Locus CEO and co-founder Paul Garofolo

Lo­cus pulls in a mod­est Se­ries B as it at­tempts to em­u­late on­col­o­gy's pre­ci­sion med­i­cine mod­el in an­tibac­te­ri­als

De­spite a sig­nif­i­cant bear mar­ket af­fect­ing the pub­lic biotech sec­tor, pri­vate com­pa­nies are still man­ag­ing to pull in VC-backed fund­ing rounds. The lat­est such round comes out of North Car­oli­na’s re­search tri­an­gle for a pre­ci­sion an­tibac­te­r­i­al drug mak­er.

Lo­cus Bio­sciences closed a $35 mil­lion Se­ries B round Wednes­day morn­ing, fea­tur­ing some no­table names in­clud­ing Ar­tis Ven­tures, Ten­cent Hold­ings, Viking Glob­al In­vestors, Dis­cov­ery In­no­va­tions and John­son and John­son In­no­va­tion, the in­vest­ment arm of J&J. CEO and co-founder Paul Garo­fo­lo told End­points News that the funds will be used to ad­vance the com­pa­ny’s lead can­di­date, dubbed LBP-EC01.

The pro­gram is a cr­Phage pre­ci­sion med­i­cine tar­get­ing E.coli bac­te­ria caus­ing uri­nary tract in­fec­tions. The can­di­date, for which BAR­DA of­fered a $76.9 mil­lion fund­ing award in 2020, is near­ing a Phase II/III tri­al that the com­pa­ny hopes will start in the mid­dle of 2022.

Garo­fo­lo says that while many ear­ly en­trants in the mi­cro­bio­me space were main­ly fo­cused on donor-de­rived so­lu­tions, Lo­cus’ phi­los­o­phy has al­ways been to at­tack spe­cif­ic tar­gets with pre­ci­sion med­i­cine. Ac­cord­ing to him, the biotech’s drugs are de­signed to lim­it off-site tox­i­c­i­ty: an ap­proach sim­i­lar to the vast ar­ray of on­col­o­gy biotechs out there, though for Lo­cus that means not af­fect­ing “good” bac­te­ria.

The CEO is al­so look­ing to­ward ac­qui­si­tions, a move they’re fa­mil­iar with as, af­ter its Se­ries A in 2017, the com­pa­ny ac­quired Epibio­me’s plat­form. The deal man­aged to put Lo­cus on J&J’s radar, Garo­fo­lo said, and it is a move they are con­sid­er­ing again, es­pe­cial­ly as the mar­ket go­ing through a tur­bu­lent pe­ri­od.

“We think there (are) great pre­ci­sion ad­di­tion tech­nolo­gies that are out there that are re­al­ly strug­gling, the mi­cro­bio­me space is not in great shape. I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly think that’s be­cause the com­pa­nies are not great com­pa­nies,” he said. “I think there are some great com­pa­nies out there that are re­al­ly in ba­si­cal­ly trou­bled wa­ters.”

The com­pa­ny’s pre­vi­ous Se­ries A round in 2017, of which Ar­tis and Ten­cent were a part, net­ted the com­pa­ny $17 mil­lion. But since then, the com­pa­ny has been land­ing sev­er­al non-di­lu­tive deals to keep the com­pa­ny’s en­gine run­ning. This in­cludes a deal in 2019 with J&J to de­vel­op CRISPR-en­gi­neered bac­te­rio­phage ther­a­peu­tics tar­get­ing two key pathogens for the po­ten­tial treat­ment of res­pi­ra­to­ry tract in­fec­tions, among oth­ers.

Through that deal, Lo­cus earned a cool $20 mil­lion in ini­tial pay­ments, and the biotech is el­i­gi­ble to re­ceive a to­tal of $798 mil­lion in po­ten­tial mile­stone pay­ments and roy­al­ties.

Over­all, Garo­fo­lo is tight­en­ing up Lo­cus’s war chest for the months ahead. He said he feels pre­pared for what the tri­als and the mar­ket might have up their sleeves.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

David Liu (courtesy Broad Institute)

They’re go­ing for it: David Liu’s pre­clin­i­cal biotech shoots for a (maybe $200M) IPO

Can a preclinical biotech with grand ambitions, a star scientific founder and enthusiastic backers with deep pockets fly a big IPO against the gale force headwinds we’ve seen this year?

In this economy?

