Justin Klein and Kirk Nielsen. (Credit: Jeffrey Graetsch)

Co-found­ed by Ver­sant, NEA in­vestors, new medtech VC firm kicks off in­au­gur­al fund with $225M boun­ty

In an era where medtech doesn’t get the same love that biotech does from the av­er­age in­vestor, two medtech-fo­cused in­vestors from a pair of key­stone ven­ture cap­i­tal firms — Ver­sant Ven­tures and New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates (NEA) — are com­ing to­geth­er to bridge the gap in pri­vate mar­ket cap­i­tal for the un­der­served sec­tor.

Launched this year, the VC in­vest­ment firm — called Ven­sana Cap­i­tal — closed its in­au­gur­al fund, Ven­sana Cap­i­tal I, with $225 mil­lion in com­mit­ted cap­i­tal from a cadre of in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors, in­clud­ing pub­lic pen­sions, uni­ver­si­ty en­dow­ments, foun­da­tions, lead­ing aca­d­e­m­ic health sys­tems, fam­i­ly of­fices, and fund-of-funds, it said on Wednes­day.

Co-found­ed by Ver­sant’s Kirk Nielsen and NEA’s Justin Klein, Ven­sana’s fo­cus will be on the kalei­do­scope of sub­cat­e­gories that con­sti­tute medtech: med­ical de­vices, di­ag­nos­tics and da­ta sci­ence, drug de­liv­ery, dig­i­tal health, and tech-en­abled ser­vices.

“I think one over­ar­ch­ing theme for many prod­ucts we in­vest in is try­ing to move them from the more ex­pen­sive side of care, to the less ex­pen­sive,” Nielsen not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

For ex­am­ple, de­vices that can com­mu­ni­cate with physi­cians or oth­er providers to iden­ti­fy pa­tients that are at risk for be­ing ad­mit­ted with heart fail­ure, or COPD. An­oth­er op­por­tu­ni­ty is about ad­dress­ing chron­ic dis­eases, where pa­tients aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly com­pli­ant or ther­a­pies have side ef­fects that pre­vent adop­tion.

“We like the idea of iden­ti­fy­ing sur­gi­cal strate­gies, neur­al mod­u­la­tion based strate­gies or oth­er medtech-based in­ter­ven­tions that can ef­fec­tive­ly treat the un­der­ly­ing con­di­tion,” he said.

Al­though Ven­sana is an in­de­pen­dent firm, Ver­sant will pro­vide sup­port. Shar­ing deal flow can ex­tend the op­por­tu­ni­ties that emerge at the in­ter­sec­tion of the two strate­gies — such as drug de­liv­ery or di­ag­nos­tics, Nielsen added.

Nielsen, who was once a pro­fes­sion­al hock­ey play­er and has pre­vi­ous­ly worked with Medtron­ic, has been with Ver­sant for over a decade and was in charge of the firm’s medtech prac­tice.

In biotech — where Ver­sant op­er­ates — in­vest­ment is large­ly fo­cused on ear­ly-stage com­pa­ny cre­ation. In medtech, the op­por­tu­ni­ty lies in mid-to-late stage op­por­tu­ni­ties, he said.

“Most medtech com­pa­nies are best po­si­tioned to go pub­lic or be ac­quired in a com­pet­i­tive process for the time when they’ve re­al­ly demon­strat­ed the adop­tion of their prod­ucts by clin­i­cians, sur­geons and hos­pi­tals,” Ven­sana’s oth­er founder, Klein, em­pha­sized. Klein served as a part­ner at NEA for more than 12 years.

“Be­cause of the time­lines, cap­i­tal re­quire­ments as­so­ci­at­ed with nav­i­gat­ing the ear­ly-stage con­cept all the way through to a scal­ing US rev­enue stage busi­ness, it’s of­ten been the case that (…) some of the most com­pelling in­vest­ment rounds of fi­nanc­ing from medtech com­pa­nies have come kind of more mid­stream in that process.”

Ven­sana wants to cap­i­tal­ize on a rel­a­tive­ly healthy macro en­vi­ron­ment for medtech.

“If you look at the ex­it mar­kets in medtech, they’ve been re­al­ly strong, and you’ve got M&A (…) that con­tin­ues to have kind of a sol­id, con­sis­tent pace, you’ve got IPO win­dows that are now open, and (…) mul­ti­ples that are all time highs,” Nielsen said.

Da­ta from Sil­i­con Val­ley Bank (SVB) sug­gest strong per­for­mance of de­vice IPOs should spur con­tin­ued lat­er-stage ven­ture in­vest­ment. Mean­while, in­vest­ments in the first half of 2019 in dig­i­tal health have al­ready eclipsed full-year 2017 in­vest­ments and are on track to hit $10 bil­lion in 2019, the re­port said.

Deals for di­ag­nos­tics and med­ical tools are al­so ex­pect­ed to climb in the sec­ond half of 2019, and R&D tool in­vest­ment is set to surge fol­low­ing the suc­cess­ful IPOs of Adap­tive Biotech­nolo­gies and Per­son­alis, SVB an­a­lysts es­ti­mat­ed.

In the last year, the pub­lic mar­ket has been a suc­cess­ful way for Dx/Tools com­pa­nies to cap­ture val­ue. Ac­cord­ing­ly, we an­tic­i­pate more $B+ IPOs than pri­vate M&A for 2H 2019. We al­so be­lieve tech com­pa­nies will start to ac­quire Dx/Tools com­pa­nies in the AI/ML big da­ta space.

Com­pa­nies in the medtech sec­tor — akin to their coun­ter­parts in phar­ma — need to build out their pipelines. “Yet, there are very few… well cap­i­tal­ized, so­phis­ti­cat­ed medtech in­vestors that are avail­able to sup­port these com­pa­nies. And so we’re try­ing to kind of bridge that gap,” he added.

