Luca Santarelli, VectivBio CEO

MPM-backed Were­wolf, Mer­ck-part­nered Arti­va make quick IPO flip while Lu­ca Santarel­li's biotech rais­es $127.5M

The jump from crossover rounds to biotech IPO is quick­er than ever.

Just weeks af­ter un­veil­ing Se­ries B rounds, MPM-backed Were­wolf and Mer­ck-part­nered Arti­va are spelling out plans to go pub­lic on Nas­daq. Both have pen­ciled in the stan­dard goal of rais­ing $100 mil­lion.

That fig­ure is fast be­com­ing an un­re­li­able place­hold­er, as many com­pa­nies have gone on to raise a lot more. Lu­ca Santarel­li’s Swiss rare dis­ease play­er Vec­tivBio, though, stuck close to the range, bag­ging $127.5 mil­lion from its Nas­daq de­but.

Howl­ing Were­wolf pounces

Dan Hick­lin

Boston-based Were­wolf — which is go­ing the ex­tra mile and shoot­ing for $HOWL as the tick­er — out­lined some of its plans to hit the clin­ic back in Jan­u­ary, when CEO Dan Hick­lin took the wraps off a $72 mil­lion Se­ries B.

Us­ing an en­gi­neer­ing plat­form dubbed PREDA­TOR, the com­pa­ny has three mol­e­cules be­long­ing to a class they dub In­dukines, which com­pris­es four com­po­nents: a cy­tokine, an in­ac­ti­va­tion do­main, a half-life ex­ten­sion do­main and a link­er that can be cleaved by pro­teas­es found in tu­mors. That way, they rea­son, the drug stays qui­et through­out the body and on­ly trig­gers an in­flam­ma­to­ry ef­fect against can­cer.

The sys­tem makes use of tech­nolo­gies from Har­poon — a fel­low MPM com­pa­ny — in­clud­ing “polypep­tides and a bind­ing moi­ety for con­di­tion­al ac­ti­va­tion of cer­tain polypep­tides.” In ad­di­tion to promis­ing roy­al­ties and ex­chang­ing cer­tain oth­er patent rights, Were­wolf paid a grand $500,000 up­front to Har­poon, which is build­ing an op­er­a­tion around T cell en­gage­ment.

With an ini­tial fo­cus on IL-2 and IL-12, Were­wolf is look­ing to be­gin hu­man test­ing for WTX-124 and WTX-330 in 2022. The third can­di­date aims to con­di­tion­al­ly ac­ti­vate IFN-a.

The com­pa­ny is so young that it’s on­ly burned through $51.9 mil­lion to get here — less than the $56 mil­lion Se­ries A they had launched with.

MPM claims the li­on’s share of stock at 20.75%, fol­lowed by UBC On­col­o­gy Im­pact Fund and RA Cap­i­tal, each a lit­tle more than 11%. Oth­er in­vestors in­clude Tai­ho Ven­tures, Deer­field, Arkin and UPMC.

Hick­lin, who al­so owns about 3% of shares af­ter tak­ing the top job in Au­gust 2019, was re­ward­ed with a 2020 com­pen­sa­tion pack­age worth close to $3 mil­lion. CMO Ran­di Isaacs made $887,539, the bulk in op­tion awards grant­ed as she joined in No­vem­ber; CSO Cyn­thia Sei­del-Dugan got a sim­i­lar pay at $837,294.

Arti­va sheds light on trans-Pa­cif­ic NK cell man­u­fac­tur­ing process

Tom Far­rell

Un­til ear­li­er this year, Arti­va didn’t have much of a pro­file in bio­phar­ma land. For­mer Bel­licum CEO Tom Far­rell had as­sem­bled an NK cell ther­a­py com­pa­ny, lean­ing heav­i­ly on a “huge­ly im­pres­sive” man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty be­long­ing to Green Cross Lab­Cell in Ko­rea, gath­ered $78 mil­lion in Se­ries A mon­ey and did the news rounds last June, then stayed large­ly qui­et.

