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.

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er ex­ecs con­fi­dent­ly tap their top 10 block­busters-to-be. But what are the chances of sur­viv­ing PhI­II, let alone hit­ting these big peak sales es­ti­mates?

Pfizer’s top executive team doesn’t lack for confidence.

Where many Big Pharmas would be reluctant to put a peak sales figure on their late-stage drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has shrugged off the usual diffidence to outline where the pharma giant expects to get $15 billion-plus.

The list, outlined this week during their investor presentations, is topped by 3 drugs in the $3 billion-plus peak sales category. They are:

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Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (Autolus)

#ES­MO20: Au­to­lus pro­vides glimpse of next-gen­er­a­tion CAR-T pro­gram, show­ing ear­ly pos­i­tive safe­ty da­ta

CAR-T therapies were hailed as a breakthrough when Novartis received the first FDA approval for Kymriah back in 2017. Though highly effective at treating certain types of blood cancers, CAR-Ts are also associated with severe and potentially deadly side effects, including lethal instances of cytokine release syndrome.

With this in mind, Autolus Therapeutics is looking to take a crack at a safer CAR-T and presented Phase II cohort data for its AUTO3 program at virtual ESMO 2020. The data showed that, among the 35 patients in the cohort being treated for r/r diffuse large B cell lymphoma, there were no instances of Grade 3 or higher CRS. Eight individuals saw Grade 1 inflammation while another four patients reached Grade 2.

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A long­time Cy­tomX ex­ec re-emerges at Syn­thekine, an $82M Stan­ford spin­out

Debanjan Ray apparently had big plans when he quietly left his long-held CFO spot at CytomX back in March 2019. He had gotten his own biotech.

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The last I had heard about Sean Bohen, he had stepped out of his high-profile job as chief medical officer at AstraZeneca at the beginning of 2019 as CEO Pascal Soriot triggered a broad-ranging R&D shakeup. And then, earlier this week, I got a chance to catch up.

It turns out that Bohen decided at the time that he would not just jump into a new job in the booming biopharma business. As an oncologist, he had worked on the big programs at AstraZeneca, and before that he was at Genentech. That was good for a ticket to just about anyplace in the big biopharma world. But he felt it was time to stop and think things through.

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