ed in­vestors be­hind a dark­horse ap­proach to treat­ing Alzheimer’s be­fore re­sign­ing last year in a da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, is back.

Kawas and bil­lion­aire pri­vate eq­ui­ty in­vestor Richard Kayne an­nounced on Fri­day the launch of Pro­pel Bio, a new in­vest­ment firm fo­cused on “com­pa­nies at var­i­ous stages across the life sci­ence space.”

The pair of­fered few oth­er de­tails about the new firm, and a spokesper­son said that nei­ther would speak on the record or com­ment be­yond the re­lease “to com­ply with SEC reg­u­la­tions.” An SEC fil­ing Fri­day in­di­cat­ed the com­pa­ny planned to raise $150 mil­lion, but did not list any funds raised to date.

Un­til last Oc­to­ber, Kawas had been CEO of Athi­ra Phar­ma. She found­ed the com­pa­ny while a post­doc at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty, promis­ing to spin out work the lab was do­ing on a method to ac­ti­vate the growth of synaps­es in the brain and po­ten­tial­ly slow or re­verse neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion. Af­ter toil­ing in ob­scu­ri­ty for years, in­vestors gave the com­pa­ny an $85 mil­lion Se­ries B in 2020, in­trigued by ear­ly hu­man da­ta and search­ing for al­ter­na­tives af­ter the fail­ure of more pop­u­lar ap­proach­es to Alzheimer’s.

Kayne, who found­ed the as­set man­age­ment firm Kayne An­der­son, in­vest­ed in that Se­ries B. He al­so in­vest­ed in a $15.2 mil­lion Se­ries A in 2017. Forbes lists his net worth at $1.6 bil­lion.

Last June, how­ev­er, Athi­ra abrupt­ly an­nounced that Kawas was be­ing placed on tem­po­rary leave “pend­ing a re­view of ac­tions stem­ming from doc­tor­al re­search Dr. Kawas con­duct­ed while at Wash­ing­ton State Uni­ver­si­ty.” In the days pri­or, al­le­ga­tions had ap­peared on pub­peer, a mes­sage board for sci­en­tists to dis­cuss peer-re­viewed pa­pers, that Kawas had ma­nip­u­lat­ed im­ages in ear­ly pub­li­ca­tions.

In Oc­to­ber, Athi­ra an­nounced it con­clud­ed Kawas ma­nip­u­lat­ed im­ages in her doc­tor­al the­sis and four oth­er pa­pers foun­da­tion­al to the es­tab­lish­ment of the com­pa­ny. Kawas re­signed, while new CEO Mark Lit­ton ar­gued the com­pa­ny re­mained on sol­id foot­ing, point­ing to dif­fer­ences be­tween the founder’s ear­ly work and Athi­ra’s cur­rent strat­e­gy.

Kawas has yet to com­ment pub­licly on the al­le­ga­tions.

She will serve as a gen­er­al man­ag­ing part­ner at Pro­pel, with Kayne as a gen­er­al part­ner. The on­ly oth­er em­ploy­ee list­ed is se­nior as­so­ciate Da­som (Chris­tine) Yoo, who pre­vi­ous­ly served as a busi­ness de­vel­op­ment man­ag­er at Fred Hutch. They al­so an­nounced a board of eight long­time biotech ex­ec­u­tives.

Has the mo­ment fi­nal­ly ar­rived for val­ue-based health­care?

RBC Capital Markets’ Healthcare Technology Analyst, Sean Dodge, spotlights a new breed of tech-enabled providers who are rapidly transforming the way clinicians deliver healthcare, and explores the key question: can this accelerating revolution overturn the US healthcare system?

Key points

Tech-enabled healthcare providers are poised to help the US transition to value, not volume, as the basis for reward.
The move to value-based care has policy momentum, but is risky and complex for clinicians.
Outsourced tech specialists are emerging to provide the required expertise, while healthcare and tech are also converging through M&A.
Value-based care remains in its early stages, but the transition is accelerating and represents a huge addressable market.

Alaa Halawaa, executive director at Mubadala’s US venture group

The ven­ture crew at Mubadala are up­ping their biotech cre­ation game, tak­ing care­ful aim at a new fron­tier in drug de­vel­op­ment

It started with a cup of coffee and a slow burning desire to go early and long in the biotech creation business.

Wrapping up a 15-year discovery stint at Genentech back in the summer of 2021, Rami Hannoush was treated to a caffeine-fueled review of the latest work UCSF’s Jim Wells had been doing on protein degradation — one of the hottest fields in drug development.

