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.

How Pa­tients with Epilep­sy Ben­e­fit from Re­al-World Da­ta

Amanda Shields, Principal Data Scientist, Scientific Data Steward

Keith Wenzel, Senior Business Operations Director

Andy Wilson, Scientific Lead

Real-world data (RWD) has the potential to transform the drug development industry’s efforts to predict and treat seizures for patients with epilepsy. Anticipating or controlling an impending seizure can significantly increase quality of life for patients with epilepsy. However, because RWD is secondary data originally collected for other purposes, the challenge is selecting, harmonizing, and analyzing the data from multiple sources in a way that helps support patients.

$DNA is once again on NYSE; FDA clears Soliris chal­lenger for the mar­ket; Flag­ship’s think­ing big again with eR­NA; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

I still remember the uncertainty in the air last year when nobody was sure whether ASCO would cancel their in-person meeting. But it’s now back again for the second virtual conference, and Endpoints News is here for it. Check out our 2-day event reviewing the landscape of cancer R&D and send news our way.

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Michael Dell (Richard Drew, AP Images)

'Dude, you're get­ting a Del­l' — as a new deep-pock­et biotech in­vestor

What happens when you marry longtime insiders in the global biotech VC game with the family fund of tech billionaire Michael Dell, a synthetic biology legend out of MIT and Harvard and the former director of the NCI?

Today, the answer is a newly financed, $200 million biotech SPAC now cruising the industry for a top player interested in finding a short cut to Nasdaq.

Orion Biotech Opportunities priced their blank check company today, raising $200 million with Dell’s multibillion-dollar MSD group’s commitment on investing another $20 million in a forward-purchase agreement.

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Gene ther­a­py from Bio­gen's $800M buy­out flops in mid-stage study, deal­ing blow to new am­bi­tions

The #2 candidate from Biogen’s $800 million ocular gene therapy buyout has failed in a mid-stage trial, dealing an early blow to the big biotech’s plans to revitalize its pipeline with new technologies.

Biogen announced that the candidate, an experimental treatment for a rare and progressive form of blindness called X-linked retinitis pigmentosa (XLRP), failed to sufficiently improve vision in patients’ treated eye — patients only received an injection in one eye — after a year, on a standard scale, compared to their untreated eye. The company said they saw “positive trends” on several secondary endpoints, including visual acuity, but declined to say whether the trial actually hit any of those endpoints.

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Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis whiffs on En­tresto study af­ter heart at­tacks — but that does­n't mean it's go­ing down qui­et­ly

If Novartis learned one thing from its interaction with the FDA over its latest heart failure approval for Entresto, it was that missing a primary endpoint may not be the nail in the coffin. Now, Entresto has missed again on a late-stage study in high-risk heart patients, and it’s already sowing the seeds for a path forward regardless.

Novartis’ Entresto couldn’t best standard-of-care ramipril in staving off a composite of deaths and heart failure events in patients with left ventricular systolic dysfunction and/or pulmonary congestion who have had a prior heart attack, according to topline data from the Phase III PARADISE-MI study revealed Saturday at the virtual American College of Cardiology meeting.

Abbie Celniker (L) and Rob Sims (Flare)

A Third Rock-backed play­er charts a new course against tran­scrip­tion fac­tors. Do 'switch sites' hold the mag­ic sauce?

Long known for their role in guiding gene expression but considered “undruggable,” DNA binding transcription factors have long been a Holy Grail for drug developers. Now, a new startup from Third Rock Ventures thinks it could have the juice to get after transcription factors once and for all — and it all started with a “flare” of inspiration from an article out of an Oxford lab.

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Jason Kelly (Photographer: Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Gink­go nabs $DNA, biotech's most sought af­ter tick­er, for free in sweet­en­er from NYSE

When Ginkgo went comparison shopping for a financial market to list their now $15 billion company, the New York Stock Exchange had a back-pocket sweetener the Nasdaq couldn’t offer: The most sought-after ticker in biotech, $DNA.

DNA — the most famous three letters in biology and the ticker for the world’s first biotech, Genentech, from 1999 until it was bought out by Roche for $48 billion in 2009 — will now be the ticker for Ginkgo, a 12-year-old synthetic biology startup with grand ambitions to change not only how drugs, but also everyday products like meat and perfumes, are made.

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Lark­spur Health Ac­qui­si­tion files to go pub­lic as this year's SPAC flood surges over $14B

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

Another day, another SPAC vying for a spot on Nasdaq.

On Wednesday, OncoSec Medical CEO Daniel O’Connor filed the S-1 paperwork for a new blank-check company he’s leading called Larkspur Health Acquisition. The former Advaxis chief penciled in a $75 million raise, with plans to offer 7.5 million shares at $10 apiece.

BAR­DA slows its $9B en­gine for new Covid-19 ther­a­peu­tics

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority is cooling its jets in looking for new, potential Covid-19 treatments, at least in the near term.

An HHS spokesperson told Endpoints News via email, “to date, BARDA has obligated more than $9 billion for the development and/or purchase of 13 therapeutics, beginning in February 2020 with support to develop Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapeutic. Therapeutics are an important element of the COVID-19 response, and we are focused on the programs currently underway and/or in negotiation using the funds available to us.”