That changed when Mer­ck signed a col­lab­o­ra­tion worth near­ly $2 bil­lion in mile­stones to pick up the off-the-shelf NK cell tech. Arti­va quick­ly fol­lowed up with a $120 mil­lion Se­ries B, de­signed to kick­start Phase I/II for its lead pro­gram in non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma.

The part­ner­ship deal, Arti­va re­vealed in its S-1, gave GC Lab­Cell a 28% stake in the biotech, al­most dou­ble the hold­ings of 5AM Ven­tures, ven­Bio, RA Cap­i­tal and more than quadru­ple what Ven­rock has.

To make the prod­ucts, the US team sources cord blood units with fa­vor­able char­ac­ter­is­tics — such as a nat­ur­al high affin­i­ty vari­ant of the re­cep­tor CD16 — from a pub­lic cord bank. Arti­va then ships the ma­te­r­i­al to Ko­rea, where GC Lab­Cell runs a new­ly built com­mer­cial site:

Af­ter man­u­fac­tur­ing, the drug prod­uct is cry­op­re­served, shipped back to the Unit­ed States and dis­trib­uted to clin­i­cal tri­al sites where it will be thawed and ad­min­is­tered in an out-pa­tient set­ting. The process gen­er­ates suf­fi­cient NK cells to treat hun­dreds to thou­sands of pa­tients from a sin­gle cord blood unit, de­pend­ing on the prod­uct and dos­ing reg­i­men, and pro­duces a con­sis­tent­ly ac­tive NK cell prod­uct, with lit­tle donor-to-donor vari­abil­i­ty.

Fred Aslan

Arti­va is gun­ning for a lead­ing po­si­tion in what, af­ter many years, has re­cent­ly be­come a boom­ing field. Big Phar­mas like Take­da and J&J are join­ing a slate of small­er play­ers in ex­plor­ing the po­ten­tial of NK cell ther­a­pies in all their fla­vors. While it’s al­so work­ing on CAR-NK ap­proach­es, Arti­va’s first can­di­date is a “non-ge­net­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied, but op­ti­mized, cord blood-de­rived NK cell ther­a­py.”

Far­rell pock­et­ed more than $1.2 mil­lion for steer­ing the com­pa­ny be­fore turn­ing over to Fred Aslan in Jan­u­ary.

From $810M buy­out to spin­off IPO in less than 2 years

Lu­ca Santarel­li tells a straight­for­ward sto­ry about Vec­tivBio. Af­ter sell­ing Ther­a­chon to Pfiz­er in an $810 mil­lion deal, the Roche vet im­me­di­ate­ly spun out with the new com­pa­ny, tak­ing their Phase II drug apraglu­tide for short bow­el syn­drome.

The IPO was a nat­ur­al next step on the heels of a mega-raise of $110 mil­lion an­nounced last Oc­to­ber, with the fo­cus still square­ly on ex­e­cut­ing the Phase III and lay­ing the foun­da­tion for com­mer­cial­iza­tion work.

A long-act­ing syn­thet­ic pep­tide ana­log of GLP-2, apraglu­tide re­mains the sole as­set in the com­pa­ny and will be de­ployed in a range of rare gas­troin­testi­nal dis­or­ders out­side of SBS.

Topline re­sults for the lead in­di­ca­tion, in SBS in­testi­nal fail­ure, are ex­pect­ed in 2023.

While Vec­tivBio is look­ing to in-li­cense or ac­quire ad­di­tion­al drugs for the pipeline, the IPO pro­ceeds are most­ly go­ing to­ward the core pro­gram — in­clud­ing a Phase II tar­get­ing a sub­group of SBS-IF pa­tients with colon-in-con­ti­nu­ity anato­my and proof of con­cept in apraglu­tide’s util­i­ty for gas­troin­testi­nal man­i­fes­ta­tions of graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease.

Santarel­li has quite a bit of skin in the game, hav­ing saved 8.8% of the shares for him­self. Ver­sant and Or­biMed are the largest stock­hold­ers at around 15% each, while oth­ers — FCPI Bpifrance In­no­va­tion, No­vo and Cowen — each have less than 10%.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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