“Jim and I have known each other for the past 15 years through Genentech collaborations. We met over coffee, and he was telling me about this concept of the company that he was thinking of,” says Hannoush. “And I got immediately intrigued by it because I knew that this could open up a big space in terms of adding a new modality in drug discovery that is desperately needed in pharma.”

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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

Francesco Marincola, newly-appointed Sonata Therapeutics CSO

Kite's head of re­search leaves for Flag­ship start­up Sonata

Another leader is departing Kite Pharma, and will to spend the “last part” of his career exploring how cancer evades the immune system.

Kite’s senior VP and global head of cell therapy research Francesco Marincola left the Gilead CAR-T unit last week for Sonata Therapeutics. Flagship last May unveiled the startup, which was pieced together from two fledgling biotechs Inzen and Cygnal Therapeutics. As CSO, Marincola will lead Sonata’s push to reprogram cancer cells to make them more immunogenic.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 163,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Rohan Palekar, 89bio CEO

89bio’s PhII da­ta add to quick suc­ces­sion of NASH read­outs as field seeks turn­around

89bio said its drug was better than placebo at lessening fibrosis without worsening nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, in two of three dose groups.

The San Francisco biotech said it thinks the Phase IIb data pave the way for a potential Phase III, following in the footsteps of another biotech in its drug class, Akero Therapeutics. To fund a late-stage study, CEO Rohan Palekar told Endpoints News 89bio “would need to raise additional capital,” with the company having about $188 million at the end of last year.

Flare Therapeutics biochemists Yong Li (L) and Valerie Vivat

A $123M Flare will get Third Rock on­col­o­gy biotech in­to the clin­ic this year

Flare Therapeutics will start its first human trial this year with an investigational urothelial cancer drug after pulling together a $123 million Series B from Big Pharmas, VCs and its incubator, Third Rock Ventures.

Launched in 2021 on the idea that a biotech could finally succeed at drugging the much-sought-after but stubborn transcription factor, Flare Therapeutics said Wednesday it is now primed for the clinic after closing its large financing haul earlier this year. The raise is a relatively stark figure in a tough startup financing environment but further buoys the upbeat signals coming out of other Third Rock biotechs in recent weeks, including the $200 million CARGO Therapeutics and $100 million Rapport Therapeutics rounds.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 163,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Roche and Lil­ly team up to de­vel­op blood test to de­tect ear­ly signs of Alzheimer's

Eli Lilly is teaming up with Roche to help develop a blood test to detect early signs of Alzheimer’s disease and determine whether a patient should go for further confirmatory testing.

Roche’s Elecsys Amyloid Plasma Panel (EAPP) measures pTau 181 protein assay and APOE E4 assay in human blood plasma – elevations in pTau 181 are present in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, while the presence of APO E4 is the most common genetic risk factor for the disease.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 163,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA in­di­cates will­ing­ness to ap­prove Bio­gen ALS drug de­spite failed PhI­II study

Ahead of Wednesday’s advisory committee hearing to discuss Biogen’s ALS drug tofersen, the FDA appeared open to approving the drug, newly released briefing documents show.

Citing the need for flexibility in a devastating disease like ALS, regulators signaled a willingness to consider greenlighting tofersen based on its effect on a certain protein associated with ALS despite a failed pivotal trial. The documents come after regulatory flexibility was part of the same rationale the agency expressed when approving an ALS drug last September from Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, indicating the FDA’s openness to approving new treatments for the disease.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 163,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Who are the women break­ing bar­ri­ers in drug de­vel­op­ment? Nom­i­nate them for End­points' an­nu­al re­port

Today, we’re opening nominations for our fifth annual Women in Biopharma R&D special report.

Over the last four years, we’ve honored 80 women whose extraordinary accomplishments have changed the game in biopharma R&D. We’re looking for big thinkers, scientists, executives and other enterprising women who are breaking barriers in drug development and inspiring the next generation of leaders.

Josep Bassaganya-Riera, NImmune Biopharma

Ex­clu­sive: Af­ter get­ting his drug back, Lan­dos founder as­sem­bles new start­up for the big PhI­II test

By the time Josep Bassaganya-Riera stepped down as founding CEO of Landos Biopharma in 2021, the company had racked up Phase II data for its top autoimmune program, completed what he called a positive end-of-Phase-II meeting with the FDA and plans to launch pivotal Phase III trials.

Since then, though, the new leaders at Landos have reshuffled their plans for the drug, omilancor, first announcing they will run a Phase IIb ahead of a Phase III and eventually shelving it altogether.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

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