No­var­tis los­es a head hon­cho, with US on­col­o­gy head Bill Hin­shaw ex­it­ing for new gig at Ax­cel­la

Big Phar­ma has lost yet an­oth­er top ex­ec­u­tive to the glossy ranks of small — but cash-rich — biotech, with Bill Hin­shaw, the for­mer head of US on­col­o­gy at No­var­tis, ex­it­ing the com­pa­ny to join Ax­cel­la Health.

Bill Hin­shaw

Hin­shaw will head up Ax­cel­la, a Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing-backed biotech in Cam­bridge, MA, as CEO and pres­i­dent, tak­ing the reins just in time for the biotech to start form­ing a com­mer­cial­iza­tion plan for its pipeline. Hin­shaw tells me he felt ready to take a dive — a risk — to work on some­thing tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al, and the new gen­er­a­tion of small biotechs like Ax­cel­la have the flex­i­bil­i­ty to make big change.

“In Big Phar­ma, you can paint on a big can­vas and that’s com­pelling at dif­fer­ent stages, but there’s in­no­v­a­tive pow­er avail­able right now in biotech,” Hin­shaw said.

Ax­cel­la came on Hin­shaw’s radar due to his long­time ties to David Ep­stein, Ax­cel­la’s chair­man and an ex­ec­u­tive part­ner at Flag­ship. The two worked to­geth­er in the past at No­var­tis, where Hin­shaw led the de­vel­op­ment and launch of drugs like Tasigna, Gleevec, and Kym­ri­ah. Ep­stein said Hin­shaw’s back­ground was crit­i­cal in po­si­tion­ing Ax­cel­la for its next phase.

The com­pa­ny is work­ing on a sci­en­tif­ic plat­form in a fair­ly new area of re­search: meta­bol­ic mod­u­la­tors. Ax­cel­la has been tack­ling pre­clin­i­cal mod­els to pre­dict which com­bi­na­tion of amino acids re­store health across a net­work of dys­reg­u­lat­ed path­ways, and the plat­form has de­liv­ered clin­i­cal pro­grams in liv­er, meta­bol­ic, CNS, and or­phan dis­eases.

Hin­shaw and Ep­stein wouldn’t say which pro­gram is pinned as most promis­ing, but not­ed up­com­ing da­ta in NASH and mus­cle dis­ease will help point Ax­cel­la to­wards a lead pro­gram.

David Ep­stein

For Hin­shaw, Ax­cel­la’s tech was com­pelling enough to take a risk and say good­bye to No­var­tis af­ter 15 years with the com­pa­ny.

“I think the sci­ence it­self (at Ax­cel­la) is fun­da­men­tal to hu­man health, and it of­fers the po­ten­tial to re­store the bal­ance of health in a nat­ur­al and pow­er­ful way,” Hin­shaw said. “We’ve seen the evo­lu­tion of sci­ence move from pro­teins to cel­lu­lar ther­a­pies, and I was look­ing for some­thing that had the po­ten­tial to be tru­ly trans­for­ma­tion­al. But it al­so had to be fun­da­men­tal­ly sound and with broad ap­plic­a­bil­i­ty.”

It’s not the first time a Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing com­pa­ny snagged top tal­ent from Big Phar­ma. Ep­stein said its nat­ur­al for ex­ec­u­tives like Hin­shaw to ex­it the gi­ants of yes­ter­year at time when small­er com­pa­nies are flush with cash.

“It’s pret­ty ex­cit­ing to take one’s ex­pe­ri­ences and ap­ply it to cut­ting edge sci­ence rather than do­ing some­thing that’s in­cre­men­tal,” Ep­stein said. “The fund­ing is much bet­ter than it was five or six years ago, and more cap­i­tal means you don’t have to do just one drug. You can do a whole plat­form tech­nol­o­gy.”

Plus, Big Phar­ma is los­ing its ap­peal.

“It’s get­ting hard­er and hard­er to en­joy one’s time there, as the in­dus­try is con­stant­ly un­der pres­sure,” Ep­stein said. In Cam­bridge, he says, ex­ec­u­tives are sur­round­ed by ex­cit­ing sci­ence, ven­ture cap­i­tal, and an “en­gag­ing and stim­u­lat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.” It’s no won­der top tal­ent wan­ders.

“We’re prob­a­bly just at the be­gin­ning of peo­ple mov­ing on from big com­pa­nies to small­er biotechs,” Ep­stein said.

Lessons for biotech and phar­ma from a doc­tor who chased his own cure

After being struck by a rare disease as a healthy third year medical student, David Fajgenbaum began an arduous journey chasing his own cure. Amidst the hustle of this year’s JP Morgan conference, the digital trials platform Medable partnered with Endpoints Studio to share Dr. Fajgenbaum’s story with the drug development industry.

What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation between Medable CEO Dr. Michelle Longmire and Dr. Fajgenbaum, and it is full of lessons for biotech executives charged with bringing the next generation of medicines to patients.

