David Southwell. TScan

No­var­tis backs Har­vard spin­out's quest to build TCR repos­i­to­ry in $48M round

As T cell re­cep­tors emerged as a po­tent tool for the im­mune sys­tem to latch on­to tu­mor anti­gens, Stephen Elledge want­ed to screen anti­gen-TCR match­es in a faster, more sys­tem­at­ic way — one that would go be­yond cur­rent­ly known tar­gets but stop short of the new realms of neoanti­gens bioin­for­mat­ic pre­dic­tions.

Stephen Elledge

So the Har­vard pro­fes­sor spent the last 7 years con­sol­i­dat­ing new tech to come up with a plat­form that can run mul­ti­ple TCRs against anti­gen epi­topes and pin­point the ex­act pairs that ap­pear to in­ter­act. There’s al­so a built-in li­brary of the hu­man pep­tidome to flag any off-tar­get ef­fects and pre­vent safe­ty scares down the road.

What start­ed out on 96 plates in Elledge’s lab has now been scaled up and spun out to TScan Ther­a­peu­tics, which is now mak­ing its first pub­lic ap­pear­ance with $48 mil­lion in to­tal Se­ries A and B fund­ing.

The in­ter­est from No­var­tis In­sti­tutes for Bio­Med­ical Re­search was a key im­pe­tus for the round, CEO David South­well told me. The phar­ma gi­ant’s ven­ture arm al­so joined along­side Besse­mer, GV and Long­wood Fund.

“The whole goal is sort of to do it dif­fer­ent­ly than the way every­one else is do­ing it,” he said, which al­so ex­plained why he jumped on board last Oc­to­ber af­ter merg­ing In­otek with Rock­et.

One of Elledge’s big break­throughs here, South­well said, is de­vel­op­ing a unique flu­o­res­cent de­tec­tor sys­tem to find the prover­bial nee­dle in the haystack.

“It’s long been known as what hap­pens when a cy­to­tox­ic T cell meets an anti­gen is that it puts out com­pounds like per­forin, which put holes in the tu­mor cells, and granzyme B, which is a mes­sen­ger that is es­sen­tial­ly a cy­tokine which tells a cell to die. So that’s been known,” he said. “The ques­tion is how do you ac­tu­al­ly mea­sure the ac­tu­al killing ac­tiv­i­ty be­tween the cy­to­tox­ic T cell and a tar­get?”

The abil­i­ty to sort that all out on the fly means TScan can run a high-through­put, whole-genome search for nov­el anti­gens and the T cell re­cep­tors that may tar­get them.

There are many paths to go down with a plat­form as broad as this, and South­well read­i­ly ad­mits he’s yet to make up his mind as to whether TScan will opt for plat­form li­cens­ing or keep more of the de­vel­op­ment pro­grams to it­self. But the mon­ey they have is more than enough for a team of 20 sci­en­tists — many scooped from promi­nent biotechs like Ed­i­tas, CRISPR, KSQ and Juno — do­ing dis­cov­ery work.

The plat­form “is so broad that we could do a num­ber of phar­ma part­ner­ships that are dif­fer­ent in their scope, they don’t com­pete with each oth­er, and they leave us open to de­vel­op what we want, which is a repos­i­to­ry of TCR anti­gen pairs that work in both sol­id and liq­uid tu­mors,” he said.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing at that al­lo­gene­ic fu­ture, though, TScan has a tight time­line to ex­e­cute on au­tol­o­gous projects. The goal is to have two lead can­di­dates with­in 6 to 9 months and go in­to 2021 with a cou­ple of INDs.

Much of that will be con­duct­ed in a new site at Waltham, Mass­a­chu­setts, which will of­fer a key com­po­nent that their cur­rent digs at Har­vard Med­ical School lack: GMP man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties.

“One of the biggest mis­takes that cell ther­a­py com­pa­nies make is hav­ing a plat­form like this and then you find a lead, and you’re re­al­ly ex­cit­ed about your lead, and you haven’t fig­ured out how to man­u­fac­ture it,” he said.

He’s re­cruit­ed Ken LeClair out of Ed­i­tas to run that op­er­a­tion. Gavin MacBeath, a sci­en­tif­ic founder of Mer­ri­mack, is CSO; Am­gen vet Hen­ry Rath is han­dling all the phar­ma in­ter­est as CBO; and Robert Crane is CFO.

Robert Bradway (Photographer: Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Am­gen snaps up can­cer drug play­er Five Prime, adding PhI­II-ready FGFR2b drug in $2B M&A play

Amgen is making a long-awaited move on the M&A side, buying South San Francisco-based Five Prime $FPRX for close to $2 billion and adding a slate of new cancer drugs to the pipeline.

Amgen is paying $38 a share, putting the deal value at $1.9 billion. The stock closed at $21.26 last night, giving investors a 78% premium.

