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.

Covid-19 roundup: Eu­rope pur­chas­es 80M dos­es of Mod­er­na's vac­cine; CO­V­AXX se­cures $2.8B in emerg­ing mar­ket pre-or­ders

With the announcement of its vaccine efficacy data last week, Moderna is starting to line up customers for its Covid-19 mRNA jabs.

The Massachusetts-based biotech announced Wednesday it has agreed to sell an initial round of 80 million doses to the European Commission, with the option to double the amount to 160 million. Once the member states rubber stamp the approval, the deal will be finalized.

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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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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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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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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.

FDA hands Liq­uidia and Re­vance a CRL and de­fer­ral, re­spec­tive­ly, as Covid-19 cre­ates in­spec­tion chal­lenge

Two biotechs said they got turned away by the FDA on Wednesday, in part due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

North Carolina-based Liquidia Technologies was handed a CRL for its lead pulmonary arterial hypertension drug, citing the need for more CMC data and on-site pre-approval inspections, which the FDA hasn’t been able to conduct due to travel restrictions. The agency also deferred its decision on Revance Therapeutics’ BLA for its frown line treatment, because it needs to inspect the company’s northern California manufacturing facility. The action, Revance emphasized, was not a CRL.

News brief­ing: FDA re­quests new tri­al for Reata's Friedre­ich's atax­ia pro­gram; J&J's Trem­fya picks up ex­pand­ed la­bel in Eu­rope

Three months after Reata Pharmaceuticals suggested its Friedreich’s ataxia program omaveloxolone could be delayed, the company revealed that is indeed going to be the case.

Reata $RETA shares took a nosedive Wednesday after the biotech revealed that the FDA said supplemental data for its pivotal trial did not strengthen the case for approval. As a result, the drug is likely to need another study before the FDA takes up the case.

Jef­frey Hat­field takes over from Diego Mi­ralles as CEO of Vi­vid­ion; Drag­on­fly scores a new ex­ec with COO Alex Lu­gov­skoy

→ San Diego protein degradation startup Vividion Therapeutics has made a change at the top with Jeffrey Hatfield taking the helm as CEO, replacing Diego Miralles six months after Roche forked over $135 million to collaborate with Vividion on their small molecule degraders. Hatfield is chairman of the board at miRagen Therapeutics and previously held the CEO job at Zafgen and Vitae Pharmaceuticals. He also had a series of leadership roles at Bristol Myers Squibb from 1996-2004, including SVP, immunology and virology divisions.

Chi­na opens the door for biotech in­vestors in Hong Kong to buy Shang­hai stocks, and vice ver­sa

When Shanghai’s STAR board began opening its doors to biotech, it was considered not just a rival to Nasdaq but also the stock exchange in Hong Kong. Those perceptions may take an amicable turn as China expands a mutual access program with the city.

The changes mean investors in mainland China will be able to own Hong Kong biotech chapter stocks, while those in Hong Kong — a much more internationally connected group — would have access to those listed on STAR. In effect, it turns the Shanghai market into a globally accessible exchange overnight while also broadening a key source of revenue for HKEX.