Jason Lettmann, Lightstone Ventures

Light­stone Ven­tures un­veils $375M third fund, this time ex­pand­ing its wish­list in blos­som­ing CNS field

Neu­ro­science is hav­ing a mo­ment right now, and one VC firm strad­dling the line be­tween biotech and medtech is look­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the field’s rapid growth.

Light­stone Ven­tures has raised $375 mil­lion for its third ven­ture fund with an eye on ex­pand­ing its fo­cus in CNS dis­ease, the firm said Tues­day.

The newest raise brings Light­stone’s to­tal to more than $850 mil­lion since the firm was found­ed back in 2012. So far, that trea­sure chest has led to in­vest­ments in around 30 com­pa­nies split across the biotech and medtech spaces. With its third and largest fund, Light­stone is ex­pect­ing much the same as be­fore — most­ly in­vest­ments in seed-stage to Se­ries A com­pa­nies with an eye on “break­throughs” in pa­tient care, gen­er­al part­ner Ja­son Lettmann told End­points News.

What is new, Lettmann said, is a broad­er fo­cus on CNS star­tups, which con­tin­ues Light­stone’s piv­ot in­to that space dat­ing back to the firm’s sec­ond fund. But the team is al­so keep­ing the door open in oth­er ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas.

“Look­ing for­ward, we are plan­ning to spend a lot of time (in CNS),” Lettman said. “We re­al­ly do be­lieve CNS is the next fron­tier. We’re go­ing to try to spend more time in the un­der­ap­pre­ci­at­ed ar­eas, whether that’s au­toim­mune, im­munol­o­gy, etc. That’s where we’ll prob­a­bly look.”

In terms of tar­get­ed deal size or how many com­pa­nies are on the hit list, Lettman was mum, say­ing Light­stone will look at deals of rough­ly the same size and de­vel­op­ment stage, this time with more cap­i­tal flex­i­bil­i­ty, and re­main open to “op­por­tunis­tic” late-stage fly­ers.

In ear­ly-stage in­vest­ment, one of the biggest de­bates among VCs is the prod­uct-vs-plat­form par­a­digm, and Lettmann had some thoughts on ex­act­ly how his firm thinks about that di­vide. Light­stone tar­gets what it calls plat­form plays in both the biotech and medtech space but asks com­pa­nies to quick­ly nar­row the fo­cus around a sin­gle or clutch of prod­ucts.

“We don’t in­vest in plat­forms just for the sake of a plat­form,” Lettman said. “I think one of the things we’re most proud of is how many of our com­pa­nies have ul­ti­mate­ly de­vel­oped ther­a­pies that have been ap­proved in pa­tients. So I think our strat­e­gy is to find things where there are mul­ti­ple shots on goal but re­al­ly quick­ly piv­ot to a prod­uct fo­cus.”

Get­ting in ear­ly at the seed stage for com­pa­nies af­fords Light­stone a chance to help en­tre­pre­neurs shape their com­pa­ny’s tra­jec­to­ry mov­ing in­to the fu­ture. For Lettmann, the ide­al part­ner en­tre­pre­neurs are “op­er­a­tors” with ex­pe­ri­ence in the space and with star­tups, but the firm still takes a hands-on ap­proach when deal­ing with com­pa­nies.

“I think one of the ad­van­tages of a fund of our size is the abil­i­ty to re­al­ly fo­cus and spend the time to launch those com­pa­nies,” he said. “We do re­al­ly try to roll up our sleeves.”

Why it Works: Man­u­fac­tur­ing a Vac­cine in a Mul­ti-Prod­uct Fa­cil­i­ty.

COVID-19 launched the pharmaceutical industry to the frontline in the battle against the fast-spreading global pandemic. The goal: distribute a safe, effective vaccine as quickly as possible. Major players in the vaccine market needed to partner with contract development and manufacturing organizations (CDMOs) to achieve the goal of mass vaccine quantities under expedited timelines. With CDMOs stepping up to play a critical role in the vaccine manufacturing process, multi-product CDMO facilities took the spotlight. Partnerships quickly formed as the race to save lives and fight a pandemic was on.

Habib Dable, Acceleron CEO

Days of heat­ed ru­mors cul­mi­nate in a re­port that Ac­celeron is in ad­vanced buy­out talks

Days of frothy rumors about possible M&A discussions at Acceleron were capped late Friday with a Bloomberg report asserting that the biotech company is in advanced talks for an $11 billion buyout deal.

