Nan Fung Life Sci­ences antes up $32M to fu­el a neu­ro play as the Hong Kong con­glom­er­ate burns through $1.5B man­date

Hav­ing re­lied heav­i­ly on its Piv­otal bioVen­tures Part­ners arm to make di­rect in­vest­ments in biotech, Nan Fung Life Sci­ences is tak­ing an in­creas­ing­ly promi­nent seat at the ta­ble, putting up $32 mil­lion as the sole in­vestor in a neu­ro­science start­up’s launch round.

With the Se­ries A En­grail Ther­a­peu­tics is al­so tak­ing the cov­ers off its busi­ness mod­el, which in­volves find­ing, buy­ing and then de­vel­op­ing drugs for brain dis­or­ders.

Vikram Su­darsan

It’s a tough field, but neu­ro­science is mak­ing “mas­sive strides,” CEO Vikram Su­darsan said in a state­ment.

“As the brain’s com­plex­i­ties and mol­e­c­u­lar mech­a­nisms have be­come clear­er, we are bet­ter able to iden­ti­fy dis­ease tar­gets, which has al­so sup­port­ed a resur­gence in fund­ing neu­ro­science drug de­vel­op­ment,” he said.

The as­sets they want would have val­i­dat­ed mech­a­nisms, hit­ting well-known tar­gets tied to bur­den­some symp­toms. ENX-101, a sub­type se­lec­tive GA­BA A mod­u­la­tor, is the first ex­am­ple; the pre­clin­i­cal mol­e­cule promis­es to cir­cum­vent the side ef­fects and risk of drug de­pen­dence that plague the ben­zo­di­azepine class.

“Our goal is to build a pipeline of at least five com­pounds over the next few years,” Su­darsan told End­points News. “Our flex­i­ble trans­ac­tion mod­el in­cludes li­cens­ing, co-de­vel­op­ing, eq­ui­ty in­fu­sion with op­tion to li­cense and com­pa­ny ac­qui­si­tions. This flex­i­bil­i­ty al­lows us to ac­quire the most promis­ing prod­ucts. We will con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate if, how, when and with whom we part­ner our as­sets.”

But per­haps as im­por­tant as the com­pounds is the ex­per­tise its team takes to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, reg­u­la­to­ry con­sid­er­a­tions, IP build­ing and even com­mer­cial po­si­tion­ing. While Su­darsan brings an eye to good deals from six years lead­ing Cipla New Ven­tures — which over­lapped with a short stint as CEO of the In­di­an phar­ma’s US arm — co-founder Stephen Cun­ning­ham cut his teeth at Zeneca both be­fore and af­ter it merged with As­tra. Then for 13 years, Cun­ning­ham spear­head­ed med­ical af­fairs for No­var­tis.

Anil Vootkur, an alum of Take­da and Al­ler­gan, is VP of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment while biotech Eve Tay­lor is VP of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

With $1.5 bil­lion to spend on life sci­ence com­pa­nies, Nan Fung Life Sci­ences has bet on neu­ro­sciences be­fore, when Piv­otal bioVen­tures Part­ners backed Karuna’s Se­ries B. Pe­ter Bis­gaard, who’s man­ag­ing both sides of the in­vest­ing busi­ness, is chair­ing En­grail’s board.

“En­grail’s dy­nam­ic mod­el for ad­vanc­ing drugs aimed at treat­ing life-lim­it­ing dis­eases of the ner­vous sys­tem is ex­act­ly the in­no­va­tion this com­plex field re­quires,” he said in a state­ment.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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