In the ex­it en­vi­ron­ment, there is a tremen­dous need for new tech­nolo­gies and start­up com­pa­nies. Whether that’s build­ing new prod­uct mar­kets in chron­ic dis­ease, or prod­ucts that are re­al­ly com­pli­men­ta­ry to block­buster fran­chis­es such as those in or­tho­pe­dics, re­con­struc­tive de­vices, or in­ter­ven­tion­al car­di­ol­o­gy.

“These (prod­ucts) can pro­vide val­ue growth dri­vers for some of the large ac­quir­ers in our space,” Klein said. “The ex­it mar­kets to­day have been great, but there’s a rel­a­tive dearth of com­pa­nies and in­no­v­a­tive prod­ucts that have made it to that phase.”

With the $225 mil­lion in their cof­fers, Ven­sana hopes to in­vest in a dozen com­pa­nies, in­ject­ing be­tween $10 to $30 mil­lion in each com­pa­ny, Klein not­ed.

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

Am­gen chops 172 more staffers in R&D, op­er­a­tions and sales amid neu­ro­science ex­it, rev­enue down­turn

Neuroscience wasn’t the only unit that’s being hit by a reorganization underway at Amgen. As well as axing 149 employees in its Cambridge office, the company has disclosed that 172 others nationwide, including some from its Thousand Oaks, CA headquarters, are being let go.

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Ahead of strate­gic up­date, new Sanofi CEO mulls op­tions for con­sumer health­care arm — re­ports

Big pharma has made moves to sharpen its focus on developing new medicines, while slow-growing consumer health divisions fall by the wayside. Looks like another large drugmaker is considering a similar move. On Thursday, reports citing sources indicated that Sanofi is reportedly mulling a joint venture, sale, or a public listing of its consumer health arm.

The French group is in discussions for options that could value the division at $30 billion, Bloomberg and Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

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The triple crown in biotech: An all-or-noth­ing bet on an FDA ap­proval of 3 drugs over 16 months starts to­day

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene deal closed as expected Wednesday evening. And now a new clock has begun to tick down for Celgene shareholders who came away from the deal with CVRs — contingent value rights — worth $9 or nothing. Those CVRs start trading today as $BMYRT.

The new deadline they have is the end of March 2021, a little more than 16 months from now, when Bristol-Myers will need to gain approvals on 3 late-stage drugs it’s picking up in the buyout: Ozanimod and liso-cel (JCAR017) are due up at the end of 2020, with bb2121 deadlined at the end of Q1 in 2021.

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Genap­sys fi­nal­ly un­veils vaunt­ed se­quencer, but can it dent Il­lu­mi­na?

Hesaam Esfandyarpour holds what looks like a mini-cooler up to the computer screen in his California office.

Esfandyarpour is in his late-30s, with crows feet creeping up against a youthful face. He wears a gray polo and the device in his hand — with its hard plastic-looking shell, blue-and-white pattern, and a white plastic paddle resembling a handle jutting out the front — might contain diced strawberries and peanut-butter sandwiches to meet mom and the kids at a SoCal park. Instead, Esfandyarpour tells me it’s going to change medicine and biopharma research.

Brii Bio backs in­fec­tious dis­ease start­up while ink­ing deal for its lead TB drug, dou­bling down on an­tibi­otics

Almost two years after leaving GSK to launch Brii Bio with a whopping $260 million in funding, Zhi Hong is seeing the trans-Pacific infectious disease specialist he set out to build take shape.

“Our pipeline is coming together,” he told Endpoints News, with 12 partnered assets plus some internal programs.

As its latest partner, AN2 Therapeutics, comes into the limelight for the first time with a $12 million seed round, so is Brii’s plans in the antibiotics space. Brii has obtained China rights to AN2’s antibacterial targeting mycobacterium tuberculosis for multi-drug resistant TB, which it says is in the clinical stage.

UP­DAT­ED: Make that 2 ap­proved RNAi drugs at Al­ny­lam af­ter the FDA of­fers a speedy OK on ul­tra-rare dis­ease drug

Seventeen years into the game, Alnylam’s pivot into commercial operations is picking up speed.
The bellwether biotech $ALNY has nabbed their second FDA OK for an RNAi drug, this time for givosiran, the only therapy now approved for acute hepatic porphyria. This second approval came months ahead of the February deadline — even after winning priority review following their ‘breakthrough’ title earlier.
AHP is an extremely rare disease, with some 3,000 patients in Europe and the US, not all diagnosed, and analysts have projected peak revenue of $600 million to $700 million a year. The drug will be sold as Givlaari.

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David Ricks. Eli Lilly

Eli Lil­ly touts $400M man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pan­sion, 100 new jobs to much fan­fare in In­di­anapo­lis — even though it's been chop­ping staff

Eli Lilly is pouring in $400 million to beef up manufacturing facilities at its home base of Indianapolis. The investment, which was lauded by the city’s mayor, is expected to create 100 new jobs.

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No­var­tis, Bay­er, Long­wood back ge­nomics start­up to speed search for im­munother­a­py tar­gets

Nearly a century passed between the first proto-immunotherapy attempts in cancer — crude and obscure but nonetheless with some scientific basis — and Jim Allison’s first T cell paper. Thirty-plus years flipped between the discovery of CTLA-4 as an off-switch and the approval of Yervoy. Twenty-two rolled between PD-1’s isolation and Opdiva and Keytruda. 

Longwood co-founder Lea Hachigian is betting she can hasten that. It’s a bet on newly established single-cell genomic analysis tech and the ability to crunch endless troves of data at a rate few others can, and investors including Leaps by Bayer and Novartis Venture Fund just put $39 million behind it. They call it Immunitas.