News briefing: Merck’s Roger Perlmutter buys his first solid tumor TriNKET from Dragonfly; ViGeneron to expand production of eye gene therapy
A little more than 2 years after Merck’s Roger Perlmutter signed off on a deal that would pay Dragonfly up to $695 million for each drug program it picked off for solid tumors, the pharma giant is stepping up with their first opt-in.
We don’t know exactly how much this deal costs Merck in the upfront, or which immunotherapy they’re getting, but it’s a major step forward for Bill Haney’s Waltham, MA-based biotech, which built its TriNKET technology platform with the help of Tyler Jacks, an MIT professor, HHMI investigator and director of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research as well as Berkeley’s David Raulet, whose background as an expert in NK cells and tumor immunology helped spotlight some of the big ideas Dragonfly is pursuing.
This latest pact marks the latest in a flurry of BD deals for the pharma giant, just one last step before Perlmutter hangs it up as head of R&D and passes the reins to Dean Li. — John Carroll
Gene therapy player ViGeneron partners with CTDMO to boost production of eye program
A little over a year since announcing its Series A, gene therapy biotech ViGeneron has entered into a new deal.
The German company is partnering with WuXi Advanced Therapies, a contract testing, development and manufacturing organization under WuXi AppTec based out of Philadelphia, to ramp up production of ViGeneron’s lead candidate VG901 for ophthalmic disorders. VG901’s current target is for retinitis pigmentosa, also known as rod cone dystrophy, a degenerative eye disease that causes severe vision impairment as early as childhood.
Manufacturing for the candidate should begin before the year is out, ViGeneron said in a statement. The company added that the program came out of its proprietary vgAAV vector platform, which allows for better transduction of retinal cells as well as a less invasive treatment administration.
There is currently no cure for the disease, though there are some methods that can help manage symptoms like the use of low vision aids and portable lighting. Patients often experience worsening peripheral vision and trouble seeing at night. — Max Gelman
Casdin co-leads $13M infusion into ambitious lentiviral vector manufacturer
Lentiviral vector manufacturer iVexSol has raised $13 million in Series A financing, bringing the total haul to $15.2 million from Casdin Capital and BioLife Solutions and a third undisclosed lead investor.
Founded on the promise to change the way this critical raw material is made using next-generation manufacturing tech, the company said it can produce LVVs “at significantly greater quantities than traditional transient transfection processes.” The company’s name is short for “intelligent vector solutions.”
Much like adeno-associated viral vectors, or AAV, these delivery vehicles are crucial for cell and gene therapies such as CAR-T, iVexSol added, and their shortage means developers often have to wait 12 to 18 months for production slots.
Details on exactly how it plans to “revolutionize” the space are scant, but CEO Rod Rietze and CSO Mike Greene both bring technical experience from shops like Novartis and Pfizer.
Its new funding will help establish a facility in Lexington, MA housing stable LVV producer cell line master banks and commercial-grade LVV. — Amber Tong