Lit­tle Drag­on­fly bursts on­to the I/O scene with a $33M Cel­gene deal and some of the biggest names in biotech

For a lit­tle biotech that’s been keep­ing a very low pro­file, Drag­on­fly has some very big names be­hind it. This morn­ing, it al­so has a big part­ner you def­i­nite­ly have heard of — Cel­gene — step­ping in with a siz­able pre­clin­i­cal up­front for a deal that will cer­tain­ly put this group on the in­dus­try map as one to watch.

Tyler Jacks

Cel­gene is fronting a 5-year col­lab­o­ra­tion pact with a $33 mil­lion pay­ment to Cam­bridge, MA-based Drag­on­fly Ther­a­peu­tics. Mile­stones? I’m as­sum­ing they’re plen­ti­ful, giv­en the ear­ly stage of the deal, but no one wants to say right now. And that’s the way this biotech rolls, as we saw just weeks ago when Cel­gene jumped in to a syn­di­cate to back an un­spec­i­fied round for this up­start — demon­strat­ing the big biotech’s ap­petite for a piece of the eq­ui­ty in the com­pa­nies it part­ners with.

Drag­on­fly is the cre­ation of three pri­ma­ry co-founders.

There’s Tyler Jacks, an MIT pro­fes­sor, HH­MI in­ves­ti­ga­tor and di­rec­tor of the David H. Koch In­sti­tute for In­te­gra­tive Can­cer Re­search, who you don’t see rou­tine­ly start­ing new biotechs.

Bill Haney, an en­tre­pre­neur and film mak­er with close con­tacts to the Cam­bridge/Boston biotech hub, is at the helm.

And then there’s Berke­ley’s David Raulet, whose back­ground as an ex­pert in NK cells and tu­mor im­munol­o­gy helps spot­light some of the big ideas the lit­tle team of 15 is pur­su­ing at Drag­on­fly.

“Big im­pact, big val­ue, small team,” is how Haney de­scribes the strat­e­gy to me at this stage of the game. We talked on Sun­day, ahead of the an­nounce­ment.

Bill Haney

Rather than go the tra­di­tion­al VC route, Haney, his long­time friend Tim Dis­ney (yes, that Dis­ney fam­i­ly) and Sean Reil­ly, the CEO at Lamar Ad­ver­tis­ing, seed­ed the com­pa­ny them­selves. With the lat­est fi­nanc­ing and deal cash in the bank, Haney says he has a clear 9-year run­way to op­er­ate.

You don’t see 9-year run­ways in biotech. Haney read­i­ly con­cedes that’s a con­ser­v­a­tive game plan.

Drag­on­fly is stay­ing hum­ble about its pro­file, but there’s noth­ing low-key about what this com­pa­ny hopes to ac­com­plish. Drag­on­fly has been work­ing on new tech­nol­o­gy to leapfrog where check­point ther­a­pies are right now. By link­ing on­to NK (nat­ur­al killer) cells and drag­ging them to a can­cer cell, they think they have a bet­ter ap­proach to tack­ling a wide range of can­cers. That drug de­sign in turn, says Haney, should al­so re­cruit reg­u­lar T cells to mob can­cer cells, am­pli­fy­ing the ef­fect.

It’s not orig­i­nal. Patrick Soon-Sh­iong’s ex­ten­sive biotech or­ga­ni­za­tion has the same thing in mind. But Jacks and Raulet think they have some­thing new and vi­tal here.

Cel­gene, which takes over the clin­i­cal work, be­lieves the same thing.

David Raulet

Haney tells me that the com­pa­ny plans to set up a few more part­ner­ships with phar­ma, com­plet­ing a process that will leave it with its own pipeline of drugs to take through the clin­ic.

Over the last few months, Drag­on­fly has al­so been re­cruit­ing new staff and a full com­ple­ment of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers. No­bel prize win­ner Harold Var­mus heads the sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board.

“Es­sen­tial­ly,” says Haney, “we have a long se­ries of drug can­di­dates were build­ing, some for Cel­gene, some for us, some for oth­er part­ners.”

When will Drag­on­fly get its first drug in the clin­ic?

Haney isn’t say­ing. But we’ll be watch­ing close­ly.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Martin Landray, Protas CEO (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Those big bil­lion-dol­lar PhI­II stud­ies? Mar­tin Lan­dray says they can be done for a tiny frac­tion of the cost

Martin Landray knows what controversy in clinical drug development feels like, from first-hand experience.

Landray was the chief architect of RECOVERY, a study that pitted a variety of drugs against Covid-19. And he offered some landmark data that would help push dexamethasone out into broader use as a cheap treatment, while helping ice hydroxy’s reputation as a clear misfire.

“Lots of people told us we shouldn’t use it,” Landray says about dexamethasone and Covid-19. “It was dangerous. We shouldn’t even do a trial. They also cared about hydroxychloroquine and lots of people said we shouldn’t do a trial because it must be used. I’ve got the letters from both sets of people.”

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Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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James Dentzer, Curis CEO

FDA lifts par­tial hold on Curis' lym­phoma study — shares spike

Four months after the FDA put two clinical trials from Curis on clinical hold, the FDA is now apparently content with how the biotech will change up managing one of the studies.

The Massachusetts oncology biotech put out word early Thursday that the federal regulator lifted a partial clinical hold of the company’s Phase I/II study of emavusertib in lymphoma, following a new data package that the biotech recently submitted to the agency. Shares of the biotech $CRIS, hovering just above penny stock territory, shot up more than 55% in early trading before settling at close to a 30% share price boost.

Astel­las' hot flash­es drug will get speedy re­view at FDA; US opts out of Val­ne­va vac­cine

The FDA will decide on Astellas’ menopausal symptom drug by Feb. 22 of next year, as the Japanese pharma disclosed it had paid about $97 million to get a priority review voucher to speed up the review.

Astellas said the agency has accepted the pharma’s application for fezolinetant for the treatment of moderate to severe vasomotor symptoms (VMS) associated with menopause. VMS includes hot flashes and/or night sweats. The company said as many as 80% of women in the US experience those symptoms during or after the menopausal transition.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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