Mon­ey, brains and am­bi­tion: Third Rock start­up Tan­go launch­es with $55M and a stel­lar crew of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers


Tan­go Ther­a­peu­tics meets all the cri­te­ria you’ve come to ex­pect from a Third Rock start­up.

There’s the $55 mil­lion round ad­vanced to re­cruit a team and reach tan­gi­ble de­vel­op­ment goals while look­ing to blaze a new trail in the realm of un­met med­ical needs. There are the Third Rock part­ners tak­ing in­ter­im roles to get every­thing up and run­ning. And there’s an im­pres­sive crew of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers who bring to­geth­er decades of lab work in­volv­ing the chal­lenges this com­pa­ny will face.

One of the key ad­vis­ers here is Alan Ash­worth, who is pres­i­dent of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San Fran­cis­co He­len Diller Fam­i­ly Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter.

Ash­worth was in the group that dis­cov­ered the BR­CA2 mu­ta­tion in the mid-90s, and went on to play a lead role in the dis­cov­ery of those PARP in­hibitors we’ve been hear­ing so much about over the past few years, and months, as As­traZeneca, Tesaro and Clo­vis have led the way on a new class of can­cer ther­a­pies.

Tan­go is di­rect­ed to ex­ploit the ge­net­ic vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties can­cer has with new drugs that can tar­get very spe­cif­ic pa­tient pop­u­la­tions. In par­tic­u­lar, they’re look­ing to de­vel­op drugs that cre­ate syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty, find­ing the weak spots where tu­mor sup­pres­sor genes are iden­ti­fied and turned against the can­cer.

To do that this team — led by Third Rock part­ner and for­mer Penn and No­var­tis sci­en­tist Bar­bara We­ber — is build­ing a plat­form tech­nol­o­gy lay­ered to study tu­mor sup­pres­sor gene func­tion, the drug tar­gets that can be used to at­tack var­i­ous can­cers and the process of im­mune eva­sion can­cer cells use to evade de­struc­tion.

We­ber ex­plains that this ap­proach has been made pos­si­ble by a new use for CRISPR in drug dis­cov­ery. We­ber brought the idea to Third Rock, which she joined in 2015. And now she’ll get a chance to make it a re­al­i­ty as in­ter­im CEO.

“It’s a tool that is in­cred­i­bly ver­sa­tile and pow­er­ful,” says We­ber about CRISPR. “It can be used to in­ter­ro­gate tens of thou­sands of genes at a time and get a very spe­cif­ic an­swer with a high lev­el of ac­cu­ra­cy.”

“By virtue of the way we’re screen­ing for these tar­gets,” says Third Rock’s Cary Pf­ef­fer, in­ter­im busi­ness chief, re­searchers are si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly iden­ti­fy­ing tar­gets and ge­net­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ing them. And by iden­ti­fy­ing the ge­net­ics they can, like the BR­CA-tar­get­ed PARPs, se­lect the pa­tients most like­ly to re­spond.

That’s about all we know about Tan­go at this point. The com­pa­ny may sound like it’s struc­tured more like an aca­d­e­m­ic lab than a com­mer­cial biotech com­pa­ny, but it’s not, of course. Third Rock likes to seed these ear­ly ef­forts to see if it is worth a big Se­ries A launch, point­ed to spe­cif­ic tar­gets and drugs that can be brought in­to the clin­ic. But it’s not ready yet to talk spe­cif­ic pro­grams.

Right now, We­ber tells me, the biotech has about a dozen staffers. That will dou­ble by the mid­dle of the year as the biotech ex­pands in Cam­bridge. In ad­di­tion to Ash­worth, here’s the dream team of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers that Third Rock has gath­ered to help guide the ef­fort:

• José Basel­ga, Physi­cian-in-Chief at Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter

• Levi Gar­raway, SVP of Glob­al On­col­o­gy at Eli Lil­ly

• William Kaelin, Pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ment of Med­i­cine at the Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute, Har­vard Med­ical School and a Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute In­ves­ti­ga­tor

• Tim­o­thy K. Lu, As­so­ci­ate Pro­fes­sor of Bi­o­log­i­cal En­gi­neer­ing, Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing and Com­put­er Sci­ence at MIT

• An­toni Ribas, Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine, Surgery, and Mol­e­c­u­lar and Med­ical Phar­ma­col­o­gy at UCLA

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

President Donald Trump (via AP Images)

Signs of an 'Oc­to­ber Vac­cine Sur­prise' alarm ca­reer sci­en­tists

President Donald Trump, who seems intent on announcing a COVID-19 vaccine before Election Day, could legally authorize a vaccine over the objections of experts, officials at the FDA and even vaccine manufacturers, who have pledged not to release any vaccine unless it’s proved safe and effective.