The people at Prime Medicine, which bills itself as a CRISPR 3.0 play, aim to find out if they can buck the trend — which has relented enough to allow for one upsized biotech IPO to get through — and possibly help pry open a window that was slammed shut at the beginning of the year.

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David Loew, Ipsen CEO (via Twitter)

Ipsen be­comes the lat­est phar­ma to ex­pand in Ire­land, with a $50M in­vest­ment in its fa­cil­i­ty in Dublin sub­urbs

It is no secret that Ireland has become a hot spot for pharma manufacturing projects over the past year, and it seems that Ipsen will be the latest player to get in on the action.

On Monday Ipsen unveiled the €52 million ($49.9 million) expansion it made into its active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing facility in Blanchardstown, a small suburb of Dublin. The investment is aimed at boosting medicine and ingredient production in cancer and rare disease space.

Three with­drawals in ad­vanced ovar­i­an can­cer spell trou­ble for PARP class

When AstraZeneca and Merck’s PARP inhibitor Lynparza was approved for advanced ovarian cancer back in 2014, FDA’s current Oncology Center of Excellence director Richard Pazdur touted it as the first in a “targeted, more personalized” new class of medicines for patients who often relapse after chemotherapy.

Almost a decade later, that option is once again off the table for some patients as three pharma giants yank late-stage indications from their labels over a potential increased risk of death.

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Sally Choe, outgoing director of the FDA's Office of Generic Drugs

FDA's top gener­ic drug leader puts in her two weeks as GDU­FA III looms

The FDA is about to lose another top leader with the departure of Sally Choe, director of the FDA’s Office of Generic Drugs, on Oct. 8. The departure coincides with the transition from the second reauthorization of the Generic Drug User Fee Amendments to the third reauthorization, which Congress has until Friday to finish up.

Choe, who didn’t immediately say where she’s heading post-FDA, but did a stint at Parexel, has served as the OGD director since February 2019, and “has been the principal medical and technical authority on all matters related to generic drug review and advised me and other agency officials,” CDER director Patrizia Cavazzoni said in an email to staff announcing Choe’s departure.

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Denise Scots-Knight, Mereo BioPharma CEO

Ru­bik's Cube still not solved at Mereo as ac­tivist in­vestor re­jects biotech's of­fer for board seats

Last month, Mereo BioPharma said its shareholders “deserve better” and in the latest setback at the UK biotech, the disgruntled 14% owner Rubric Capital Management has rejected an offer that the rare disease drugmaker thought would’ve solved the proxy fight.

The London biotech put out word Monday that it had offered up a principal and new director board seat to Rubric by having two existing Mereo directors retire. The offer didn’t entice Rubric amid a weekslong back-and-forth between the two parties, with Mereo sending multiple letters to the investor to defend itself and mitigate public concerns.

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Julie Brown, incoming GSK CFO (Roche)

With con­sumer health be­hind it, GSK taps As­traZeneca vet Julie Brown as CFO for R&D-fo­cused fu­ture

Four years ago, Emma Walmsley recruited Iain Mackay from the banking world to become GSK’s CFO, spotlighting his “track record of driving cost, cash and capital allocation discipline to deliver strategy.” Now that he’s helped oversee the spinoff of GSK’s consumer health unit, Walmsley is turning to an industry veteran for his successor.

Julie Brown, a veteran of AstraZeneca who recently switched lanes to become Burberry’s chief operating and financial officer, will join GSK as CFO in April as Mackay retires.

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Ron Cooper, Albireo CEO

Liv­er-fo­cused start­up nabs $115M in ex­change for rare dis­ease drug roy­al­ties

A Boston biotech focused on liver disease raised some quick cash last week, selling royalty rights to its sole FDA-approved drug.

Albireo Pharma sold the royalties to Canada-based investment firm Sagard Holdings for $115 million, nabbing the funds in exchange for future sales of Bylvay, approved last year to treat pruritus in all subtypes of progressive familial intrahepatic cholestasis (PFIC). The money will help the biotech extend its runway ahead of a 2024 Phase III readout in biliary atresia, CEO Ron Cooper said in a statement.

The End­points 11; blue­bird's $3M gene ther­a­py; Bio­gen tout new neu­ro da­ta; Harsh re­views for can­cer drugs; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Reading about John Carroll’s pick of biotech’s most promising startups has become a treasured tradition. If you ever get curious about previous classes of the Endpoints 11, you can find all of them (plus a number of our other regular specials) here.

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