Next-gen CAR-T, TCR play­er Au­to­lus gains $80M for clin­i­cal tri­al work

Mar­tin Pule

Au­to­lus has gone back to the well to draw up an $80 mil­lion C round de­signed to push the next-gen CAR-T play­er through a key test for its three lead pro­grams.

While look­ing to even­tu­al­ly leapfrog the lead­ing pi­o­neers like No­var­tis, which achieved the first OK for CAR-T just months ago, Au­to­lus has its sights set on es­tab­lish­ing proof-of-con­cept da­ta on three pro­grams: AU­TO2 in mul­ti­ple myelo­ma, AU­TO3 in dif­fuse large B cell lym­phoma and pe­di­atric acute lym­phoblas­tic leukemia and AU­TO4 in T-cell lym­phoma.

The first CAR-Ts have es­tab­lished some jaw-drop­ping re­sults in blood can­cers, but sol­id tu­mors re­main a big chal­lenge. Au­to­lus is one of a num­ber of up­start biotechs that think bet­ter tech­nol­o­gy — like its pat­tern recog­ni­tion tech — can make for a much bet­ter CAR-T or T cell re­cep­tor ther­a­py per­son­al­ized for each pa­tient. These new cell ther­a­pies, they be­lieve, will al­low the field to start treat­ing sol­id tu­mors while al­so im­prov­ing new stan­dards of care in hema­to­log­i­cal ma­lig­nan­cies.

It’s a big bet, with lots at stake as on­col­o­gy re­mains the sin­gle biggest field in biotech for VCs in­vest­ing in R&D.

Chris­t­ian Itin

Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Nex­tech In­vest and oth­er new in­vestors joined found­ing in­vestor Syn­cona, Wood­ford In­vest­ment Man­age­ment and Ar­ix Bio­science in the round.

Au­to­lus was spun out of the lab of Mar­tin Pule at Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don. Years ago Pule got a chance to help with some of the pi­o­neer­ing re­search go­ing in­to reengi­neer­ing T cells in­to can­cer ther­a­pies at Mal­colm Bren­ner’s lab at Bay­lor Uni­ver­si­ty in Texas. And now the three-year-old com­pa­ny has raised a to­tal of $185 mil­lion to test what it hopes will be a safer ap­proach to au­tol­o­gous T cell ther­a­pies (which are ex­tract­ed from pa­tients, en­gi­neered and then in­ject­ed) for hema­to­log­i­cal and sol­id tu­mors.

CEO Chris­t­ian Itin — who ran Mi­cromet up un­til its sale — had this to say:

Since our in­cep­tion three years ago, Au­to­lus has made sub­stan­tial progress with two dual tar­get­ing pro­grams in three clin­i­cal stud­ies, a nov­el pro­gram for T-cell lym­phoma’s clin­ic ready and a unique suite of cell pro­gram­ming tech­nolo­gies es­tab­lished for use in haema­to­log­i­cal and sol­id can­cers. With the new fi­nanc­ing we are well on our way to build­ing a pre­mier ful­ly in­te­grat­ed On­col­o­gy Com­pa­ny that har­ness­es the unique pow­er of T cells to com­bat can­cer.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.