Ken Song (RayzeBio)

No­var­tis bet $6B on the idea — now Ver­sant, ven­Bio have $45M to birth a plat­form play for ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Back in 2017, in the wake of back-to-back set­backs and a re­or­ga­ni­za­tion, a strug­gling lit­tle biotech named En­do­cyte com­plet­ed a $12 mil­lion li­cens­ing deal that would ul­ti­mate­ly put it on a path to­ward a $2.1 bil­lion buy­out.

As it turned out, Ver­sant Ven­tures was al­so eye­ing that very same drug out of Ger­many: PS­MA-617, a ra­di­oli­gand ther­a­peu­tic for cas­tra­tion-re­sis­tant prostate can­cer.

Jer­el Davis

“We ac­tu­al­ly put a term sheet out on that as­set be­cause we just thought the ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta were so pro­found there,” man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Jer­el Davis told End­points News, re­fer­ring to a drug that reg­is­tered a pro­gres­sion-free sur­vival rate of 7.6 months among PS­MA-pos­i­tive pa­tients, with one co­hort hit­ting an over­all sur­vival rate of 13.5 months.

Af­ter three years of scout­ing the (small) space for op­por­tu­ni­ties Ver­sant reck­ons a fresh start is the way to go. The biotech fledg­ling, Rayze­Bio, is de­but­ing to­day with $45 mil­lion in Se­ries A mon­ey, with ven­Bio as a co-leader and Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal al­so chim­ing in.

With No­var­tis now claim­ing two of the most ad­vanced pro­grams in the field — both PS­MA-617 and FDA-ap­proved Lu­tathera, from a $3.9 bil­lion ac­qui­si­tion of Ad­vanced Ac­cel­er­a­tor Ap­pli­ca­tions — ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals has in­trigued quite a few biotech ob­servers, not­ed CEO Ken Song. But se­cur­ing a steady sup­ply of ther­a­peu­tic ra­dioiso­topes, es­pe­cial­ly the more po­tent al­pha iso­topes, has been a chal­lenge for any­one look­ing to mount an ear­ly-stage ef­fort.

While the tar­get­ed de­liv­ery ap­proach be­hind ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is sim­i­lar to an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gates, ra­dioiso­topes such as Ac­tini­um-225, which Rayze­Bio is de­ploy­ing, are “many fold more po­tent, prob­a­bly 100 or 500 times more po­tent” than cy­to­tox­ic pay­loads in AD­Cs, Davis added.

“What has hap­pened over the last sev­er­al years is that a mul­ti­tude of groups in both acad­e­mia and in­dus­try have de­vised al­ter­nate ways to gen­er­ate Ac­tini­um-225 where they’ve ac­tu­al­ly pro­vid­ed da­ta to show that this can be pro­duced and scaled up to suf­fi­cient quan­ti­ties,” he said. “That’s on­ly come to light over the last year, year and a half.”

Deb­o­rah Charych

That opened up a white space that Song, who was look­ing to “take a con­sid­er­able amount of time off” and turned down dozens of oth­er of­fers as he stepped down from the helm at Metacrine, couldn’t pass up.

The founders, led by Nek­tar vet and for­mer Third Rock en­tre­pre­neur Deb­o­rah Charych, were in­tent on cre­at­ing a pur­pose-built op­er­a­tion that would go broad­er and deep­er than cur­rent play­ers, said Aaron Roys­ton, man­ag­ing part­ner of ven­Bio.

In­stead of re­pur­pos­ing ex­ist­ing mol­e­cules to tar­get can­cer anti­gens, for in­stance, Rayze­Bio has part­nered up with Japan’s Pep­tiDream to dis­cov­er new pep­tides against a range of val­i­dat­ed sol­id tu­mor tar­gets. The pep­tides will then be ra­di­o­la­beled with Ac­tini­um-225 — in-house for pre­clin­i­cal work and by con­tract man­u­fac­tur­ers in clin­i­cal stud­ies through com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“We’re re­al­ly ask­ing the pep­tides to do ex­act­ly what pep­tides do well,” Roys­ton said. They can pen­e­trate tu­mors with their small sizes, are spe­cif­ic to tar­gets, and have rel­a­tive­ly short half life — prop­er­ties that peo­ple usu­al­ly don’t want in a drug. Yet “with ra­dio­phar­ma I think it’s a per­fect ap­pli­ca­tion.”

Aaron Roys­ton

In line with a vi­sion to be the first ra­dio­phar­ma plat­form play, the biotech has put to­geth­er 7 ac­tive pro­grams, with the goal to have at least one de­vel­op­ment can­di­date by the sec­ond half of 2021. The first clin­i­cal tri­als should hap­pen no more than one year there­after.

No­tably, Rayze­Bio will be able to use part of its drugs to iden­ti­fy the pa­tients it wants to re­cruit in­to tri­als by tak­ing the same binders but swap­ping out the ther­a­peu­tic iso­tope for an imag­ing agent. It spells a tar­get­ed yet broad­ly ap­plic­a­ble ap­proach that Song be­lieves would at­tract and ac­com­mo­date a large num­ber of play­ers.

“Some­one needs to be part of the ear­ly pack,” Song said about Rayze­Bio’s team, which con­sists of 10 full timers and about a dozen con­sul­tants and ad­vi­sors. “Our goal ob­vi­ous­ly is to al­ways be ahead of every­one be­cause we’re get­ting a head start by fo­cus­ing on it now. But that is up to us to en­sure that we main­tain that ad­van­tage.”

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Eric Piermont/AFP via Getty Images)

Up­dat­ed: Hit by an­oth­er PhI­II flop, Sanofi culls breast can­cer drug — sound­ing alarm for the class

Sanofi is officially giving up on its oral SERD.

The French drugmaker put out word Wednesday morning that it will discontinue the global development program of amcenestrant, the selective estrogen receptor degrader once billed as a top late-stage prospect. Having already failed a Phase II monotherapy test earlier this year, a combo with the drug also missed the bar in a second trial for breast cancer, triggering the decision to drop the whole program.

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Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Marisol Peron, Genmab SVP of communications and corporate affairs

Gen­mab launch­es cor­po­rate cam­paign am­pli­fy­ing its ‘knock your socks off’ an­ti­bod­ies

Genmab often talks about its “knock-your-socks-off” antibodies — and now the term is getting its own logo and corporate campaign.

The teal and purple logo for the acronym KYSO — Genmab pronounces it “ky-so” — debuts on Wednesday and comes on the heels of Genmab’s newly announced 2030 vision. That aspiration aims to expand Genmab’s drug development beyond oncology to include other serious diseases, while also doubling down on its own drug development.

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