Julio Aguirre-Ghiso (L) and Alan Rigby (HiberCell)

Look­ing to re­shape the metasta­t­ic can­cer land­scape, Hi­ber­Cell fills the tank with a slate of mid-stage tests queued up

A lit­tle over two years since its last raise, New York-based biotech Hi­ber­Cell is re­turn­ing to the ven­ture well for some more cap­i­tal.

The com­pa­ny has pulled in a new $67.4 mil­lion Se­ries B, Hi­ber­Cell an­nounced Wednes­day morn­ing, as it con­tin­ues its trek to de­vel­op drugs pre­vent­ing can­cer re­lapse and metas­ta­sis. Wednes­day’s funds will be used to ad­vance its pro­grams re­search­ing how stress bi­ol­o­gy and in­nate im­mu­ni­ty can play a role in can­cer re­cur­rence.

In ad­di­tion to the Se­ries B, Hi­ber­Cell con­cur­rent­ly se­cured a $30 mil­lion debt fa­cil­i­ty with Her­cules Cap­i­tal.

Hi­ber­Cell’s foun­da­tion comes from the lab work of Julio Aguirre-Ghiso at Mount Sinai, cen­tered around the no­tion that “dor­mant” dis­sem­i­nat­ed tu­mor cells — or DTCs — can re­ac­ti­vate long af­ter drugs have flushed all ap­pear­ances of can­cer. The the­o­ry goes that this re­sponse can lead to a metasta­t­ic can­cer with a near-cer­tain fa­tal­i­ty rate.

Though this no­tion isn’t par­tic­u­lar­ly new, Aguirre-Ghiso’s lab made some im­por­tant break­throughs re­gard­ing the bi­ol­o­gy of dis­sem­i­na­tion, co-founder and CEO Alan Rig­by said in an in­ter­view af­ter Hi­ber­Cell’s Se­ries A back in Feb­ru­ary 2019.

It may al­so ring a bell to some ob­servers in the field, as oth­er biotechs re­search­ing senes­cent cells have sim­i­lar ob­jec­tives, Rig­by told End­points News on Wednes­day. Dor­mant DTCs and senes­cent cells are es­sen­tial­ly the same thing, Rig­by said, and Hi­ber­Cell’s ul­ti­mate goal is to con­nect the un­der­ly­ing bi­ol­o­gy of these cells with clin­i­cal out­comes for pa­tients.

“These are the cells that cre­ate and ex­tend the win­dow of clin­i­cal dor­man­cy,” Rig­by told End­points. “It’s how some pa­tients with breast can­cer have the abil­i­ty to be fine for 20 years and then it comes back … we be­lieve they’re in­stru­men­tal in metasta­t­ic re­cur­rence.”

Two years af­ter the Se­ries A, Hi­ber­Cell’s pipeline now sits at three can­di­dates: one tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment mod­u­la­tor and two adap­tive stress mod­u­la­tors. The pro­gram far­thest along falls in that for­mer cat­e­go­ry, one that Hi­ber­Cell ac­quired last June. Known as Im­prime PGG, the can­di­date is be­ing stud­ied in com­bi­na­tion with Keytru­da for re­sectable melanoma and metasta­t­ic breast can­cer.

A Phase II study look­ing at treat­ment-naïve, re­sectable stage III melanoma is ex­pect­ed to launch right around when Q2 ends, Rig­by said. There’s al­so a Phase II tri­al for metasta­t­ic breast can­cer fol­low­ing HR fail­ure planned for some­time in the third quar­ter, he added.

Even though this can­di­date has on­ly re­cent­ly joined the Hi­ber­Cell pipeline, Rig­by be­lieves it can be in­stru­men­tal in mov­ing its oth­er in­ter­nal pro­grams along thanks to its “1-2 punch” in im­prov­ing sur­vival ad­van­tages and pro­mot­ing im­muno­sup­pres­sion. Those two can­di­dates, adap­tive stress mod­u­la­tors, are still in the ear­ly stages.

First up is their PERK in­hibitor for re­nal cell car­ci­no­ma and gas­tric can­cer, which re­cent­ly launched a Phase Ia safe­ty study. Then there’s an ISR mod­u­la­tor geared up for the gen­er­al “sol­id and liq­uid tu­mor” cat­e­go­ry, which is on track for a third quar­ter IND ap­pli­ca­tion.

As the whole field moves for­ward, there may be a time where non-metasta­t­ic can­cer pa­tients end up need­ing drugs like Hi­ber­Cell’s as a main­te­nance ther­a­py to pre­vent re­cur­rence af­ter their first bout with the dis­ease ends up in re­mis­sion, Rig­by said. But right now it’s still too ear­ly for any­one to say how long that might take.

“It’s up to us and oth­ers to ul­ti­mate­ly con­nect this unique bi­ol­o­gy to can­cer es­cape,” Rig­by said.