In podcasts, public forums, social media and medical journals, a growing number of prominent health leaders say they fear that Trump — who has repeatedly signaled his desire for the swift approval of a vaccine and his displeasure with perceived delays at the FDA — will take matters into his own hands, running roughshod over the usual regulatory process.

#ES­MO20: Push­ing in­to front­line, Mer­ck and Bris­tol My­ers duke it out with new slate of GI can­cer da­ta

Having worked in parallel for years to move their respective PD-1 inhibitors up to the first-line treatment of gastrointestinal cancers, Merck and Bristol Myers Squibb finally have the data at ESMO for a showdown.

Comparing KEYNOTE-590 and CheckMate-649, of course, comes with the usual caveats. But a side-by-side look at the overall survival numbers also offer some perspective on a new frontier for the reigning checkpoint rivals, both of whom are claiming to have achieved a first.

Is­raeli biotech rais­es $57M to go where cur­rent BRAF in­hibitors can't, with back­ing from No­var­tis, SR One

For the blockbuster potential of Novartis’ Tafinlar and Pfizer’s Braftovi, all the BRAF inhibitors on the market so far only target V600 mutations — which accounts for roughly 50% of patients.

Israeli biotech Novellus now has $57 million to develop a drug that they say can help the other 50% who have everything else.

The Series C will fund a Phase II trial for PLX-8394, a “paradox breaker” that could block RAF without activating MAPK signaling. In a Phase I trial, a patient with a BRAF fusion saw their tumor go away after taking the drug, allowing Novellus to hit the ground running.

Jonathan Rigby, Immune Regulation group CEO

Im­mune Reg­u­la­tion, tak­ing two clin­i­cal pro­grams to 're­set' the im­mune sys­tem, nets $53M+ Se­ries B

A little under two years after a company rebranding, Immune Regulation is taking an even bigger step toward advancing its goals.

Formerly known as Peptinnovate, the British biotech announced a $53.4 million Series B early Monday morning, helping to further advance two clinical programs in rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Though those are the two initial indications the company is focusing on, CEO Jonathan Rigby told Endpoints News he hopes the candidates can be applied to a broad swath of autoimmune disorders.

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Grail’s whirlwind two weeks have ended in the wealthy arms of its former founder and benefactors.

Illumina has shelled out $8 billion to reacquire the closely-watched liquid biopsy startup they spun out just 5 years ago and sold off much of its shares just 3 years ago. The deal comes nearly two weeks after the well-heeled startup filed for a potentially massive IPO — one that was disrupted just a week later when Bloomberg reported that Illumina was in talks to buy their former spinout for up to $8 billion.

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Roche vaults to the front of the NL­RP3 clin­i­cal race, pay­ing $448M up­front to bag In­fla­zome

Roche is going all in on NLRP3.

The pharma giant is putting down $448 million (€380 million) upfront to snatch Novartis-backed Inflazome, which makes it a clinical player in the space overnight.

Dublin and Cambridge, UK-based Inflazome is the second NLRP3-focused biotech Roche has acquired in less than two years, and although no numbers were disclosed in the Jecure buyout, this is almost certainly a much larger deal.

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Anthony Fauci (AP Images)

A press of­fi­cer at An­tho­ny Fau­ci’s NI­AID was un­masked as a hard-right Covid troll. He just re­tired to­day

William B Crews had been a public affairs specialist at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

That ended today when he informed the agency of his decision to retire, after he was identified as the managing editor at RedState, a prominent Trump loyalist website.

Crews’ RedState duties are performed under the alias streiff. While enjoying the benefits of pseudonymity, he disparaged and worked against NIAID with an incendiary level of rhetoric in the midst of a pandemic.

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Moving into earlier and earlier treatment lines, Bristol Myers Squibb is reporting that adjuvant treatment with Opdivo has doubled the time that esophageal or gastroesophageal junction cancer patients stay free of disease.

With the CheckMate-577 data at ESMO, CMO Samit Hirawat said, the company believes it can change the treatment paradigm.

While a quarter to 30% of patients typically achieve a complete response following chemoradiation therapy and surgery, the rest do not, said Ronan Kelly of Baylor University Medical Center. The recurrence rate is also high within the first year, Hirawat added.