Mike Narachi gets a $19M shot at a new ap­proach to gene ther­a­py — and he has an­oth­er big mar­ket in mind

Mike Narachi is back at the helm of a start­up biotech. And once again he’s tak­ing on a big tar­get mar­ket — with the help of a ven­ture syn­di­cate that has at­tract­ed some of the top cor­po­rate in­vestors in the in­dus­try.

Narachi, you may re­call, steered Orex­i­gen through some huge de­vel­op­ment chal­lenges to join a group of new weight loss drugs that de­buted on the mar­ket. He sur­vived the de­vel­op­ment risk and an ini­tial FDA re­jec­tion, won a close­ly-watched ap­proval and sol­diered on to com­mer­cial­iza­tion. And that’s where he and the team were de­ci­sive­ly de­feat­ed — along with the oth­ers that tried and failed to find a niche for them­selves.

Now that Orex­i­gen has been sold for parts, the ex­pe­ri­enced biotech vet has jumped back in­to the game with a $19 mil­lion launch round for South San Fran­cis­co-based Co­da Bio­ther­a­peu­tics. 

At Co­da, the small team — less than 10 staffers — is work­ing on a new ap­proach that in­volves gene ther­a­py. They’re en­gi­neer­ing a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter re­cep­tor with plans to de­liv­er it in a gene via a vi­ral vec­tor de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle tar­get­ed at er­rant neu­rons. Cor­rect­ing those neu­rons should be enough to ad­dress chron­ic neu­ro­path­ic pain — pro­vid­ed they can be prop­er­ly mod­u­lat­ed by a drug that can be used to ac­ti­vate or de­ac­ti­vate the gene ther­a­py.

Joe Glo­rioso

The sci­ence comes out of the lab of Joe Glo­rioso, a pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ment of Mi­cro­bi­ol­o­gy and Mol­e­c­u­lar Ge­net­ics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Pitts­burgh School of Med­i­cine.

That’s a sim­ple plan to ex­plain, but seems dev­il­ish­ly com­pli­cat­ed to de­liv­er for the 19 mil­lion Amer­i­cans who suf­fer from the con­di­tion.

“The first aim is build a plat­form ap­proach to dis­eases not ad­dressed by cur­rent tech­nol­o­gy,” Narachi tells me. The $19 mil­lion, he says, should get them a can­di­date some­time next year, with an aim to be in the clin­ic in 2021. And that team of his will dou­ble un­der the A round.

“I think we’re fo­cused on build­ing this plat­form and then lever­ag­ing against clin­i­cal in­di­ca­tions where gene ther­a­py is in­ad­e­quate,” he adds. “The first aim is build a plat­form ap­proach dis­eases not ad­dressed by cur­rent tech­nol­o­gy.”

So what did he learn from Orex­i­gen that can help him now?

Pa­tient en­gage­ment, he replies. Through it all, the work was about pa­tient re­cruit­ment, clin­i­cal tri­als and then com­mer­cial­iza­tion, scram­bling to build an on­line sales chan­nel. It’s all valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence, he says, for what lies ahead.

He has some promi­nent sup­port­ers for this next stage of his ca­reer.

Lead in­vestors MPM Cap­i­tal and Ver­sant Ven­tures were joined in the round by Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment and No­var­tis.


Im­age: Mike Narachi. CAL­I­FORN­IAN HEALTH­CARE IN­STI­TUTE

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.

Den­mark's Gen­mab hits the jack­pot with $500M+ US IPO as small­er biotechs rake in a com­bined $147M

Danish drugmaker Genmab A/S is off to the races with perhaps one of the biggest biotech public listings in decades, having reaped over $500 million on the Nasdaq, as it positions itself as a bonafide player in antibody-based cancer therapies.

The company, which has long served as J&J’s $JNJ key partner on the blockbuster multiple myeloma therapy Darzalex, has asserted it has been looking to launch its own proprietary product — one it owns at least half of — by 2025.

FDA over­rides ad­comm opin­ions a fifth of the time, study finds — but why?

For drugmakers, FDA advisory panels are often an apprehended barometer of regulators’ final decisions. While the experts’ endorsement or criticism often translate directly to final outcomes, the FDA sometimes stun observers by diverging from recommendations.

A new paper out of Milbank Quarterly put a number on that trend by analyzing 376 voting meetings and subsequent actions from 2008 through 2015, confirming the general impression that regulators tend to agree with the adcomms most of the time — with discordances in only 22% of the cases.

UP­DAT­ED: With loom­ing ‘apoc­a­lypse of drug re­sis­tance,’ Mer­ck’s com­bi­na­tion an­tibi­ot­ic scores FDA ap­proval on two fronts

Merck — one of the last large biopharmaceuticals companies in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Wednesday said the FDA had sanctioned the approval of its combination antibacterial for the treatment of complicated urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections.

To curb the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and maintain the efficacy of the therapy, Recarbrio (and other antibacterials) — the drug must be used to treat or prevent infections that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by susceptible gram-negative bacteria, Merck $MRK said.

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