Philippe Pouletty (Credit: Deinove)

No pain, no gain: Com­pa­ny-build­ing French VC scores €250M for life sci­ences fund

In the Truf­fle Cap­i­tal play­book, you ei­ther go big or go home.

The French VC firm does not both­er with pitch­es from com­pa­nies vy­ing for in­vest­ment — in­stead, it sources the raw ma­te­r­i­al to build com­pa­nies from scratch. On Wednes­day, it un­veiled a €250 mil­lion boost to in­vest in the life sci­ences, in par­tic­u­lar, the realm of in­ter­ven­tion­al med­ical de­vices.

The recipe for in­vest­ment is ar­du­ous. The firm ap­prais­es about 1000 un­pub­lished patent ap­pli­ca­tions from the top 50 uni­ver­si­ties across the Unit­ed States and Eu­rope. Af­ter whit­tling the list to five per year, it goes about ne­go­ti­at­ing ex­clu­sive glob­al li­cens­es.

A ma­jor source of ‘dis­rup­tive’ sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy is acad­e­mia, but on­ly some 20% to 30% of patents from uni­ver­si­ties give rise to com­pa­nies be­cause aca­d­e­m­ic re­searchers tend to want to re­main with­in the halls of acad­e­mia, Philippe Poulet­ty, co-founder and chief of Truf­fle Cap­i­tal, not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News. “So you have maybe 70% of patent ap­pli­ca­tions which are left aside if you will.”

Once the tech­nol­o­gy is li­censed, Truf­fle in­vents a name for the com­pa­ny, hires the man­age­ment team and puts in mil­lions to de­vel­op the tech — all the while re­main­ing the largest, typ­i­cal­ly soli­tary share­hold­er. In the last 15 years, the firm has backed more than 70 com­pa­nies — of which 80% were cre­at­ed by or with the sup­port of Truf­fle teams. Al­to­geth­er, 13 com­pa­nies, such as Abi­vax, have gone on to make pub­lic de­buts, while Truf­fle has made 17 ex­its, in­clud­ing sales to Stryk­er and Boston Sci­en­tif­ic.

Truf­fle — which is named af­ter the fa­mous black truf­fles of Périg­ord, a re­gion east of Bor­deaux in south-west France in­hab­it­ed by its co-founders — sets up its star­tups in France, but the Eu­ro­pean ap­petite for in­vest­ment is eclipsed by in­vestors in the Unit­ed States, Poulet­ty ac­knowl­edged.

Get­ting be­tween €30 to €50 mil­lion in a Se­ries A fund­ing is pos­si­ble, but cer­tain­ly, Eu­ronext is not as pow­er­ful nor as deep as Nas­daq, he not­ed.

“So that means that when you want to grow fur­ther the com­pa­ny to the com­mer­cial stage, it’s more dif­fi­cult,” he said. “So M&A is of­ten the pre­ferred route, which is why we’ve sold a num­ber of com­pa­nies, which is not great for the Eu­ro­pean econ­o­my be­cause most of the buy­ers are US com­pa­nies…soon they will be Chi­nese com­pa­nies.”

But the in­vest­ment cli­mate in Eu­rope is ripe for change, he added, not­ing that the French and Ger­man au­thor­i­ties are think­ing of putting to­geth­er a raft of in­cen­tives to chan­nel more in­vest­ment in­to the biotech and tech in­dus­tries.

“So I’m quite op­ti­mistic that in the next five years, you should see com­pa­nies be­ing able to grow like in the US on Nas­daq and do­ing big sec­ondary of­fer­ings.”

Cre­at­ed in 2001, Truf­fle Cap­i­tal has raised over €1.1 bil­lion so far. Aside from its fin­tech in­ter­est, the firm’s Bio­MedTech strat­e­gy is fo­cused on tech­nol­o­gy that helps pa­tients more ef­fi­cient­ly and cost-ef­fec­tive­ly with­in the fields of car­di­ol­o­gy, neu­rol­o­gy, der­mo-cos­met­ics, on­col­o­gy, gas­troen­terol­o­gy, and or­tho­pe­dics.

The work has al­ready be­gun. Five com­pa­nies have been cre­at­ed with this new in­jec­tion of funds, in­clud­ing Holi­Stick Med­ical, which is fo­cused on treat­ing se­ri­ous car­diac ail­ments with­out open-heart surgery; Ski­nosive, which is work­ing on tech­nol­o­gy to pre­vent skin can­cers; and Art­e­drone, whose au­tonomous mi­cro-ro­bots are be­ing en­gi­neered to pre­vent and treat cere­brovas­cu­lar is­sues. An­oth­er three are slat­ed for 2020, and the plan is to cre­ate up to a dozen com­pa­nies in to­tal.

