Chris Varma, Frontier Medicines CEO

Months af­ter Am­gen's land­mark KRAS ap­proval, Chris Var­ma bags a crossover round for next-gen can­di­date

For years, mu­tant, can­cer-fu­el­ing KRAS pro­teins were con­sid­ered “un­drug­gable.” That all changed in May, when Am­gen’s KRAS-block­ing drug Lumakras snagged the FDA’s first ap­proval in the field. And now a slate of in­vestors are bet­ting $88.5 mil­lion on a Bay Area start­up’s next-gen­er­a­tion can­di­date.

Fron­tier Med­i­cines has closed a hefty Se­ries B round, co-led by Wood­line Part­ners and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, the com­pa­ny said on Mon­day. Deer­field Man­age­ment, Deep Track Cap­i­tal, Ar­row­Mark Part­ners, Driehaus Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Sphera Health­care, DCVC’s Bio fund, Droia Ven­tures and MPM Cap­i­tal al­so chimed in. With the lat­est round, it’s pos­si­ble CEO Chris Var­ma has an IPO on the mind.

Var­ma launched Fron­tier back in 2019 with $67 mil­lion in launch mon­ey and a mis­sion to drug pre­vi­ous­ly “un­drug­gable” pro­teins. Since then, the 10-per­son team has grown to about 60 staffers. Var­ma — who has al­so co-found­ed Blue­print Med­i­cines and built com­pa­nies at Third Rock and Flag­ship — says the team is like­ly a cou­ple years away from the clin­ic.

“We’re pro­gress­ing rapid­ly to IND-en­abling stud­ies,” he told End­points News on Mon­day morn­ing.

Back in De­cem­ber, Ab­b­Vie shelled out $55 mil­lion up­front to part­ner with Fron­tier on pro­tein degra­da­tion work, promis­ing to re­im­burse the start­up for its pre­clin­i­cal R&D costs.

Mean­while, the B round will be used to ad­vance the com­pa­ny’s pre­clin­i­cal pipeline of pre­ci­sion med­i­cines against dri­vers of can­cer. Its lead pro­gram is fo­cused on block­ing ac­tive and in­ac­tive forms of KRAS G12C, the same mu­ta­tion tar­get­ed by Am­gen’s Lumakras for non-small cell lung can­cer. What dif­fer­en­ti­ates Fron­tier’s can­di­date is that it tar­gets both ac­tive and in­ac­tive forms of the pro­tein. A ma­jor­i­ty of pa­tients who are treat­ed with in­hibitors tar­get­ing in­ac­tive forms of KRAS G12C don’t re­spond, Var­ma added.

“The abil­i­ty to tar­get both forms of KRASG12C, which in­cludes the ac­tive and in­ac­tive states of the pro­tein, with a small mol­e­cule ther­a­py would be a long-await­ed sci­en­tif­ic break­through,” said Frank Mc­Cormick, a pro­fes­sor of the UCSF He­len Diller Fam­i­ly Com­pre­hen­sive Can­cer Cen­ter, in a state­ment.

“Im­por­tant­ly for pa­tients, a drug with this dual in­hi­bi­tion may be more ef­fi­ca­cious than a drug that tar­gets just the in­ac­tive form of KRASG12C by ad­dress­ing the large ma­jor­i­ty of pa­tients who are non-re­spon­ders to first gen­er­a­tion sin­gle-form KRASG12C in­hibitors, as well as those pa­tients whose tu­mors be­come re­sis­tant to the first-gen­er­a­tion mol­e­cules,” he con­tin­ued.

At the core of Fron­tier’s plat­form is ma­chine learn­ing paired with some­thing the com­pa­ny calls chemo­pro­teomics, or find­ing new ways to bind tar­gets by ex­am­in­ing tem­po­rary pock­ets in pro­teins.

Up­on the com­pa­ny’s launch back in 2019, Var­ma told End­points that “drug­gable” pro­teins are like coat hang­ers — they have cor­ners that drugs can dock in­to. “Un­drug­gable” pro­teins on the oth­er hand ap­pear — fig­u­ra­tive­ly — more like a string.

