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.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

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UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

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On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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