“We build the com­pa­ny, we have 90% own­er­ship, and if we suc­ceed, we can say, thanks to Truf­fle oth­er­wise this com­pa­ny would not ex­ist,” Poulet­ty said. “If we fail, we say we were stu­pid and we don’t ac­cuse some­one else of mis­takes. It’s our suc­cess or our mis­takes.”

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Feng Zhang (Susan Walsh/AP Images)

In search of new way to de­liv­er gene ed­i­tors, CRISPR pi­o­neer turns to mol­e­c­u­lar sy­ringes

Bug bacteria are ruthless.

Some soil bacteria have evolved tiny, but deadly injection systems that attach to insect cells, perforate them and release toxins inside — killing a bug in just a few days’ time. Scientists, on the other hand, want to leverage that system to deliver medicines.

In a paper published Wednesday in Nature, MIT CRISPR researcher Feng Zhang and his lab describe how they engineered these syringes made by bacteria to deliver potential therapies like toxins that kill cancer cells and gene editors. With the help of an AI program, they developed syringes that can load proteins of their choice and selectively target human cells.

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Cedric Ververken, Confo Therapeutics CEO

Dai­ichi Sankyo inks $183M dis­cov­ery deal with GPCR biotech for CNS tar­get

Belgian biotech Confo Therapeutics has landed $183 million, plus potential royalties, in a drug-discovery deal with Daiichi Sankyo.

Early Thursday, Confo Therapeutics put out word of the deal that will be focused on small molecule antagonists to go after an undisclosed target that the company says is associated with CNS diseases.

Confo CEO Cedric Ververken told Endpoints News that Daiichi originally reached out to learn about the biotech’s technology. He added that Confo, founded in 2015, will use its platform to drug a GPCR target that Daiichi has struggled with internally.

Dif­fu­sion to hand Nas­daq spot to EIP Phar­ma for PhI­Ib de­men­tia study of ex-Ver­tex drug

One of the more than a dozen bidders for Diffusion Pharmaceuticals’ spot on Nasdaq has prevailed.

Boston biotech EIP Pharma will merge with Diffusion in an all-stock deal, with plans to start a Phase IIb clinical trial in the coming months in a common form of dementia with no approved treatments. The combined company will be renamed CervoMed.

The nine-year-old privately-held EIP is working on a former Vertex drug that it will test in a 160-person Phase IIb in patients with dementia with Lewy bodies, or DLB. The National Institute on Aging is expected to fund that trial with a $21 million grant. With the reverse merger, slated for closing in the middle of this year, EIP will be funded through that readout in the second half of 2024. EIP’s equity and debt holders will own about 77.25% of the combined company.

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Jeff Bluestone (R), Sonoma Biotherapeutics CEO

Jef­frey Blue­stone brings his start­up haul to $400M+, join­ing forces with Re­gen­eron on cell ther­a­pies

These days, when Jeffrey Bluestone gets together with his contemporaries in science, the conversation often turns to retirement plans.

But a little more than three years ago, Bluestone reached a momentous turning point in his career, exiting a prestigious post at UCSF, where he had spent decades in the scientific pursuit of new therapies. And it had nothing to do with retirement anytime in the near future.

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Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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CSL CEO Paul McKenzie (L) and CMO Bill Mezzanotte

Q&A: New­ly-mint­ed CSL chief ex­ec­u­tive Paul McKen­zie and chief med­ical of­fi­cer Bill Mez­zan­otte

Paul McKenzie took over as CEO of Australian pharma giant CSL this month, following in the footsteps of long-time CSL vet Paul Perreault.

With an eye on mRNA, and quickly commercializing its new, $3.5 million-per-shot gene therapy for hemophilia B, McKenzie and chief medical officer Bill Mezzanotte answered some questions from Endpoints News this afternoon about where McKenzie is going to take the company and what advances may be coming to market from CSL’s pipeline. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

UK gov­ern­ment, pri­vate in­vestors dole out $340M+ to drug, di­ag­nos­tic man­u­fac­tur­ers

The government of the United Kingdom is giving out grants to several manufacturers that have a presence in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The government announced that four companies, including Ipsen, contract manufacturer Pharmaron, DNA manufacturer Touchlight and diagnostic test producer Randox, will receive a total of £277 million ($341.1 million). According to a release from the UK government, this represents the first portion of grants from the Life Sciences Innovative Manufacturing Fund.