Bloomberg was unable to identify any bidders in the deal, but speculation has been running rampant that the surging value of Acceleron stock had to be the result of leaks around the auction of the company. As of early Monday morning, we’re still awaiting the final word.

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Merck CEO Rob Davis

Mer­ck emerges as lead bid­der in po­ten­tial Ac­celeron buy­out with deal pos­si­ble this week — re­port

With rumors swirling about a potential buyout of biotech Acceleron and its lead PAH drug sotatercept, market watchers have been keeping close tabs on industry movers and shakers due up for an expensive bolt-on. According to a new report, it appears Merck may be the one.

Merck is in “advanced talks” on a deal to acquire Cambridge, MA-based Acceleron in what previous reports pegged as a potential $11 billion buyout, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. A deal could come as early as this week, according to the Journal.

Alexander Lefterov/Endpoints News

The coro­n­avirus vac­cine that the world for­got could still help save it

Back at the beginning of the pandemic — back when we still called the virus “novel” and a single case in Washington state could make headlines — there emerged the story of the coronavirus vaccine that the world forgot.

It was an allegory for our pandemic ill-preparedness. At a time when the world had been caught so flat-footed, there were a pair of scientists who had seen the crisis coming, lab-coated Cassandras with an antidote if only the world had listened sooner.

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Brian Hubbard, Anji Pharmacetuticals CEO

Look­ing to rewrite the rules of drug li­cens­ing, start­up An­ji is on the hunt for 'dy­nam­ic eq­ui­ty' joint ven­tures

Licensing is one of the most common ways big drugmakers leverage biotech innovation to drive gains across their pipelines — and the structure of those deals is pretty well established. But one biotech with home bases in China and the US thinks it may have a better way.

On Tuesday, Cambridge-based biotech Anji Pharma closed a $70 million Series B with two late-stage molecules in the fold and a mission to rewrite the rules of drug licensing through what it calls “dynamic equity” deals and a joint venture-heavy game plan. The round was funded in whole by Chinese hedge fund CR Capital.

Safe­ty fears force Pfiz­er to change piv­otal DMD gene ther­a­py tri­al pro­to­col

As one of the biggest players in an increasingly packed gene therapy space, Pfizer has taken an early lead over specialists like Sarepta in taking a Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) candidate into late-stage testing. But new safety fears have led Pfizer to scale back that trial, cutting out patients with certain genetic mutations.

Pfizer has amended its enrollment protocol for a Phase III test for gene therapy fordadistrogene movaparvovec in DMD after investigators flagged severe side effects tied to specific mutations, according to a letter the drugmaker sent to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy, a patient advocacy group.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (John Thys, Pool via AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech sub­mit vac­cine da­ta to FDA for younger chil­dren; Doc­tors kept pre­scrib­ing hy­drox­y­chloro­quine

Pfizer and BioNTech said Tuesday they submitted to FDA positive data from a Phase II/III trial of their Covid-19 vaccine in children aged 5 to less than 12 years old.

A formal EUA submission for the vaccine in these children is expected to follow “in the coming weeks,” the companies said in a statement.

The trial of 2,268 healthy participants aged 5 to less than 12 years old showed the vaccine was safe and elicited robust neutralizing antibody responses using a two-dose regimen of 10 μg doses, which is one-third the dose that’s administered to adults.

From left to right: Mark Springel, Kristina Wang, Lin Ao, Soufiane Aboulhouda

George Church, his stu­dents, and top VCs go na­tion­wide with a biotech train­ing camp

One night last fall, Floris Engelhardt sat down in her Boston apartment and logged onto a Zoom call, armed with a comic and a vague idea about starting a biotech.

Engelhardt was joining a student-run “match night.” A postdoc at MIT’s Bathe BioNanoLab, where researchers use DNA and RNA like Lego blocks for nanometer-sized structures, Engelhardt wanted to find real-world applications for her work. She sketched out — literally — a plan to use DNA origami, a decade-old technique for precisely folding DNA, to make therapies.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Cyril Marcilhacy/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Sanofi calls it quits on mR­NA Covid-19 shots, scrap­ping vac­cine from $3.2B Trans­late Bio buy­out

Sanofi is throwing in the towel on mRNA-based Covid-19 vaccines.

The French drugmaker will halt development on its unmodified mRNA Covid-19 shot despite what it said were positive Phase I/II results, a spokesperson told Endpoints News on Tuesday morning. Sanofi said the reason it’s stopping the Covid-19 mRNA program, developed in partnership with its new $3.2 billion acquisition Translate Bio, is because the market is too crowded.