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

Nick Galakatos, Blackstone global head of life sciences

Nick Galakatos and the Black­stone team now have a record $4.6B to in­vest in bio­phar­ma, with a big fo­cus on push­ing com­pa­nies over the top

Nick Galakatos and his team at Blackstone Life Sciences have seen their biggest opportunities swell up in mostly established players who don’t have all the money they need to accomplish everything on the to-do list. And right now, with the industry booming, that’s a long list with some hefty needs.

The Blackstone team has neatly tied up the largest private fund ever raised in life sciences for making big dreams come true in biopharma. Late Thursday, Blackstone put out word that they had closed their highly anticipated fund with the projected $4.6 billion all in.

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UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen shares spike as ex­ecs com­plete a de­layed pitch for their con­tro­ver­sial Alzheimer's drug — the next move be­longs to the FDA

Biogen is stepping out onto the high wire today, reporting that the team working on the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab has now completed their submission to the FDA. And they want the agency to bless it with a priority review that would cut the agency’s decision-making time to a mere 6 months.

The news drove a 10% spike in Biogen’s stock $BIIB ahead of the bell.

Part of that spike can be attributed to a relief rally. Biogen execs rattled backers and a host of analysts earlier in the year when they unexpectedly delayed their filing to the third quarter. That delay provoked all manner of speculation after CEO Michel Vounatsos and R&D chief Al Sandrock failed to persuade influential observers that the pandemic and other factors had slowed the timeline for filing. Actually making the pitch at least satisfies skeptics that the FDA was not likely pushing back as Biogen was pushing in. From the start, Biogen execs claimed that they were doing everything in cooperation with the FDA, saying that regulators had signaled their interest in reviewing the submission.

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Gilead boasts of pos­i­tive remde­sivir da­ta on mor­tal­i­ty — but their analy­sis pro­vokes the skep­tics

Gilead is surging again off data that suggest its antiviral remdesivir might improve survival.

The new data come from an analysis Gilead conducted comparing the death rate and recovery time of patients in one of its remdesivir trials to a group of 800 patients “with similar baseline characteristics and disease severity” who received only standard-of-care around the same time. The result, they said, suggested that patients who received remdesivir had a 62% better chance at surviving than those who did not.

Hal Barron, GSK

Win or lose on the mar­ket­ing OK, the FDA just gunned down GSK’s bright hopes for their BC­MA ther­a­py

The FDA’s ODAC — the Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee — has a well-known bias in favor of adding new cancer drugs to the market, even if efficacy is at best marginal and serious safety issues demand careful management.

Doctors want as many arrows in their quiver as they can get. And when patients are dying after failing multiple drugs, why not give it a go one more time?

GlaxoSmithKline, though, is about to test out how their new BCMA antibody drug conjugate belantamab mafodotin can do after being mauled in an in-house FDA review, ahead of the Tuesday expert panel discussion. Even if the agency goes ahead with an expected green light, this drug will likely be constrained to a small niche — icing any plans they may have for making waves in oncology anytime soon.

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Covid-19 roundup: BioN­Tech go­ing head-to-head with Mod­er­na as PhI­II mR­NA launch looms; Tri­al on Shin­zo Abe’s once-fa­vorite an­tivi­ral is in­con­clu­sive

It’s a race to the Phase III finish line now for the 2 leading mRNA vaccines in the pipeline for Covid-19.

BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin told the Wall Street Journal that his company will start Phase III testing of their vaccine later this month, setting them up to lateral the data to regulators before the end of this year.

That puts them essentially on the exact same schedule as Moderna is dedicated to. The Massachusetts rival to BioNTech also expects to launch Phase III this month. Lots of rumors have circulated about delays and conflict among the scientists advancing the Moderna jab, but the biotech has consistently stuck to its plan to start a late-stage pivotal this month.

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Stephan Christgau, Amanda Hayward, Andreas Segerros and Magnus Persson (Eir Ventures)

A new ven­ture fund amid a pan­dem­ic? In the Nordics? Eir Ven­tures brings it on with €76M first close

From Pharmacia and Lundbeck to Novo Nordisk and AstraZeneca, the Nordic countries have been the birthplace for some legacy pharma companies. But for all that history and reputation, Stephan Christgau counts only five specialized life science investors backing biotechs today.

That leaves plenty of room for Eir Ventures, a brand new venture fund Christgau — one of the founders of Novo Seeds — is launching with three other veteran VCs.

Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer speaks at a meeting with President Donald Trump, members of the Coronavirus Task Force, and pharmaceutical executives in the Cabinet Room of the White House (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

OWS shifts spot­light to drugs to fight Covid-19, hand­ing Re­gen­eron $450M to be­gin large scale man­u­fac­tur­ing in the US

The US government is on a spending spree. And after committing billions to vaccines defense operations are now doling out more of the big bucks through Operation Warp Speed to back a rapid flip of a drug into the market to stop Covid-19 from ravaging patients — possibly inside of 2 months.

The beneficiary this morning is Regeneron, the big biotech engaged in a frenzied race to develop an antibody cocktail called REGN-COV2 that just started a late-stage program to prove its worth in fighting the virus. BARDA and the Department of Defense are awarding Regeneron a $450 million contract to cover bulk delivery of the cocktail starting as early as late summer, with money added for fill/finish and storage activities.

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Andrew Kruegel, Kures president and co-founder (Columbia Tech Ventures via Vimeo)

Af­ter psilo­cy­bin and ke­t­a­mine, a new biotech comes along de­vel­op­ing a drug Scott Got­tlieb fought

Andrew Kruegel was six years into his chemistry work at Columbia University, when, one day in August 2016, he learned he might have only 30 days before the government made him destroy his research.

Kruegel had been studying kratom, a leaf long used in Southeast Asia as a stimulant or for pain. It had opioid-like properties, he found, but seemed to offer pain relief without the addictive potential or respiratory side effects of traditional opioids — a riddle that might help illuminate how human opioid receptors work.

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Atul Deshpande, Harbour BioMed chief strategy officer & head, US operations (Harbour BioMed)

An­oth­er biotech IPO set-up? Multi­na­tion­al biotech leaps from round to round, scoop­ing up cash at a blis­ter­ing pace

A short four months after announcing a $75 million haul in Series B+ fundraising, the multinational biotech Harbour BioMed pulled in another round of investments and eclipsed the nine-digit mark in the process.

Harbour completed its Series C financing, the company announced Thursday morning, raising $102.8 million and bringing its total investment sum to over $300 million since its founding in late 2016. The biotech plans to use the money to transition early-stage candidates from the discovery phase, fund candidates already in the clinic, and prep late-stage candidates for commercialization.

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