MPM adds $408M for its next big wave of biotech star­tups — and on­col­o­gy still dom­i­nates the menu

MPM Cap­i­tal has put the fin­ish­ing touch­es to its 7th ven­ture fund — BV2018 — now tidi­ly tot­ting up to about $408 mil­lion as the ven­ture crew that runs this pro­lif­ic biotech deal­mak­er gets squared away for the next wave of in­vest­ments. Adding it up with their on­col­o­gy-on­ly funds, and the part­ners are work­ing with more than a bil­lion dol­lars.

Luke Evnin

Guid­ed by some close ex­pert con­nec­tions in the field, MPM has been keen on the on­col­o­gy R&D boom. Luke Evnin, who co-found­ed MPM in the late ‘90s, es­ti­mates that about 70% of MPM’s last fund went to fi­nance pro­grams for ex­per­i­men­tal can­cer drugs. In this next fund, he ex­pects the to­tal for can­cer to drop from that mark, but re­main the dom­i­nant field, tak­ing more than half its in­vest­ment cap­i­tal.

The last 5 years has seen im­muno-on­col­o­gy reach a peak, Evnin tells me. Dur­ing the next 3 or 4 years they’ll be fo­cused on one of the key mantras in biotech R&D: drug­ging the un­drug­gable. That could lead them to de­graders, syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty or pro­tein-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions, among oth­er fields. But wher­ev­er the bi­ol­o­gy of a drug tar­get is well known, you may well find MPM back­ing the hunt for a drug that can do the job.

MPM has had some re­cent IPOs from the port­fo­lio — Har­poon’s re­cent $76 mil­lion of­fer­ing for one — and Evnin is of the opin­ion the IPO win­dow will re­main open for busi­ness in 2019, though not quite as busy as last year. This next round of of­fer­ings will like­ly be lim­it­ed to more ma­ture com­pa­nies, he says, with the kind of deep-pock­et­ed in­sid­ers that can of­fer con­sid­er­able as­sis­tance.

Ans­bert Gadicke

Like a lot of new funds, MPM has a plan to back some 15 to 20 star­tups with their new mon­ey, which is al­ready be­ing di­rect­ed in­to the first round of in­vest­ments. But they have their own par­tic­u­lar Goldilocks ap­proach that will like­ly guide much of that. MPM wants to jump in­to launch rounds that are nei­ther too small to get any­thing done, nor too weight­ed to­ward mega-sized pack­ages that draw heat — from some sides — as too big for a start­up’s own good.

“Twen­ty mil­lion dol­lars runs out. You can’t get enough done,” says Evnin. But a syn­di­cate that brings in $50 mil­lion, look­ing to a non-di­lu­tive deal to fol­low up and then move on to a crossover and po­ten­tial IPO af­ter that, that sort of busi­ness strat­e­gy works well in this in­dus­try.

The cap­i­tal base for biotech right now is in sol­id shape, says Evnin. And so is the tal­ent pool all the VCs can draw from for their star­tups. That’s all en­cour­ag­ing as they look to the next 5 years and what’s ahead for the in­dus­try.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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