Michael Varney, Frazier

Months af­ter re­tir­ing from Genen­tech, Michael Var­ney brings his drug hunt­ing eye to Fra­zier

Michael Var­ney be­gan his post-Genen­tech ca­reer by tak­ing a job as chair­man of R&D at a biotech start­up. Now he’s signed on for a new gig that will put him in di­rect con­tact with a whole lot more.

The biotech vet — who en­joyed a stel­lar rep­u­ta­tion run­ning Roche’s pres­ti­gious gRED or­ga­ni­za­tion in South San Fran­cis­co — is one of two fresh­ly mint­ed life sci­ences se­nior ad­vi­sors at Fra­zier Health­care Part­ners. Pfiz­er vet Don Frail has been tapped for the same role af­ter most re­cent­ly lead­ing the ex­ter­nal sci­ence and in­no­va­tion team at Al­ler­gan.

Don Frail

An ear­ly be­liev­er in bio­phar­ma in­vest­ing, Fra­zier kicked off 2020’s VC gol­drush with a $617 mil­lion fund — its 12th in three decades. The fo­cus, man­ag­ing part­ner Patrick Heron told End­points News at the time, will be pluck­ing as­sets off Big Phar­ma’s shelves and ex­plor­ing new ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ties such as cell and gene ther­a­py or neoanti­gens.

About a third of the port­fo­lio is re­served for home­grown star­tups, an­oth­er 15% to 25% for pub­lic se­cu­ri­ties, and the rest is in-be­tween. Var­ney and Frail get to play a part across all of them.

“We be­lieve they will make sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions in help­ing us cre­ate, iden­ti­fy and eval­u­ate new ther­a­pies that will ad­dress key un­met needs,” Heron said in a state­ment.

While not tech­ni­cal­ly part of the in­vest­ment team, se­nior ad­vi­sors at Fra­zier can have big in­flu­ence on its port­fo­lio. Mike Gal­latin, a long­time mem­ber of the group, was cred­it­ed with co-found­ing three port­fo­lio com­pa­nies.

Bruce Roth, an in­ven­tor of Lip­i­tor and Var­ney’s for­mer col­league at gRED, had al­so been re­cruit­ed as a se­nior ad­vi­sor ear­li­er this year.

They are al­so in­te­gral to the “team ap­proach” that Fra­zier brings to all of its in­vest­ments, ac­cord­ing to Heron.

“We ef­fec­tive­ly put our best re­source against any giv­en deal,” he pre­vi­ous­ly said.

For a hint of what Var­ney — who spent a to­tal of 15 years at Genen­tech, pre­dat­ing the big Roche ac­qui­si­tion — might be in­ter­est­ed in, his on­ly oth­er play so far is with Eras­ca, a se­cre­tive pri­vate biotech led by ex-Igny­ta chief Jonathan Lim to “erase can­cer” through tar­get­ed ther­a­pies.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

Bo Cumbo, AavantiBio CEO (file photo)

Bo Cum­bo jumps from the top com­mer­cial post at Sarep­ta to the helm of a gene ther­a­py start­up with some in­flu­en­tial back­ers, big plans and $107M

After a 7-year stretch building the commercial team at Sarepta, longtime drug salesman Bo Cumbo is jumping to the entrepreneurial side of the business, taking the helm of a startup that’s got several deep-pocket investors. And he’s not just bringing his experience in selling drugs.

He tells me that when he told Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram about it, his boss got excited about the venture and opted to jump in with a $15 million investment from Sarepta to add to the launch money, alongside 3 of the busiest investors in biotech.

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CEO Marc Gleeson (Azura)

Azu­ra Oph­thalmics gets a $20M boost for its R&D work on eye dis­eases

Three years after closing a $16 million Series B, the same group of investors are back to give Azura Ophthalmics a $20 million boost.

That brings the Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel-based biotech’s total fundraise to $38 million, and should pave the way for a registration study of its lead candidate in Meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD) and related eye diseases, CEO Marc Gleeson told Endpoints News.

The topical candidate, dubbed AZR-MD-001, is designed to address abnormal hyperkeratinization, or the build-up and shedding of proteins at the opening of or within the Meibomian gland. When Meibomian glands become dysfunctional, rapid evaporation of the tear film can occur, leading to dry eye disease.

Covid-19 roundup: WSJ of­fers in­side look at Ox­ford-As­traZeneca deal, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial terms; Lil­ly plant un­der scruti­ny again

Oxford scientists developing a Covid-19 vaccine are working with British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and together the pair have become one of the frontrunners in the race to end the pandemic. But a new Wall Street Journal report out Wednesday offered a behind-the-scenes look at how that deal came together in the wake of a scholar-led revolt over a potential collaboration with Merck, and included previously unreported financial terms of the AstraZeneca deal.

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Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, Atea president and CEO (file photo)

Roche wades deep­er in­to Covid-19 fight, ink­ing an­tivi­ral pact with $350M cash fol­low­ing Re­gen­eron deal

Roche is making its first bet on an antiviral against Covid-19 in style, shelling out $350 million in cash to grab ex-US rights.

The drug comes from Atea Pharmaceuticals, the 7-year-old biotech created by Pharmasset co-founder Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, which essentially rebranded itself as a Covid-19 fighter in May when it closed a whopping $215 million venture round. Over a dozen investors bought in, including marquee names like Bain Capital and RA Capital.

Peter Kolchinsky and Raj Shah (file photo)

Pe­ter Kolchin­sky and Raj Shah's RA Cap­i­tal has $461M more to play with, af­ter 'rapid' in­vest­ment in the last 15 months

Just over 15 months after launching its first venture fund, RA Capital Management is ready for more. And this time the firm is bringing an even bigger load of cash to the table.

Announcing the close of its Nexus II fund on Wednesday, RA said it raised $461 million for investments in private companies across the biotech industry. The first venture fund, which raised $300 million, has churned through roughly 80% of its capital already, a pace that managing partner Raj Shah called unusually quick.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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David Hung (file photo)

Mas­ter deal­mak­er David Hung re­tools a SPAC sedan in­to a fi­nanc­ing mus­cle ve­hi­cle that leaves his can­cer start­up with $850M and a place on Wall Street

It’s only right that one of the industry’s top dealmakers just completed one of the biggest SPAC-related deals in the pipeline.

David Hung, of Medivation fame, has completed a back flip into the market, merging with EcoR1 Capital’s SPAC Panacea and landing neatly on Wall Street with an $NUVB stock ticker after filling out the blank check in his name. In addition to the $144 million held in the SPAC — provided none of the investors opt out — Hung is getting ahold of $500 million more being chipped in by a slate of institutional investors who feel that Hung could have the keys to another Medivation-style success.

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