No­var­tis re­search leader takes the helm at Forty Sev­en, a CIRM-backed fledg­ling al­ready deep in the clin­ic


Men­lo Park, CA-based Forty Sev­en launched well ahead of the game com­pared to most any oth­er biotech up­start. When the com­pa­ny was spun out of the lab of Stan­ford’s leg­endary Irv Weiss­man a year ago with a $75 mil­lion Se­ries A from a syn­di­cate in­clud­ing Google’s ven­ture arm, their an­ti-CD47 an­ti­body Hu5F9-G4 was al­ready in a pair of ear­ly-stage tri­als. And last week the com­pa­ny added an im­pres­sive CEO, grab­bing No­var­tis’ head of biosim­i­lar de­vel­op­ment at San­doz, Mark Mc­Camish, for the helm.

Mc­Camish will be lead­ing a team that in­cludes sci­en­tif­ic founders Ravi Ma­jeti, Mark Chao and Jens Volk­mer, who had been work­ing on CD47 at Stan­ford for the six years lead­ing up to the launch — a time that has drawn some scruti­ny for the close ties that ex­ist­ed be­tween Weiss­man and Alan Troun­son, the for­mer head of the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Re­gen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine, which has pro­vid­ed more than $40 mil­lion in fund­ing for the ear­ly re­search work on the biotech’s CD47 pro­gram.

“Forty Sev­en has made un­prece­dent­ed progress to date based on the re­mark­able sci­ence ini­ti­at­ed by the world-class ef­forts of Dr. Irv Weiss­man and Dr. Ravi Ma­jeti and their com­bined team at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty. In ad­di­tion, (Abing­worth vet) Jonathan Mac­Quit­ty has as­sem­bled an amaz­ing team at the com­pa­ny,” said Mc­Camish in a state­ment. “Forty Sev­en’s tech­nol­o­gy pro­vides a unique op­por­tu­ni­ty to har­ness the pow­er of the in­nate im­mune sys­tem to help pa­tients de­feat their own can­cer.”

And now Hu5F9-G4 is in 4 stud­ies in the US and the UK in pa­tients with sol­id tu­mors or cu­ta­neous T-cell lym­phoma, acute myeloid leukemia, non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma and col­orec­tal car­ci­no­ma.

CD47 scram­bles a key im­mune re­sponse that helps guard a range of tu­mor types by pre­vent­ing a process called phago­cy­to­sis, in which the can­cer cells are de­voured by a phago­cyte. That’s what the re­searchers call a “don’t eat me” ef­fect. The treat­ment al­so promis­es to whip up a T-cell at­tack on can­cer, fit­ting in to a range of im­muno-on­col­o­gy pro­grams.

Forty Sev­en is where it is to­day be­cause of Weiss­man’s re­mark­ably close re­la­tion­ship with the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute for Re­gen­er­a­tive Med­i­cine, a tax­pay­er sup­port­ed group that set out to fire up a rev­o­lu­tion in the use of stem cells to fight dis­ease.

Back in 2009, Weiss­man scored a $20 mil­lion grant for his work on CD47 with four years of fund­ing for his pre­clin­i­cal re­search on AML.  An­oth­er $12.7 mil­lion ar­rived in 2013, her­ald­ed by CIRM’s Troun­son — who took over the agency in 2007 — as “the sharp end of the CIRM pro­gram – we need to get ther­a­pies in­to clin­i­cal tri­als.”

A week af­ter Troun­son left the helm of CIRM in 2014, af­ter CIRM had pro­vid­ed more than $30 mil­lion in sup­port to Weiss­man’s CD47 work, he wound up side by side with Weiss­man on the board of Stem­Cells, which the Stan­ford pro­fes­sor had al­so found­ed, and which CIRM had pro­vid­ed mil­lions in grants.

In 2015, Troun­son would get $100,000 in com­pen­sa­tion from Stem­Cells, ac­cord­ing to an SEC fil­ing. The year be­fore, it was $343,000 — sev­er­al times more than any oth­er di­rec­tor — for on­ly part of the year. Stem­Cells foundered, like many oth­er stem cell ven­tures, and was lat­er tak­en over, wip­ing out any val­ue from CIRM’s in­vest­ment.

Those ties be­tween Weiss­man and Troun­son stirred up a small scan­dal at the time, al­most en­tire­ly be­cause of the Stem­Cells com­pen­sa­tion, with the on­line Cal­i­for­nia Stem Cell Re­port tak­ing the lead.

Not much at­ten­tion, though, has been paid to Troun­son’s sup­port for Weiss­man’s oth­er com­pa­ny in the mak­ing. CIRM, though, con­tin­ues to be a big sup­port­er well af­ter Troun­son’s de­par­ture. Even af­ter the big A round CIRM came in with an­oth­er grant. Af­ter com­ing up with a new strat­e­gy to back clin­i­cal tri­als, fol­low­ing years of crit­i­cism that noth­ing much was com­ing from bil­lions in new tax­pay­er backed in­vest­ments, CIRM came up with a new slate of in­vest­ments.

Forty Sev­en was first in line, get­ting a $10.2 mil­lion grant.

Mc­Camish, the lat­est in a long line of No­var­tis ex­ecs to leave the com­pa­ny, takes over one of the best fi­nanced biotechs in the Bay Area.

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