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.

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”

Pfiz­er ax­es 6 ear­ly to late-stage can­cer stud­ies from the pipeline — with one oth­er cut for sick­le cell dis­ease

Pfizer trimmed a group of 3 R&D programs using their PD-L1 Bavencio — partnered with Merck KGaA — in their latest pipeline cull.

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UP­DAT­ED: In­cyte scores much need­ed PhI­II suc­cess — and of course it’s de­liv­ered by rux­oli­tinib

Incyte’s efforts to breathe a second life into ruxolitinib — its JAK inhibitor sold in pill form as Jakafi — has been greeted with clear, if preliminary and unsurprising, Phase III success.

Topline data from the TRuE-AD2 cements ruxolitinib’s foundational importance for Incyte, and gives analysts hope that there might yet be room for growth in a pipeline that’s suffered multiple R&D setbacks.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA un­veils a new reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work to speed along gene ther­a­pies, re­ward­ing the lead­ing play­ers

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

The emphasis at the FDA over the past 5 years or so has been on assisting drug developers as much as they can to speed up regulatory reviews and push more drugs into the market. And they are now crafting a final set of regulations aimed at flagging through a whole new generation of gene therapies in clinical testing at a rapid clip.

In a set of 6 prospective guidances posted on the FDA web site Tuesday morning, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn committed the agency to staying flexible in handing out designations that are critical to gaining early approvals for drugs that claim to be once-and-done but don’t have anything close to the data needed to prove it.

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Mike Bloomberg (AP IMAGES)

Mike Bloomberg joins a grow­ing cho­rus of De­mo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates threat­en­ing to go af­ter drug patents

As the mayor of New York City, Mike Bloomberg had a few modest ideas about lowering prescription drug prices in the Big Apple that gained little traction. Now on the campaign trail on a faint hope of clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, the billionaire has some bigger plans — including one that would alter the patent system central to the biopharma business.

In a barebones drug pricing plan posted on Monday, Bloomberg came out blasting President Donald Trump for failing to deliver his promise to lower drug prices, and then making misleading claims about them. The price of over 3,000 drugs still increased at a rate five times higher than inflation in the first six months of 2019, he wrote.