Christos Kyratsous (via LinkedIn)

He built a MERS treat­ment in 6 months and then the best Ebo­la drug. Now Chris­tos Kyrat­sous turns his sights on Covid-19

TARRYTOWN, NY — In 2015, as the Ebola epidemic raged through swaths of West Africa, Kristen Pascal’s roommates sat her down on their couch and staged an intervention.

“Are you sure this is what you want to be doing with your life?” she recalls them asking her.

Pascal, a research associate for Regeneron, had been coming home at 2 am and leaving at 6 am. At one point, she didn’t see her roommate for a week. For months, that was life in Christos Kyratsous’ lab as the pair led a company-wide race to develop the first drug that could effectively treat Ebola before the outbreak ended. For Pascal, that was worth it.

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Left to right, top to bottom: Carl Gordon, Adam Stone, Peter Moglia, David Schenkein, Robert Nelsen, Carol Gallagher; Srinivas Akkaraju, Ray Debbane, Jim Flynn, Peter Kolchinsky, Thilo Schroeder, Brad Bolzon

UP­DAT­ED: The top 100 bio­phar­ma ven­ture in­vestors at the mega­bil­lions deal ta­ble

The VC crowd took a step back last year, but nevertheless maintained a furious pace of new investments in therapeutic tech platforms and biotech startups. And the top 100 players completely dominated the megabillions game.

Just looking at the number of deals done by each of the top 100, OrbiMed came in at the top, with 20, followed by Alexandria (18), Perceptive (16) and the ubiquitous RA Capital at 16. It’s impossible to say exactly how much they invested in total — those numbers are only rarely provided — but it is clear from the numbers assembled by Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma who’s most likely to be found sitting at the table during the go-go days of biotech investing.

Dokomajilar tracked $14.06 billion in biotech venture investing last year, a dip from the frenzied pace of $16.02 billion in 2018 and more than $10 billion higher than he recorded for 2010, as the economy was recovering from a profound economic crisis.

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Rahul Ballal, Imara

As sick­le cell pa­tients find new op­tions, NEA-found­ed Imara pitch­es mid-stage al­ter­na­tive for $86M IPO

November 2019 proved to be a fruitful month for patients with blood disorders known as hemoglobinopathies. Within days, the FDA ushered two drugs for sickle cell disease and another for beta thalassemia to the market — livening up a barren field.

Imara, a relatively young plower, is riding on that enthusiasm as it shoots for an $86.25 million IPO.

Imara emerged from New Enterprise Associates’ orphan drug accelerator Cydan in 2016 as a single-product company. $77.3 million in private financing later IMR-687 remains the sole asset in its pipeline; the difference is the drug is now in Phase II for sickle cell disease, with topline data slated for later this year and two other mid-stage beta thalassemia studies lined up.

RA joins glob­al syn­di­cate to back a $98M round for CAN­bridge

A Beijing-based rare disease and oncology player has raised $98 million to help fund the expansion of its pipeline as well as a commercial portfolio.

CANbridge put out word Tuesday that the global private equity player General Atlantic joined forces with Chinese CRO Wuxi AppTec to lead the Series D, with both ready to chip in an extra $10 million each under the right conditions. The syndicate includes RA Capital Management, Hudson Bay Capital Management, YuanMing Prudence Fund and Tigermed.

Carol Robinson, Professor Dame Carol Robinson Research Group

UP­DAT­ED: Drug dis­cov­ery in HD: Ox­ford spin­of­f's mass spec­trom­e­try ap­proach scores fresh fund­ing

The technology used to detect explosives at airports — mass spectrometry — is being piloted as an engine for drug discovery.

Mass spectrometry is a tool designed to measure with profound accuracy the mass of a single molecule. Typically, mass spectrometers can be used to identify unknown compounds, to quantify known compounds, and to determine the structure and chemical properties of molecules.

UP­DAT­ED: Chi­na ap­proves flu drug be­ing tout­ed as a po­ten­tial coro­n­avirus treat­ment amid a rush of clin­i­cal stud­ies

One of the three drugs that China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has tapped as potential COVID-19 treatments to watch has notched its first Chinese OK — for the flu.

While there’s no proof yet that fapilavir, or favipiravir, is the cure that patients and physicians are yearning for, it stands out for a unique constellation of qualities. It’s been commercially available in Japan for several years (unlike Gilead’s experimental remdesivir) yet it’s new to China (unlike the malaria drug chloroquine phosphate). Perhaps more importantly, a domestic biotech — Zhejiang Hisun Pharma — owns the rights to manufacture and market the drug, preempting any concerns about patents.

FDA goes on high alert as coro­n­avirus rais­es threat to drug man­u­fac­tur­ing and clin­i­cal tri­als grind to a halt

The FDA isn’t quite sure just what the coronavirus outbreak in China will mean for the US pharma industry, but it has the potential to trigger a host of troublesome issues around the supply chain the country is directly plugged into.

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Warren Buffett, AP Images

War­ren Buf­fett gets a dou­ble take as the in­vest­ment pow­er­house set­tles on its first biotech in­vest­ment

Coke. American-Express. Apple. And Biogen?

Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, which made itself into a symbol of rock-solid investment strategy, has revealed a stake in the big biotech as it takes on one of the biggest gambles in the industry.

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