Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III tri­al of its chikun­gun­ya vac­cine, the Vi­en­na-based biotech has closed out €40 mil­lion ($44 mil­lion) to foot the clin­i­cal and man­u­fac­tur­ing bills.

Erich Tauber

Its heavy­weight part­ners at Mer­ck — which signed a pact around a mys­te­ri­ous “block­buster in­di­ca­tion” last month — jumped in­to the Se­ries D, led by new in­vestors Far­al­lon Cap­i­tal and Hadean Ven­tures. Ad­ju­vant Cap­i­tal al­so joined, as did cur­rent in­vestors Glob­al Health In­vest­ment Fund, aws Gru­en­der­fonds, Omnes Cap­i­tal, Ven­tech and Welling­ton Part­ners Life Sci­ences.

Themis had planned to go pub­lic on Eu­ronext Am­s­ter­dam a year ago but end­ed up post­pon­ing the IPO due to mar­ket con­di­tions, lead­ing to the even­tu­al de­ci­sion to raise a pri­vate round, CEO Erich Tauber said.

With da­ta on the chikun­gun­ya vac­cine, MV-CHIK, ex­pect­ed in the sec­ond half of next year, Themis is in talks with reg­u­la­tors around the world about po­ten­tial ap­proval and any fol­low-up safe­ty stud­ies. The FDA’s pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er is a strong in­cen­tive for tar­get­ing US ap­proval first, Tauber said. Themis’ team of 30 — clus­tered in Vi­en­na with small of­fices in Boston and Zurich — might al­so seek help tack­ling what an­a­lysts have called a $500 mil­lion to $800 mil­lion com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ty, but de­ci­sions about part­ner­ships are yet to be made, he added.

Themis is al­so al­lo­cat­ing parts of the new fund­ing to test in Phase I whether its measles virus vac­cine vec­tor tech­nol­o­gy — first li­censed from the In­sti­tut Pas­teur — can treat col­orec­tal can­cer.

Its ther­a­py comes in two parts: First pa­tients re­ceive the virus, which it­self has can­cer killing abil­i­ties, but al­so comes with a gene en­cod­ing for an en­zyme. That en­zyme cat­alyzes the con­ver­sion of an in­ac­tive pro­drug that pa­tients sub­se­quent­ly take, turn­ing it in­to a lo­cal chemother­a­py.

Max Planck in­ves­ti­ga­tor Ul­rich Lauer came up with the ap­proach and Themis gained ac­cess late last year.

They will like­ly com­bine this one-two punch ap­proach with check­point in­hibitors in clin­i­cal stud­ies, Tauber said.

Oth­er ap­pli­ca­tions of the measles virus vac­cine tech­nol­o­gy in­clude a slate of in­fec­tious dis­ease pro­grams rang­ing from Zi­ka and Las­sa fever to res­pi­ra­to­ry syn­cy­tial virus (RSV), cy­tomegalovirus (CMV), norovirus and Mid­dle East Res­pi­ra­to­ry Syn­drome (MERS). But those are fund­ed via pub­lic part­ner­ships or grants.

It’s un­clear whether Mer­ck is on­board for the more tra­di­tion­al vac­cine pro­grams or the im­muno-on­col­o­gy prospects.

“It’s a vote of con­fi­dence for us, and we’re al­so hap­py that we can use anti­gens from Mer­ck and test them in our sys­tem” is as far as Tauber was will­ing to go.

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.

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.

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.

Ex­elix­is pulls a sur­prise win in thy­roid can­cer just days ahead of fi­nal Cabome­tyx read­out

Exelixis added a thyroid cancer indication to its super-seller Cabometyx’s label on Friday — months before the FDA was expected to make a decision, and days before the company was set to unveil the final data at #ESMO21.

At a median follow-up of 10.1 months, differentiated thyroid cancer patients treated with Cabometyx (cabozantinib) lived a median of 11 months without their disease worsening, compared to just 1.9 months for patients given a placebo, Exelixis said on Monday.

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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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.

Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.