What's a suc­cess­ful fail­ure? At­las' Booth sounds taps for Mer­ck-backed Quar­tet Med­i­cine

At­las Ven­ture sound­ed taps for biotech start­up Quar­tet Med­i­cine this morn­ing — done in by a trou­bling tox sig­nal that scut­tled its plans to de­vel­op a new chron­ic pain med.

Bruce Booth

At­las part­ner Bruce Booth wrote a de­tailed blog post to­day spelling out what drove the in­vestors to write off their $16 mil­lion in­vest­ment in the com­pa­ny, which he deemed a dis­ci­plined, suc­cess­ful fail­ure for a group that makes high-risk, high-re­ward gam­bles.

Booth, the chair­man at Quar­tet, says about $4 mil­lion of that A round came from one of At­las’ funds.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech had raised $17 mil­lion for the Se­ries A in late 2014 from a syn­di­cate that al­so in­clud­ed No­var­tis Ven­ture Funds, Pfiz­er Ven­ture In­vest­ment and Part­ners In­no­va­tion Fund .

Mer­ck pro­vid­ed an­oth­er piece of the puz­zle, com­ing in with $10 mil­lion up­front and the prospect of an­oth­er $10 mil­lion in near term cash while hold­ing out the prospect of a $575 mil­lion buy­out deal if the biotech could steer through Phase IIa suc­cess­ful­ly, with proof-of-con­cept da­ta.

Dal­las-based Remedi­tex Ven­tures, LLC and two undis­closed Shang­hai-based strate­gic in­vestors added $6.25 mil­lion last year. The same year Ger­hard Koenig was re­cruit­ed as the CEO. At­las seed­ed the com­pa­ny with sci­ence out of Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal and École Poly­tech­nique Fédérale de Lau­sanne (EPFL) in Switzer­land.

Quar­tet, though, nev­er made it in­to the clin­ic. Fo­cused on the BH4 path­way in search of a non-opi­oid pain med, they were tor­pe­doed by un­ex­pect­ed neu­ro­log­i­cal tox­i­c­i­ty that couldn’t be man­aged. Writes Booth:

In Au­gust, Quar­tet ob­served some con­cern­ing and un­ex­pect­ed neu­ro­log­ic ef­fects in the last few days of treat­ment in the GLP 28-day tox­i­col­o­gy study, the fi­nal piece to round out our oth­er­wise clean and com­plete IND pack­age. Un­for­tu­nate­ly, the tox sig­nal was like­ly “on tar­get” mech­a­nis­ti­cal­ly….

Quar­tet, he added, could have burned through more mon­ey, he adds, but the right call was to shut it down.

In Quar­tet’s case, wast­ing an­oth­er 2-3 years chas­ing a back­up can­di­date with a high­ly im­prob­a­ble tar­get prod­uct pro­file wasn’t a good use of ei­ther a great team’s time or in­vestors’ mon­ey.

And they kept the team small. Booth tells me the shut­down in­volved 7 staffers, who have all gone on to new roles in the boom­ing biotech hub.

“Wind down near­ly com­plete (by year end is goal),” Booth said in a mes­sage to me. We have re­cy­cled every­one in­to EIR (en­tre­pre­neur in res­i­dence) roles (e.g., Ger­hard, Mark, et al) or in­to oth­er star­tups (e.g., Steve in­to Rodin). Even the EA/Of­fice Man­ag­er, Oanh Sam, is now my EA.”

Now it’s on to oth­er things.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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