Part­ner­ing with Am­gen vet Sean Harp­er, vet­er­an VC Beth Sei­den­berg un­veils a $320M fund and a unique fo­cus on…wait for it…LA

Beth Sei­den­berg is end­ing a brief qui­et spell this morn­ing, ful­fill­ing ex­pec­ta­tions that she was piec­ing to­geth­er her own biotech ven­ture fund — and adding a few big twists that might take you by sur­prise.

First, Sei­den­berg told me in a pre­view to to­day’s an­nounce­ment, she is launch­ing West­lake Vil­lage BioPart­ners with a new and very high pro­file part­ner: Sean Harp­er, who re­cent­ly stepped down from his perch as Am­gen R&D chief to take a hands-on role as a new­ly re­born ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist. Sec­ond, she plans to play a lead­ing role in turn­ing Los An­ge­les in­to the next sig­nif­i­cant biotech hub to be reck­oned with, and they have $320 mil­lion to help light the fire.

What’s dif­fer­ent from her for­mer role at Klein­er Perkins?

“A num­ber of things,” says Sei­den­berg. “First and most im­por­tant­ly I will have more cap­i­tal to de­ploy that’s ded­i­cat­ed to life sci­ences than I had at Klein­er Perkins. Sec­ond­ly, I have a great part­ner with Sean, with in­creased ca­pac­i­ty to do more in­vest­ing.”

And the third new con­sid­er­a­tion? Los An­ge­les.

“We’re sit­ing the firm in Los An­ge­les,” she says, “which gives us a unique op­por­tu­ni­ty to start and build com­pa­nies in LA.”

To be sure, West­lake isn’t re­strict­ing it­self to LA. “We’re go­ing to do in­vest­ing where the best com­pa­nies and the best en­tre­pre­neurs are,” says Sei­den­berg. But af­ter watch­ing the likes of Kite and Cougar and Am­gen spin­off Atara take flight in the area, it’s time to start build­ing a re­al hub around the tal­ent pool at Am­gen. And a ded­i­cat­ed life sci­ences firm can play a big role in that.

“If you’re build­ing an ecosys­tem,” says Sei­den­berg, “build­ing big com­pa­nies, thats how you cre­ate the mo­men­tum and den­si­ty of com­pa­nies.”

“I think life is all about tim­ing and I’m re­al­ly ready for some­thing,” says Harp­er, who’s look­ing for­ward to open­ing a new chap­ter in his own ca­reer that will oc­cu­py the next 10 to 15 years of his life.

Harp­er met Sei­den­berg at the start of his last ca­reer chap­ter, when he left Mass Gen­er­al to join Mer­ck. They con­tin­ued to work to­geth­er at Am­gen. 

“We’ve al­ways worked well to­geth­er,” says Harp­er, “al­ways had this sense that one day we would work to­geth­er again.”

And while Harp­er’s quick to ac­knowl­edge that he has a lot to learn about the nit­ty-grit­ty about ven­ture in­vest­ing, he’s hap­py that Sei­den­berg will be there to ed­u­cate him. The sci­ence? He has that part down.

The two are al­so be­ing joined by Scott Ryles, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at Klein­er Perkins, who will be West­lake’s chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer.

Talk­ing to her group of new LPs, Sei­den­berg — who’s en­joyed back­ing some key cell ther­a­py com­pa­nies — hit hard on the no­tion that we’ve en­tered the “gold­en age” of biotech.

“I’ve nev­er seen a bet­ter time for the pro­lif­er­a­tion of new tech­nol­o­gy,” she says. The in­vestors were al­so at­tract­ed to an ex­ec­u­tive with a track record for help­ing in­cu­bate and grow com­pa­nies that reached liq­uid­i­ty on av­er­age af­ter about four years.

I asked Sei­den­berg about her biggest chal­lenge, but she prefers to talk about op­por­tu­ni­ties right now.

“It’s more look­ing at it as what the op­por­tu­ni­ty is here,” she says. “The big op­por­tu­ni­ty and dif­fer­en­tia­tor is re­al­ly Sean and me.”

It’s not the mon­ey they have to in­vest, you see. At $320 mil­lion, West­lake will have a shot at in­vest­ing in about 15 biotech com­pa­nies — fair­ly stan­dard in the field. But at a time mon­ey is pour­ing in­to biotech from all sides, there’s no short­age of cash out there for ex­pe­ri­enced teams with good sci­ence. But these are two in­di­vid­u­als who are in­stant­ly rec­og­niz­able in their com­mu­ni­ty of in­vestors, and that makes them play­ers to reck­on with from day one.

In fact, Sei­den­berg ac­knowl­edged that they’ve al­ready done a cou­ple of deals. But that news will have to wait awhile longer.

Im­age: Beth Sei­den­berg and Sean Harp­er. WEST­LAKE VIL­LAGE BIOPART­NERS

Ryan Watts, Denali CEO

Bio­gen hands De­nali $1B-plus in cash, $1B-plus in mile­stones to part­ner on late-stage Parkin­son’s drug

Biogen is handing over more than a billion dollars cash to partner with the up-and-coming neurosciences crew at Denali on a new therapy for Parkinson’s. And the big biotech is ready to pile on more than a billion dollars more in milestones — if the alliance is a success.

