Diana Saraceni (Panakès Partners)

On a mis­sion to sup­port 'un­der­served' Eu­ro­pean star­tups, Panakès Part­ners dips in­to the biotech sec­tor with its lat­est fund

Di­ana Saraceni knows how to put to­geth­er a VC fund. Af­ter co-found­ing Italy-based Panakès Part­ners back in 2015, the man­ag­ing part­ner is now clos­ing the sixth fund of her ca­reer — but this time, her firm is dip­ping in­to the biotech sec­tor.

Panakès un­veiled its sec­ond fund on Tues­day morn­ing, with $180 mil­lion (€150 mil­lion) from a slate of in­vestors an­chored by EIF and the Fund of Funds man­aged by CDP Ven­ture Cap­i­tal SGR. This raise, dubbed the Pur­ple Fund, will fo­cus on ear­ly-stage life sci­ences com­pa­nies in Eu­rope and specif­i­cal­ly Italy — ar­eas which Panakès says are “un­der­served.”

“It’s been a big achieve­ment,” said Saraceni, who pre­vi­ous­ly co-found­ed the Eu­ro­pean VC firm 360 Cap­i­tal Part­ners. “(It’s) the biggest life sci­ences-ded­i­cat­ed fund in Italy,” she said of the Pur­ple Fund.

So far, Panakès has doled out al­most $249 mil­lion from its last fund, raised back in 2016, to 12 port­fo­lio com­pa­nies fo­cused main­ly on med­ical de­vices, di­ag­nos­tics and dig­i­tal health, in­clud­ing UK-based Ale­si Sur­gi­cal and the Ital­ian start­up Be­taGlue Tech­nolo­gies.

“There’s al­ways a very strong ther­a­peu­tic an­gle in every­thing we do, in the sense that we like to bring new ther­a­pies, new treat­ments, things that change the prog­no­sis of the pa­tient,” Saraceni told End­points News. “We’ve al­ways tried to have that an­gle with de­vices and di­ag­nos­tics and dig­i­tal health, and now it’s go­ing to be even stronger and more fo­cused with the ther­a­peu­tic-ded­i­cat­ed leg of the fund.”

Fab­rizio Lan­di

The fund will re­main open for the rest of the year, and if all goes well, Panakès hopes to raise just over $212 mil­lion (€180 mil­lion). With the added biotech leg, Saraceni says the firm ex­pects to bring 15 to 18 new com­pa­nies in­to its port­fo­lio, with the first an­nounce­ments like­ly com­ing this fall. More than 500 com­pa­nies sub­mit­ted fund­ing re­quests in the first half of 2021, ac­cord­ing to pres­i­dent Fab­rizio Lan­di, who co-found­ed Panakès along with Saraceni and Alessio Bev­e­ri­na.

Saraceni says Panakès will be on the look­out for star­tups work­ing on “some sort of break­through” that ad­dress­es an area of high un­met need. To sup­port its ex­pan­sion in­to the biotech field, the firm is plan­ning to add three new mem­bers to its 11-per­son team.

The com­pa­ny has al­so tapped two in­dus­try ex­perts to its ad­vi­so­ry board: Fabio Pam­mol­li, the pro­fes­sor of eco­nom­ics, fi­nance and man­age­ment sci­ence at Po­litec­ni­co di Mi­lano; and Ser­gio Abrig­nani, pro­fes­sor at the Na­tion­al In­sti­tute of Mol­e­c­u­lar Ge­net­ics (IN­GM) in Mi­lan.

Why pur­ple? The col­or, fea­tured in Panakès’ lo­go, is “every­where around the firm,” Saraceni said. “It’s not all the time as­so­ci­at­ed to good luck, but it was with us.”

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

All about Omi­cron; We need more Covid an­tivi­rals; GSK snags Pfiz­er’s vac­cine ex­ec; Janet Wood­cock’s fu­ture at FDA; 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.

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Lisa Deschamps, AviadoBio CEO

Ex-No­var­tis busi­ness head hops over to a gene ther­a­py start­up — and she's reeled in $80M for a dash to the clin­ic

Neurologist and King’s College London professor Christopher Shaw has been researching neurodegenerative diseases like ALS and collaborating with drugmakers for the last 25 years in the hopes of pushing new therapies forward. But unfortunately, none of those efforts have come anywhere close to fruition.

“So, you know, after 20 years in the game, I said, ‘Let’s try and do it ourselves,’” he told Endpoints News. 

Merck's new antiviral molnupiravir (Quality Stock Arts / Shutterstock)

As Omi­cron spread looms, oral an­tivi­rals ap­pear to be one of the best de­fens­es — now we just need more

After South African scientists reported a new Covid-19 variant — dubbed Omicron by the WHO — scientists became concerned about how effective vaccines and monoclonal antibodies might be against it, which has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein.

“I think it is super worrisome,” Dartmouth professor and Adagio co-founder and CEO Tillman Gerngross told Endpoints News this weekend. Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel echoed similar concerns, telling the Financial Times that experts warned him, “This is not going to be good.”

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Radek Spisek, Sotio CEO (Cellestia)

A qui­et Czech biotech bags $315M to dri­ve its blos­som­ing can­cer pipeline through the clin­ic

In the rather insular world of biotech, most innovation inevitably comes from a cluster of R&D hubs — Cambridge, San Francisco, etc. But sometimes success stories sprout from rocky soil, which is most certainly the case with Prague-based Sotio Biotech and its suddenly jam-packed pipeline of cancer drugs.

After years in quiet development, Sotio now has $315 million in new funds to play with from parent company PPF Group, an investment group founded in the Czech Republic, as the biotech looks to advance its growing pipeline through early- and mid-stage trials.

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In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Ab­b­Vie tacks on a new warn­ing to Rin­voq la­bel as safe­ty frets crimp JAK class

The safety problems that continue to plague the JAK class as new data highlight some severe side effects are casting a large shadow over AbbVie’s Rinvoq.

As a result of a recent readout highlighting major adverse cardiac events (MACE), malignancy, mortality and thrombosis with Xeljanz a couple of months ago, AbbVie put out a notice late Friday afternoon that it is adding the new class risks to its label for their rival drug.

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Biospec­i­men M&A: Dis­cov­ery ac­quires Al­bert Li's he­pa­to­cyte project; PhI­II tri­al on Bay­er's Nube­qa reached pri­ma­ry end­point

Discovery Life Sciences has acquired what claims to be the Maryland-based host of the world’s largest hepatocyte inventory, known as IVAL, to help researchers select more effective and safer drug candidates in the future.

The combined companies will now serve a wider range of drug research and development scientists, according to Albert Li, who founded IVAL in 2004 and is set to join the Discovery leadership team as the CSO of pharmacology and toxicology.

Pfiz­er, Am­gen and Janssen seek fur­ther clar­i­ty on FDA's new ben­e­fit-risk guid­ance

Three top biopharma companies are seeking more details from the FDA on how the agency conducts its benefit-risk assessments for new drugs and biologics.

While Pfizer, Amgen and Janssen praised the agency for further spelling out its thinking on the subject in a new draft guidance, including a discussion of patient experience data as part of the assessment, the companies said the FDA could’ve included more specifics in the 20-page draft document.

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