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.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Kristen Hege, Bristol Myers Squibb SVP, early clinical development, oncology/hematology and cell therapy (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: Bris­tol My­er­s' Kris­ten Hege on cell ther­a­py, can­cer pa­tients and men­tor­ing the next gen­er­a­tion

Kristen Hege leads Bristol Myers Squibb’s early oncology discovery program carrying on from the same work at Celgene, which was acquired by BMS in 2019. She’s known for her early work in CAR-T, having pioneered the first CAR-T cell trial for solid tumors more than 25 years ago.

However, the eminent physician-scientist is more than just a drug developer mastermind. She’s also a practicing physician, mother to two young women, an avid backpacker and intersecting all those interests — a champion of young women and people of color in STEM and life sciences.

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Spe­cial re­port 2022: Meet 20 women blaz­ing trails in bio­phar­ma R&D

When you run a special report for a fourth year, it can start feeling a little bit like a ritual. You go through the motions — in our case opening up nominations for top women in biopharma R&D and reviewing more than 500 entries — you make your choices of inclusion and exclusion. You host a ceremony.

But then things happen that remind you why you do it in the first place. Perhaps a Supreme Court rules to overturn the constitutional right to abortion and a group of women biotech leaders makes it clear they strongly dissent; perhaps new data on gender diversity in the industry come out that look all too similar to the old ones, suggesting women are still dramatically underrepresented at the top; perhaps protests and conflicts around the world put in stark terms the struggles that many women still face in earning the most basic recognition.

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Phar­ma rep­u­ta­tion re­tains 'halo' even as pan­dem­ic me­dia cov­er­age re­cedes — sur­vey

The Covid-19 halo effect on the pharma industry is continuing, according to a new global study from Ipsos. The annual survey for the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) finds considerable goodwill from consumers across measures of trust, cooperation with governments, and advancing research and drug development.

“Despite the pandemic in many countries no longer being the top of mind concern generally – although it does remain the top concern as a health issue – the industry’s reputation has remained positive,” said Ipsos research director Thomas Fife-Schaw.

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Gossamer Bio CEO Faheem Hasnain at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

Gos­samer’s Fa­heem Has­nain de­fends a round of pos­i­tive PAH da­ta as a clear win. But can these PhII re­sults stand up to scruti­ny?

Gossamer Bio $GOSS posted a statistically significant improvement for its primary endpoint in the key Phase II TORREY trial for lead drug seralutinib on Tuesday morning. But CEO Faheem Hasnain has some explaining to do on the important secondary of the crucial six-minute walk distance test — which will be the primary endpoint in Phase III — as the data on both endpoints fell short of expectations, missing one analyst’s bar on even modest success.

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Prometheus moves to raise cash hours af­ter PhII da­ta leads to stock surge

After releasing better-than-anticipated data on two mid-stage studies Wednesday morning, Prometheus Biosciences’ CEO said the company would “take some time to assess” its next financing options.

It only needed about seven hours. Wednesday afternoon after the market closed, the biotech announced it would seek $250 million through an equity offering as the company looks to edge out anti-TL1A competitor Pfizer and its new partner Roivant.

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Enhertu researcher Ian Krop speaks during Wednesday's SABCS press conference (MedMeetingImages/Todd Buchanan via SABCS)

SABCS roundup: No­var­tis shows two-year PFS in breast can­cer sub­groups; As­traZeneca re­veals more En­her­tu da­ta

The San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium is taking place this week, and so far, some of the Big Pharmas are turning out new trial data about some of the biggest drugs in the space.

First off, Novartis announced that its drug, Kisqali, showed about a year of progression-free survival in patients with different types of first-line metastatic breast cancer. The CDK 4/6 drug was first approved by the FDA in 2017, setting it up in direct competition against Pfizer’s Ibrance.

Big Phar­mas team up with lo­cal Sin­ga­pore or­ga­ni­za­tions to boost man­u­fac­tur­ing

Singapore has long established itself as a major hub for pharma manufacturing, and now several big players are looking to further cement their presence in the Lion City.

Takeda, Sanofi and GSK are forming a partnership with the Singapore-based Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) and several local academic institutions, including the National University of Singapore, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, its enterprise company called NTUitive and Singapore Institute of Technology to provide a greater boost to the manufacturing of biologics.

Piper Trelstad, head of CMC, Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute

Q&A with Gates leader: Women tak­ing on more roles in phar­ma man­u­fac­tur­ing, but still work to do

More and more women are driving innovation and taking leadership roles in biotech – as evidenced today in the release of Endpoints News’ list of the top 20 women in the R&D world – but those gains are beginning to extend across pharma sectors.

In pharma manufacturing in the US today, around 46% of all roles are occupied by women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2021. And according to a Bloomberg report, women’s roles across manufacturing roles had a massive boost after the start of the pandemic.