Mi­cro­bio­me up­start Vedan­ta gets an ex­tra $18.5M in the bank, wrap­ping up $45.5 Se­ries C round

Apart from a few pit­falls, such as Seres Ther­a­peu­tics’ sem­i­nal ef­fort in­to de­vel­op­ing a “crap­sule” — the emerg­ing field aim­ing to har­ness in­sights gained from gut mi­cro­bio­ta to de­vel­op drugs has at­tract­ed a buck­et of biobucks and even in­spired the takeover of a key play­er, Re­bi­otix. The en­thu­si­asm per­sists, with up­start Vedan­ta Bio­sciences at­tract­ing an ad­di­tion­al $18.5 mil­lion in its Se­ries C round.

The Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny, which has al­ready joined forces with J&J’s $JNJ Janssen unit and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb $BMY, said it had raised $27 mil­lion in De­cem­ber, from in­vestors in­clud­ing the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, Bris­tol-My­ers, Rock Springs Cap­i­tal, In­vesco As­set Man­age­ment, Sev­en­ture Part­ners, and PureTech Health. Its lead drug, VE303, is cur­rent­ly be­ing eval­u­at­ed in a mid-stage study in re­cur­rent C. dif­fi­cile in­fec­tion.

The con­cept of fe­cal mi­cro­bio­ta trans­plan­ta­tion (FMT) — re­plen­ish­ing a pa­tient’s gut with bac­te­ria from a healthy fe­ces — was orig­i­nal­ly doc­u­ment­ed in Chi­na, and has been used in the Unit­ed States since the 1950s with lit­tle reg­u­la­to­ry scruti­ny. About six years ago, the FDA sanc­tioned the use of FMT as a last re­sort mea­sure for re­cur­rent C. diff, but the agency con­tin­ues to con­sid­er it an in­ves­ti­ga­tion­al treat­ment. Glob­al­ly, hun­dreds of tri­als are now un­der­way test­ing the po­ten­tial of FMT for pa­tients suf­fer­ing from var­i­ous ill­ness­es, from autism to obe­si­ty. Mi­cro­bio­me-based ther­a­peu­tics to­day is a fer­tile field for drug de­vel­op­ers tar­get­ing a wide va­ri­ety of in­di­ca­tions us­ing dif­fer­ent ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ties, some of which are de­signed to side­step the “ick” fac­tor as­so­ci­at­ed with tra­di­tion­al stool trans­fer.

Un­like ri­vals such as Seres and Re­bi­otix who are de­vel­op­ing pills in an ef­fort to treat dis­ease by har­ness­ing gut mi­crobes found in healthy fe­ces, Vedan­ta is de­vel­op­ing a con­sor­tium of bac­te­ria man­u­fac­tured from pure, clon­al cell banks that the biotech hopes can in­duce a range of im­mune re­spons­es.

The new cap­i­tal — which comes from JSR Cor­po­ra­tion, Shumway Cap­i­tal, Sym­Bio­sis LLC, and Part­ners In­vest­ment — will be used to fi­nance the de­vel­op­ment of four of the com­pa­ny’s ex­per­i­men­tal drugs, in­clud­ing a Phase I/II study of VE416 in food al­ler­gy, a Phase Ib/II study of VE800 and Bris­tol-My­er’s Op­di­vo in ad­vanced or metasta­t­ic can­cers, and the Phase II study of VE303 in re­cur­rent C. diff, which were cre­at­ed out of Vedan­ta’s clus­ter of bac­te­r­i­al strains.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Peter Thiel (Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

Tech bil­lion­aire Pe­ter Thiel backs a lead­ing psy­che­del­ic drug de­vel­op­er

Right on the heels of investing in antibody drug developer AbCellera, Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel has jumped into a syndicate putting up $125 million for a company with a portfolio of psychedelic drugs in the clinic for mental health.

The C round — which includes a $32 million conversion of notes to equity — will fuel the development programs at ATAI Life Sciences, a Berlin-based biotech that has assembled a portfolio of companies with psychedelic and non-psychedilc approaches to depression, anxiety and addiction.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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Vipin Suri, Catamaran Bio CSO

Cata­ma­ran Bio sails in­to the CAR-NK wa­ters with a $42M launch round

Catamaran Bio’s founding members decided to jump into the CAR-NK game last December over drinks at a trendy bar in Boston.

They were sitting around a table, discussing an MD Anderson study which provided some of the first clinical proof that natural killer (NK) cells can be reengineered to attack tumors, much like CAR-T therapies. It was a “long and lively” discussion, COO Mark Boshar recalls. And by the time it was over, they had a starting point to launch a company.

Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Simeon George, SR One CEO (SR One)

Scoop: SR One crew com­pletes a com­pli­cat­ed spin­out from Glax­o­SmithK­line. And now they have a $500M fund to in­vest on their own

It’s taken close to 2 years, but Simeon George and his team at SR One have completed their spinout from GlaxoSmithKline, ending a saga as one of the longest running venture arms of Big Pharma as they go out on their own to forge the next chapter with a new and independent $500 million fund.

GSK is sticking with the spinout, this time as a minority investor — though a big one. And I’m told that the R&D group at GSK will remain involved in evaluating their new plays, helping with the scientific due diligence involved in scouting the world for new opportunities during a period of explosive growth in biotech investing.

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