For Biogen $BIIB, the move on Denali’s small molecule inhibitors of LRRK2 puts them in line to collaborate on a late-stage program for DNL151, which is scheduled to start next year.

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Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen scores a pri­or­i­ty re­view for its Alzheimer's drug ad­u­canum­ab, mov­ing one gi­ant leap for­ward in its con­tro­ver­sial quest

Biogen scored a big win at the FDA today as regulators accepted their application for the controversial Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab and gave it a priority review.

The PDUFA date is March 7, 2021.

Significantly, Biogen says it did not use its priority review voucher to win special treatment at the FDA. The agency handed that out gratis.

That’s the ideal scenario Biogen was looking for as disappointed analysts wondered aloud about the delayed application earlier in the year.

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Levi Garraway, Roche CMO (Source: Genentech)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA hands out a quick OK for po­ten­tial SMA block­buster ris­diplam, giv­ing Genen­tech and Roche a chance to chal­lenge ri­vals on the price

US regulators handed Roche and Genentech a big win Friday afternoon, one that has market-shaping potential for its high-priced rivals from Novartis and Biogen.

The FDA has green-lit the companies’ spinal muscular atrophy drug risdiplam, which will be marketed as Evrysdi in the US, for use in patients two months and older. It’s the first SMA drug that can be taken orally, as Biogen’s Spinraza is injected into the spine while Novartis’ Zolgensma is a gene therapy.

Moncef Slaoui, Getty Images

When will it end? Big Phar­ma's top vac­cine ex­pert at OWS of­fers a speedy time­line for a Covid-19 vac­cine — ei­ther be­fore or right af­ter the elec­tion

Moncef Slaoui hasn’t started making plans for his summer vacation next year. But he offers high odds that all Americans will be able to do that in the not too distant future.

In an interview with a pair of sympathetic podcasters at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Slaoui provides an education to listeners on how any drug or vaccine can be sped through trials. And he leaves the door wide open to the notion that the leading vaccine developers can demonstrate efficacy and safety in a compelling fashion as early as October — or as late as the end of this year.

Yvonne Greenstreet, incoming Alnylam president (Alnylam)

Al­ny­lam pres­i­dent Bar­ry Greene leaves af­ter 17 years, hand­ing po­si­tion over to Yvonne Green­street as biotech looks to­ward prof­itabil­i­ty

After 17 years helping Alnylam steer control of buzzy but unproven science they promised could change medicine, president Barry Greene is leaving the RNAi biotech just as that technology is beginning to hit prime time.

Leaving to “pursue outside interests in the biopharmaceutical industry,” the longtime executive will hand over the reins on October 1 to current COO Yvonne Greenstreet. Greenstreet, a former Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline executive, inherits the high-profile spot at a company that’s proven its tech can work in rare diseases but now faces the daunting task of turning a couple successes and a new mountain of cash into drugs that are broadly applicable and, crucially, profitable.

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Covid-19 roundup: Gates Foun­da­tion pours $150M in­to In­dia’s Serum In­sti­tute; Pfiz­er teams with Gilead on remde­sivir

By CEO and scion Adar Poonawalla’s estimation, the Serum Institute in India has already poured hundreds of millions of dollars into scaling up the unproven Covid-19 vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford for use in low and middle income countries. It’s meant taking on a risk that other companies, including AstraZeneca, have mitigated with huge amounts of government funding.

Now, for the first time, Poonawalla is getting some outside help. The Gates Foundation has agreed to pay the institute $150 million to supply 100 million vaccines to India and other emerging economies next year, Reuters reported. That includes both the vaccine being developed by AstraZeneca and the one being developed by Novavax. Those vaccines will be available in 92 countries and be priced at $3 per dose.

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UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

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Bio­haven adds near­ly $1B in Nurtec deals with Roy­al­ty Phar­ma, Sixth Street

Biohaven just added nearly $1 billion to their balance sheet.

On Friday morning, the neuroscience biotech announced a pair of creative agreements with Royalty Pharma and the investment firm Sixth Street to bolster the commercial launch of their new migraine drug, Nurtec. Biohaven will sell a sliver of its royalties on Nurtec and 3% of the royalties on their experimental migraine drug zavegepant to Royalty Pharma as part of a larger agreeement that will pay $450 million. At the same time, the company announced they took out a $500 million loan from Sixth Street.

Ab­b­Vie set­tles in­sur­ance fraud suit, agrees to tweak nurse am­bas­sador pro­gram; CStone aims for NSCLC OK with pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta

AbbVie has resolved a California lawsuit alleging insurance fraud in the promotion of its cash cow Humira, paying $24 million to settle things with the state’s insurance regulator.

The settlement comes almost four years after a whistleblower first reported AbbVie’s practice of deploying registered nurses to visit patients at home or call them by phone to ensure that Humira prescriptions are filled. AbbVie was also charged with providing illegal kickbacks to doctors in an attempt to encourage them to prescribe Humira for a range of anti-inflammatory diseases.