Wednes­day’s round in­clud­ed new in­vestors Huizen­ga, Monashee, Tekla, Her­cules Cap­i­tal, Mount Sinai In­no­va­tion Part­ners and oth­er undis­closed in­vestors. Re­turn­ing in­vestors, in­clud­ing ARCH, Mag­net­ic Ven­tures, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, Trini­tas Cap­i­tal and oth­ers from the Se­ries A syn­di­cate al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

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.

Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (UKBIO19)

Au­to­lus tips its hand, bags $220M as CAR-T show­down with Gilead looms

The first batch of pivotal data on Autolus Therapeutics’ CAR-T is in, and execs are ready to plot a path to market.

With an overall remission rate of 70% at the interim analysis featuring 50 patients, the results set the stage for a BLA filing by the end of 2023, said CEO Christian Itin.

Perhaps more importantly — given that Autolus’ drug, obe-cel, is going after an indication that Gilead’s Tecartus is already approved for — the biotech highlighted “encouraging safety data” in the trial, with a low percentage of patients experiencing severe immune responses.

Dipal Doshi, Entrada Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex just found the next big ‘trans­for­ma­tive’ thing for the pipeline — at a biotech just down the street

Back in the summer of 2019, when I was covering Vertex’s executive chairman Jeff Leiden’s plans for the pipeline, I picked up on a distinct focus on myotonic dystrophy Type I, or DM1 — one of what Leiden called “two diseases (with DMD) we’re interested in and we continue to look for those assets.”

Today, Leiden’s successor at the helm of Vertex, CEO Reshma Kewalramani, is plunking down $250 million in cash to go the extra mile on DM1. The lion’s share of that is for the upfront, with a small reserve for equity in a deal that lines Vertex up with a neighbor in Seaport that has been rather quietly going at both of Vertex’s early disease targets with preclinical assets.

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WIB22: Am­ber Salz­man had few op­tions when her son was di­ag­nosed with a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease. So she cre­at­ed a bet­ter one

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

Amber Salzman’s life changed on a cold, damp day in Paris over tiny plastic cups of lukewarm tea.

She was meeting with Patrick Aubourg, a French neurologist studying adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, a rare genetic condition that causes rapid neurological decline in young boys. It’s a sinister disease that often leads to disability or death within just a few years. Salzman’s nephew was diagnosed at just 6 or 7 years old, and died at the age of 12.

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Ahead of ad­comm, FDA rais­es un­cer­tain­ties on ben­e­fit-risk pro­file of Cy­to­ki­net­ic­s' po­ten­tial heart drug

The FDA’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss whether Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug can safely reduce the risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure in patients with symptomatic chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil and in development for more than 15 years, has seen mixed results, with a first Phase III readout from November 2020 hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as key to breaking into the market.

Nashville-based CD­MO nets a $65M Se­ries B to ex­pand fa­cil­i­ty and ca­pa­bil­i­ties

Another $65 million is music to the ears of the team at August Bioservices, a contract manufacturer in Nashville.

The company announced the Series B round last week, which will fund equipment in a new building expected to open in 2023, according to CEO Jenn Adams. It was led by Oak HC/FT, the same firm that led August’s Series A round in July 2020.

August Bioservices, a producer of materials such as prefilled syringes, IV bags and vials, was formed back in 2020 after the acquisition of PMI BioPharma Solutions, also based in Nashville. Adams said the goal was to build a business that could “address the scarcity of supply relative to sterile injectable manufacturing based in the US” and provide a broad range of manufacturing services.

Ab­b­Vie slapped with age dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit, fol­low­ing oth­er phar­mas

Add AbbVie to the list of pharma companies currently facing age discrimination allegations.

Pennsylvania resident Thomas Hesch filed suit against AbbVie on Wednesday, accusing the company of passing him over for promotions in favor of younger candidates.

Despite 30 years of pharma experience, “Hesch has consistently seen younger, less qualified employees promoted over him,” the complaint states.

Rami Elghandour, Arcellx CEO

Up­dat­ed: Gilead, Ar­cel­lx team up on an­ti-BC­MA CAR-T as biotech touts a 100% re­sponse rate at #ASH22

Gilead and Kite are plunking down big cash to get into the anti-BCMA CAR-T game.

The pair will shell out $225 million in cash upfront and $100 million in equity to Arcellx, Kite announced Friday morning, to develop the biotech’s lead CAR-T program together. Kite will handle commercialization and co-development with Arcellx, and profits in the US will be split 50-50.

Concurrent with the deal, Arcellx revealed its latest cut of data for the program known as CART-ddBCMA, ahead of a full presentation at this weekend’s ASH conference — a 100% response rate among patients getting the therapy. Investors jumped at the dual announcements, sending Arcellx shares $ACLX up more than 25% in Friday’s morning session.

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WIB22: Lead­ing NK cell re­searcher re­flects on roots in Iran, the UK and Texas

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

In a small but widely-cited 11-person study published in NEJM in 2020, seven patients saw signs of their cancer completely go away after getting a new therapy made from natural killer cells. The study was one of the earliest to provide clinical proof that the experimental treatment method had promise.

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