The jewel in the crown of this deal is bemarituzumab, which Amgen describes as a first-in-class, Phase III-ready anti-FGFR2b antibody. Amgen was drawn to the bargaining table by Five Prime’s mid-stage data on gastric cancer, satisfied by PFS and OS data helping to validate FGFR2b as a target. Amgen researchers will now expand on the R&D program in other epithelial cancers, including lung, breast, ovarian and other cancers.

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David Liu (Casey Atkins Photography courtesy Broad Institute)

David Liu has a new big idea: pro­teome edit­ing. It could one day shred tau, RAS and some of the worst dis­ease-caus­ing pro­teins

Before David Liu became famous for inventing new forms of gene editing, he was known around academia in part for a more obscure innovation: a Rube Goldberg-esque system that uses bacteria-infecting viruses to take one protein and turn it into another.

Since 2011, Liu’s lab has used the system, called PACE, to dream up fantastical new proteins: DNA base editors far more powerful than the original; more versatile forms of the gene editor Cas9; insecticides that kill insecticide-resistant bugs; enzymes that slide synthetic amino acids into living organisms. But they struggled throughout to master one of the most common and powerful proteins in the biological world: proteases, a set of Swiss army knife enzymes that cut, cleave or shred other proteins in everything from viruses to humans.

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The 2021 top 100 bio­phar­ma in­vestors: As the pan­dem­ic hit and IPOs boomed, VCs swung in­to ac­tion like nev­er be­fore

The global pandemic may have roiled economies, killed hundreds of thousands and throttled entire industries, but the only effect it had on biopharma venture investing was to help turbocharge the field to giddy new heights.

Below you’ll find the new top 100 venture investors in the industry, ranked by the number of deals they were publicly involved in, as tracked by DealForma chief Chris Dokomajilar. The numbers master then calculated the estimated amount of money they put into each deal — divvying up the cash by the number of players — to indicate how they managed their syndicates.

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In the lat­est big in­vest­ment in gene ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing, Bio­gen com­mits $200M to a ma­jor new fa­cil­i­ty in NC

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the only R&D effort of any consequence at Biogen belongs to aducanumab, its controversial Alzheimer’s drug. But behind the uproar around that drug, the big biotech has a full scale pipeline in play that includes a growing focus on developing gene therapies.

Now Biogen plans to build up the kind of manufacturing muscle that will give it an advantage in gaining FDA approvals — where CMC is always key — and then marketing them around the world.

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Angie You (file photo)

With $117M in fresh cash, Amu­nix paves path to the clin­ic for 'u­ni­ver­sal mask' pro­drug on the hunt for HER2 tu­mors

Despite all the excitement over the possibility of T cell therapies to crack the code against solid tumors, early safety data have limited the burgeoning field’s promise. A clutch of players hope to solve that problem by “masking” their drugs, and now one of those outfits has snared fresh investor cash to take its shot in the clinic.

Amunix closed a $117 million Series B to guide AMX-818, a masked protease-activated T cell engager for HER2 expressing tumors, to the clinic as well as shepherding its bustling pipeline of tumor hunters through the preclinical stage, the company said Thursday.

Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia

Black­Rock push­es Ex­sci­en­tia Se­ries C to $100M as AI biotech boom con­tin­ues

The jury’s still out on whether the first wave of AI companies can significantly change drug development, but investors are increasingly buying into the hype.

Exscientia, the decade-old UK machine learning outfit, announced Thursday that they’ve expanded their Series C, first announced in May, from $60 million to $100 million. The expansion most notably includes BlackRock, the private equity firm that has been wading deeper and deeper into biotech. They now join Novo Holdings, Bristol Myers Squibb and others among the company’s most recent backers.

Eli Lil­ly claims a TKO in its long-run­ning ti­tle fight with No­vo Nordisk for the block­buster di­a­betes mar­ket — but there’s a hitch

Eli Lilly isn’t just gunning for a better diabetes drug in tirzepatide. They want to cut ahead of Novo Nordisk’s blockbuster rival Ozempic (semaglutide) on the obesity front as well. But a newly-claimed win in a head-to-head Phase III showdown over reducing A1C while shedding pounds — complete with clear evidence of superiority over the approved rival — could prove a tough sell right now.

Let’s start with the latest data from Lilly.

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In­tro­duc­ing End­points FDA+, our new pre­mi­um week­ly reg­u­la­to­ry news re­port led by Zachary Bren­nan

CRLs. 483s. CBER, CDER and RWE. For biopharma professionals, these acronyms command attention because of the fundamental role FDA plays in drug development. Now Endpoints is doubling down on regulatory coverage, and launching a weekly report focusing on developments out of White Oak, with analysis and insight into what it all means.

Coverage will be led by our new senior editor, Zachary Brennan. He joins Endpoints from POLITICO, where he covered pharma. Prior to that he was the managing editor for Regulatory Focus, a news publication from the Regulatory Affairs Professionals Society.

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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