Next-gen T cell play­er TCR2 Ther­a­peu­tics sets stage for $100M-plus IPO as MP­M's Baeuer­le caps pro­lif­ic year

Patrick Baeuer­le

Patrick Baeuer­le has been busy. Right af­ter steer­ing next-gen BiTE com­pa­ny Har­poon Ther­a­peu­tics to­ward an IPO, the MPM part­ner and im­mu­nol­o­gist is shep­herd­ing an­oth­er on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny with pre­clin­i­cal as­sets — TCR2 Ther­a­peu­tics — in­to a pub­lic list­ing. And this time the biotech is look­ing for $100 mil­lion-plus in a mar­ket that’s been on a wild roller coast­er ride.

The im­munother­a­py com­pa­ny is de­vel­op­ing next-gen T-cell drugs for can­cer in an ef­fort to con­front lim­i­ta­tions posed by cur­rent T-cell and CAR-T ther­a­pies in sol­id tu­mors.

Robert Hofmeis­ter

One of the key com­po­nents of the im­mune sys­tem are T cells, which oblit­er­ate can­cer cells by us­ing T cell re­cep­tor (TCR) recog­ni­tion of cell sur­face mark­ers known as anti­gens. When a T cell rec­og­nizes a tu­mor anti­gen via the TCR, it snuffs the ma­lig­nant cell on which it re­sides. Ex­ist­ing T cell ther­a­pies for can­cer, in­clud­ing CAR-T cells and en­gi­neered TCR-T cells, at­tempt to repli­cate this mech­a­nism.

The drug de­vel­op­er’s tech­nol­o­gy — called TRuC-T cells — is de­signed to rec­og­nize and kill can­cer cells by har­ness­ing the TCR sig­nal­ing com­plex, un­like CAR-T for in­stance, which on­ly taps in­to a part of the TCR struc­ture. In con­trast to ex­ist­ing T cell ther­a­pies, the TCR2 tech­nol­o­gy is fash­ioned such that it could be used across pa­tients that ex­press the can­cer sur­face anti­gen ir­re­spec­tive of hu­man leuko­cyte anti­gens (HLA) sub­type, which could po­ten­tial­ly ad­dress a larg­er group of pa­tients.

The com­pa­ny has 5 drugs in its ar­se­nal. Its lead can­di­date — TC-210 — is be­ing de­vel­oped to tar­get mesothe­lin-pos­i­tive sol­id tu­mors. An ap­pli­ca­tion to test the drug in hu­mans was sub­mit­ted in De­cem­ber and the com­pa­ny ex­pects to con­duct a Phase I/II study ear­ly in 2019, and even­tu­al­ly ap­ply for the FDA’s fast track sta­tus. Its sec­ond drug, TC-110, is be­ing eval­u­at­ed for CD19-pos­i­tive B-cell hema­to­log­i­cal ma­lig­nan­cies. An IND is ex­pect­ed to be filed in the sec­ond half of 2019 and the com­pa­ny will al­so seek a fast track des­ig­na­tion for this as­set.  The rest — TC-220, TC-310 and TC-410 — are in ear­li­er stages of pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Al­fon­so Quin­tás Car­dama

TCRwill have two ex­pe­ri­enced sci­en­tif­ic minds work­ing on their pipeline in the clin­ic: Robert Hofmeis­ter, who de­vel­oped one of the first PD-L1 in­hibitors — Baven­cio — while at EMD Serono, will serve as CSO, while Al­fon­so Quin­tás Car­dama, who was piv­otal in the ap­proval process for one of the two li­censed T cell ther­a­pies for hema­to­log­i­cal ma­lig­nan­cies — No­var­tis’ Kym­ri­ah — will serve as CMO.

The com­pa­ny will be list­ed on the Nas­daq un­der the sym­bol $TCRR, ac­cord­ing to the S-1 post­ed last week. TCRwas found­ed by Baeuer­le, a part­ner at MPM who pre­vi­ous­ly served as CSO at Mi­cromet be­fore it was swal­lowed by Am­gen. Baeuer­le was ush­ered in­to Am­gen — where R&D was then run by Roger Perl­mut­ter — fol­low­ing the buy­out, to help take Mi­cromet’s Blin­cy­to across the fin­ish line.

Mitchell Fin­er

TCR2 al­so worked close­ly with Mitchell Fin­er, an MPM Cap­i­tal ex­ec­u­tive part­ner who has decades of cell ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing the de­sign of GMP process­es for blue­bird bio and Cell Genesys. Over­all, just un­der half of the 30 com­pa­nies MPM has in­vest­ed in are on­col­o­gy-fo­cused.

So far, TCR2  has raised rough­ly $170 mil­lion from in­vestors, in­clud­ing MPM Cap­i­tal, F2 Ven­tures, Di­men­sions Cap­i­tal, Ar­row­Mark Part­ners, Cathay For­tune Cap­i­tal, Cu­ra­tive Ven­tures, Hill­house Cap­i­tal Group, Mi­rae­As­set Fi­nan­cial Group and Red­mile Group. Pri­or to the IPO, MPM has the biggest hold­ing with a 19.18% stake, and F2 is a run­ner up with a 15.97% stake.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.