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.”

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of 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.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 102,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.