Burt Adelman. Novo Ventures

Here's a $25M seed fund aimed at back­ing some brash new drug ideas out of the Broad

As a for­mer aca­d­e­m­ic and a sea­soned drug de­vel­op­er, Burt Adel­man knew when he was re­cruit­ed as a se­nior ad­vi­sor to No­vo Ven­tures in 2017 that one of his key pri­or­i­ties needs to be in­tro­duc­ing the fund to the net­work he was so deeply em­bed­ded in.

“I was think­ing long and hard on how can I, as a Boston in­sid­er, help No­vo re­al­ly get in­side the ecosys­tem of Boston biotech?” he re­called in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

Is­si Rozen

No­vo Ven­tures, whose head­quar­ters is lo­cat­ed in a Dan­ish cam­pus that al­so hous­es No­vo Nordisk Foun­da­tion, had just re­cent­ly put its foot down in the city. De­spite its broad in­vest­ment man­date in life sci­ences and steady cash flow — it can in­vest any­where be­tween $400 mil­lion to $500 mil­lion per year — it didn’t have the con­nec­tions that oth­er, per­haps small­er, VCs in the area en­joyed. The per­ceived as­so­ci­a­tion with the di­a­betes drug­mak­er per­haps didn’t help, even though the two en­ti­ties are sep­a­rate­ly held by No­vo Hold­ings.

Adel­man found the an­swer while found­ing an­oth­er start­up, Verve Ther­a­peu­tics, with gene edit­ing tech out-li­censed from the Broad In­sti­tute. Catch­ing up with Broad chief busi­ness of­fi­cer Is­si Rozen, he re­al­ized that there was a press­ing need for fund­ing aca­d­e­m­ic projects that were too ad­vanced for NIH grants but not yet ma­ture enough for bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies to bet on.

The ex­plo­sion of new bi­o­log­i­cal con­cepts worth ex­plor­ing and new tar­gets worth val­i­dat­ing, Rozen said, al­so meant an op­por­tu­ni­ty for new part­ners — in ad­di­tion to its ex­ist­ing pacts with phar­ma and VCs like Deer­field — to step up.

“If you asked peo­ple 8 to 10 years ago what is an ide­al can­di­date to start talk­ing about ei­ther a ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery to out-li­cense or start a com­pa­ny around, they would say 12 to 18 months from the clin­ic,” Rozen told End­points News. “Here we’re talk­ing about years be­fore the clin­ic. We’re re­al­ly shift­ing back.”

Scott Beard­s­ley

No­vo is chip­ping in $25 mil­lion to be­come a part­ner on that front over the next five years. All 4,000 of the in­ves­ti­ga­tors af­fil­i­at­ed with the Broad can ap­ply to the ac­cel­er­a­tor, dubbed No­vo Broad Green­house, for around $500,000 to test their ideas with­in a year and a half. If they pass the seed stage, No­vo will fund the projects fur­ther through a sprout stage un­til they are ready to bloom — ei­ther through a biotech spin­off or phar­ma out-li­cens­ing.

“The Broad Green­house was re­al­ly a way to help us start at that ear­li­est point in that cy­cle,” said Scott Beard­s­ley, man­ag­ing part­ner at No­vo Ven­tures about their vi­sion to be the “cra­dle of great life sci­ences.”

Beard­s­ley, Adel­man and Karen Hong, a part­ner in the Boston of­fice, are No­vo’s three per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tives on the Green­house’s joint steer­ing com­mit­tee, meet­ing every quar­ter with their coun­ter­parts from the Broad’s Cen­ter for the De­vel­op­ment of Ther­a­peu­tics (CDoT). When they are not con­ven­ing, the com­mit­tee al­so coach­es in­ves­ti­ga­tors on putting their ideas in the con­text of drug dis­cov­ery.

Hav­ing earned her PhD in Er­ic Lan­der’s lab be­fore he be­came the Broad’s di­rec­tor, Hong has first­hand knowl­edge of the in­sti­tute’s hu­man ge­net­ic ori­en­ta­tion.

Karen Hong

One ex­am­ple would be the work be­ing done by Dana-Far­ber re­searchers Kent Mouw and Eli Van Allen, one of five projects al­ready en­rolled in the Green­house. In their study of “ex­cep­tion­al re­spon­ders,” on­col­o­gists iden­ti­fied a cer­tain ge­net­ic mu­ta­tion that ap­peared to break a pro­tein and in­ter­fered with DNA re­pair. Pa­tients with that mu­ta­tion were al­so hy­per-re­cep­tive to plat­inum-based chemother­a­py. But they weren’t quite sure why — and they didn’t have the mon­ey to find out.

“Try­ing to come up with a sen­si­tiz­er to an old-fash­ioned chemother­a­py isn’t the most tra­di­tion­al­ly ob­vi­ous thing to do. And it’s pret­ty high-risk,” said Van Allen in a blog post.

With mon­ey from No­vo and sup­port from CDoT, their team will now screen small mol­e­cules in hopes of find­ing one that mim­ics the ef­fects of the bro­ken gene.

The Broad’s es­tab­lished re­la­tion­ship co­or­di­na­tion has saved every­one lots of pa­per­work, Adel­man said. And terms are al­ready in place for when No­vo wants to take an idea to the com­pa­ny cre­ation stage.

“We are not rip­ping the ba­by from the ma­ma,” he said. “We are ac­tu­al­ly cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where the sci­en­tists who have dis­cov­ered these ideas are in­ti­mate­ly in­volved go­ing for­ward in the process of ad­vanc­ing the idea to the ex­tent that even some of the fund­ing goes di­rect­ly back in their labs.”

That could mean a lot for the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty at large, Rozen added.

“Here we have very much in­creased ca­pac­i­ty to pros­e­cute ini­tial projects at a very large scale,” he said. “This is sig­nif­i­cant for fac­ul­ty to have this op­por­tu­ni­ty to ad­vance this sci­ence.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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