MPM, No­var­tis lead a big launch round for Kazu­mi Sh­iosa­ki’s lat­est biotech start­up com­ing out of Har­vard

Kazu­mi Sh­iosa­ki

Kazu­mi Sh­iosa­ki has now wrapped her third launch round for a biotech start­up.

The MPM Cap­i­tal ex­ec­u­tive part­ner who helped found and ini­tial­ly ran Epizyme and Mi­to­bridge has been work­ing with a small team to help val­i­date the decade-long ef­fort at George Da­ley’s Har­vard lab to ex­plore a par­tic­u­lar path­way that ap­pears to be an im­por­tant play­er in can­cer pro­gres­sion. And now they have stitched to­geth­er an im­pres­sive $65 mil­lion round to take the next pre­clin­i­cal step to­ward mak­ing it a drug at 28-7 — as well as a show­piece for the plat­form work that’s be­ing planned around it.

The ul­ti­mate tar­get is Let-7, a miR­NA which Da­ley and his team of sci­en­tif­ic sleuths have been track­ing as an in­ter­me­di­ary to can­cer ag­gres­sive­ness. Their im­me­di­ate tar­get is Lin28, an RNA mod­u­lat­ing pro­tein which holds Let-7 back. In­hib­it Lin28, they say, and you should let Let-7 do its can­cer-fight­ing work more ef­fi­cient­ly, mak­ing it a good ad­di­tion to the on­col­o­gy ther­a­pies that have been bar­rel­ing along the pipeline.

George Da­ley

“George has been work­ing on this path­way for a decade or so,” Sh­iosa­ki tells me. And she’s known Da­ley for longer than that, bring­ing him on board as a sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­er to Epizyme at launch. He and three close col­leagues at Har­vard, Richard Gre­go­ry, Frank Slack and Pi­otr Sliz, she adds, have this par­tic­u­lar piece of the bi­o­log­ic wa­ter­front cov­ered.

The seed cash Sh­iosa­ki start­ed to pro­vide for the ef­fort a cou­ple of years back was large­ly de­vot­ed to de­vel­op­ing the ini­tial as­say, which was “im­por­tant to un­der­stand how we can find small mol­e­cules that can mod­u­late this path­way.”

Now, the team of six at 28-7 — which is ex­pect­ed to grow quick­ly — are work­ing on a “fleet of as­says” to make sure that the mol­e­cules they’re dis­cov­er­ing work pre­cise­ly in the path­way they’ve marked out for them­selves.

Sh­iosa­ki’s ven­ture con­tacts are just as good as her sci­en­tif­ic con­nec­tions. And this time she has drawn to­geth­er an im­pres­sive list of cor­po­rate and main­stream VCs to get the A round in the bank.

MPM Cap­i­tal and No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund co-led the fi­nanc­ing. John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion – JJDC, Ver­tex Ven­tures HC, Long­wood Fund, and Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment all joined in.

Typ­i­cal­ly, when a biotech gets start­ed, they’ll ei­ther fo­cus on a par­tic­u­lar as­set or a plat­form. In this case, Sh­iosa­ki wants both. She wants a 28-7 drug can­di­date point­ed to the clin­ic, and she wants the com­pa­ny to ex­pand on their work re­gard­ing a pletho­ra of po­ten­tial tar­gets in the vast sphere of non­cod­ing RNA and the small mol­e­cules that can help cor­rect RNA mod­u­lat­ing pro­teins that play a clear role in dif­fer­ent dis­eases.

But don’t ex­pect her to share any time­lines for get­ting to the clin­ic or po­ten­tial­ly hav­ing some­thing for reg­u­la­tors to con­sid­er.

“We are very, very ear­ly,” says the CEO, who’s been here be­fore.  “It’s very dif­fi­cult to make that pro­jec­tion.”

In a stun­ning turn­around, Bio­gen says that ad­u­canum­ab does work for Alzheimer's — and they're prep­ping a pitch to the FDA

Biogen has confounded the biotech world one more time.

In a stunning about-face, the company says that a new analysis of an old dataset on aducanumab has restored its faith in the drug as a game-changer for Alzheimer’s and, after talking it over the FDA, they’ll now be filing for an approval of a drug that had been given up for dead.

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Vas Narasimhan. Getty Images

Failed PhI­II fe­vip­iprant tri­als pour more cold wa­ter on No­var­tis' block­buster R&D en­gine — and spread the chill to a high-pro­file biotech

Back in July, during an investor call where Novartis execs ran through an upbeat assessment of their Q2 performance, CEO Vas Narasimhan and development chief John Tsai were pressed to predict which of the two looming Phase III readouts — involving cardio drug Entresto and asthma therapy fevipiprant, respectively — had a higher likelihood of success. Tsai gave the PARAGON-HF study with Entresto minimally better odds, but Narasimhan emphasized that their strategy of giving fevipiprant to more severe patients gave them confidence.