“If you shake the string, you wig­gle it, then you see that ac­tu­al­ly curves do form and with­in those curves are cor­ners and you could imag­ine dock­ing a small mol­e­cule drug in­to those,” he said.

Fron­tier is work­ing on tech that would al­low sci­en­tists to put a co­va­lent bind there, cre­at­ing a per­ma­nent lock in a tran­sient cor­ner.

A hand­ful of oth­er drug­mak­ers are pur­su­ing KRAS in­hibitors, in­clud­ing Mi­rati, which snagged break­through ther­a­py des­ig­na­tion for its ada­gra­sib in non-small cell lung can­cer back in June. Eli Lil­ly jumped in­to the hunt back in March, and said it planned to put a new small mol­e­cule in Phase I lat­er this year. And back in Oc­to­ber 2019, Boehringer In­gel­heim ad­vanced its pan-KRAS in­hibitor in­to the clin­ic.

In ad­di­tion to the fi­nanc­ing, Fron­tier has an­nounced that it’s adding a new site in Boston to com­ple­ment its South San Fran­cis­co head­quar­ters, where it will “build its em­ploy­ee ex­per­tise across re­search and de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing dis­cov­ery, pre-clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, trans­la­tion­al med­i­cine, and ear­ly clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.” The new site is ex­pect­ed to open be­fore the end of the year, and will be home to about 60 or so more em­ploy­ees — and Var­ma added that he’s look­ing to hire.

*A cor­rec­tion has been made to note that DCVC’s in­vest­ment came from their Bio fund.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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De­spite a slow start to the year for deals, PwC pre­dicts a flur­ry of ac­tiv­i­ty com­ing up

Despite whispers of a busy year for M&A, deal activity in the pharma space is actually down 30% on a semi-annualized basis, according to PwC’s latest report on deal activity. But don’t rule out larger deals in the second half of the year, the consultants said.

PwC pharmaceutical and life sciences consulting solutions leader Glenn Hunzinger expects to see Big Pharma companies picking up earlier stage companies to try and fill pipeline gaps ahead of a slew of big patent cliffs. Though a bear market continues to maul the biotech sector, Hunzinger said recent deals indicate that pharma companies are still paying above current trading prices.

Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

Joe Wiley, Amryt Pharma CEO

Am­ryt Phar­ma sub­mits a for­mal dis­pute res­o­lu­tion to the FDA over re­ject­ed skin dis­ease drug

The story of Amryt Pharma’s candidate for the genetic skin condition epidermolysis bullosa, or EB, will soon enter another chapter.

After the Irish drugmaker’s candidate, dubbed Oleogel-S10 and marketed as Filsuvez, was handed a CRL earlier this year, the company announced in a press release that it plans to submit a formal dispute resolution request for the company’s NDA for Oleogel-S10.

Kelly Martin, Radius Health CEO

VC firms take os­teo­poro­sis drug­mak­er Ra­dius Health pri­vate for al­most $900M

After attacks from activist investors and disappointing returns on share prices, Radius Health has now agreed to new ownership, a direction resulting in leaving the Nasdaq.

Radius Health, a biotech out of Massachusetts with one approved product in its arsenal, announced Thursday morning that it agreed to be acquired by two VC firms: Gurnet Point Capital and Patient Square Capital. The deal, worth around $890 million, will include debt assumption and the payout of $1 CVR per share for investors. And on top of that, OrbiMed is providing debt financing.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images)

Phar­ma-friend­ly sen­a­tor calls on FDA for a third time to show patent pro­tec­tions should­n't be blamed for high drug prices

North Carolina Republican Sen. Thom Tillis made a name for himself in the 2020 election cycle as the darling of the pharma industry, accepting hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions, even from the likes of Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

Those contributions have led Tillis to attempt to re-write patent laws in pharma’s favor, a move which failed to gain steam in 2019, and request for a third time since January that the FDA should help stop “the false narrative that patent protections are to blame for high drug prices.”

Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

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