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Take­da tees up $420M deal for celi­ac an­ti­dote, con­tin­u­ing R&D re­fo­cus

Sometime in the 1st century AD, a patient presented to Arataeus looking like a varicose ghost. He was “emaciated and atrophied, pale, feeble and incapable of performing any of his accustomed works,” the Greek physician wrote, with hollow temples and huge veins running all over his body.

A dysfunctional digestive system, Arataeus concluded – an imbalance he attributed to a “heat” deficiency in a system he and other Greeks regarded as functioning similarly to an oven – and coined a term: coeliac disease, after the Greek word for abdomen.

UP­DAT­ED: Clay Sie­gall’s $614M wa­ger on tu­ca­tinib pays off with solid­ly pos­i­tive piv­otal da­ta and a date with the FDA

Back at the beginning of 2018, Clay Siegall snagged a cancer drug called tucatinib with a $614 million cash deal to buy Cascadian. It paid off today with a solid set of mid-stage data for HER2 positive breast cancer that will in turn serve as the pivotal win Siegall needs to seek an accelerated approval in the push for a new triplet therapy.

And if all the cards keep falling in its favor, they’ll move from 1 drug on the market to 3 in 2020, which is shaping up as a landmark year as Seattle Genetics prepares for its 23rd anniversary on July 15.

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Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin

Where are the in­ter­change­able biosim­i­lars?

In June 2017, Leah Christl, former biosimilar lead at FDA, told a conference in Chicago that interchangeable biosimilars were likely coming to the US market within two years.

And although no interchangeable biosimilar has been approved by FDA yet, and Christl has since moved on to Amgen, progress on interchangeable biosimilars has been slow in the intervening years.

Most recently, Boehringer Ingelheim announced that it has completed, as of last April, a switching study necessary for launching an interchangeable biosimilar for Humira (adalimumab), although the company did not offer any further details on the timing of its submission to FDA or whether there will be an advisory committee to review the data. Boehringer already has an adalimumab biosimilar approved by FDA, which it will launch in the US on 1 July 2023.

FDA re­buffs lit­tle As­ser­tio Ther­a­peu­tic­s' long-act­ing ACTH for­mu­la­tion, shares sink

Tiny Assertio Therapeutics’ shares plunged pre-market on Tuesday, after the FDA has spurned its man-made version of the hormone ACTH, which was being reviewed as a diagnostic for patients presumed to have adrenocortical insufficiency.

The Lake Forest, Illinois-based drugmaker said its development partner West Therapeutic Development had received a complete response letter from the US regulator, which indicated that that certain “pharmacodynamic parameters were not adequately achieved” for the product.

UP­DAT­ED: The FDA sets a reg­u­la­to­ry speed record, pro­vid­ing a snap OK for Ver­tex's break­through triplet for cys­tic fi­bro­sis

The FDA has approved Vertex’s new triplet for cystic fibrosis at a record-setting speed.

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IM­brave150: Roche’s reg­u­la­to­ry crew plans a glob­al roll­out of Tecen­triq com­bo for liv­er can­cer as PhI­II scores a hit

Just weeks after Bristol-Myers Squibb defended its failed pivotal study pitting Opdivo against Nexavar in liver cancer, Roche says it’s beat the frontline challenge with a combination of their PD-L1 Tecentriq with Avastin. And now they’re rolling their regulatory teams in the US, Europe and China in search of a new approval — badly needed to boost a trailing franchise effort.
Given their breakthrough and Big Pharma status as well as the use of two approved drugs, FDA approval may well prove to be something of a formality. And the Chinese have been clear that they want new drugs for liver cancer, where lethal disease rates are particularly high.
Researchers at their big biotech sub, Genentech, say that the combo beat Bayer’s Nexavar on both progression-free survival as well as overall survival — the first advance in this field in more than a decade. We won’t get the breakdown in months of life gained, but it’s a big win for Roche, which has lagged far, far behind Keytruda and Opdivo, the dominant PD-1s that have captured the bulk of the checkpoint market so far.
Researchers recruited hepatocellular carcinoma — the most common form of liver cancer — patients for the IMbrave150 study who weren’t eligible for surgery ahead of any systemic treatment of the disease.
Roche has a fairly low bar to beat, with modest survival benefit for Nexavar, approved for this indication 12 years ago. But they also plan to offer a combo therapy that could have significantly less toxicity, offering patients a much easier treatment regimen.
Cowen’s Steven Scala recently sized up the importance of IMbrave150, noting:

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That $335M JV Bay­er set up on CRISPR/Cas9? They’re let­ting the biotech part­ner car­ry on

Bayer committed $300 million to set up a joint venture on CRISPR/Cas9 tech with CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP. But they’re handing off control now to the smaller biotech while retaining a couple of opt-ins for programs nearing an IND.

Bayer $BAY made much of the fact that they were going all-in on gene editing when they did their deal 3 years ago with CRISPR Therapeutics, which pitched $35 million in on their end. This was the cornerstone of their plan to set up new JVs that could make some serious leap forwards in hot new R&D spaces. Now CRISPR will have full management control of Casebia as they pursue programs in hemophilia, ophthalmology and autoimmune diseases.
Samarth Kulkarni, the CEO at CRISPR, made it sound like a natural progression.