Shkre­li out, Cuban in: Twit­ter proves es­sen­tial for biotech rebel Ethan Perl­stein

Im­age: Ethan Perl­stein


En­tre­pre­neurs in the tech world of­ten tell fundrais­ing founders to look to Twit­ter for mak­ing con­nec­tions with in­vestors. It’s less com­mon to see biotech in­vest­ments arise from wit­ty tweets.

Not true for Ethan Perl­stein, the founder of a small biotech in San Fran­cis­co called Per­lara. To­day, he shared de­tails of a ran­dom Twit­ter en­counter with celebri­ty in­vestor Mark Cuban that led to Cuban’s fund Rad­i­cal In­vest­ments chip­ping in $250,000 to Per­lara’s $7.4 mil­lion Se­ries A round.

Cuban’s con­tri­bu­tion was the re­sult of a con­ver­sa­tion on Twit­ter with Perl­stein, who’s quite ac­tive on the bio­phar­ma twit­ter­sphere. As Perl­stein re­calls, he had teased the Shark Tank in­vestor for Cuban’s tweet about drug pric­ing dur­ing the de­bate over Spin­raza’s price tag.

The con­ver­sa­tion turned se­ri­ous af­ter Perl­stein shared more de­tails about ear­ly-stage drug dis­cov­ery in bio­phar­ma.

“His tweet in­di­cat­ed that he hadn’t spent a lot of time think­ing about the ins and outs of bio­phar­ma and tech trans­fer,” Perl­stein said. “The next thing I know, I get a mes­sage from him ask­ing for my pitch deck. I was like, ‘is this a joke?’”

A month lat­er, Cuban’s in­vest­ment firm was on board. Ac­cord­ing to Cuban, he likes the idea of sup­port­ing drug dis­cov­ery for rare dis­ease.

“I want to see more peo­ple helped by or­phan drugs,” Cuban said in an email.

The Mar­tin Shkre­li dol­lars

But this wasn’t the first time a Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tion led to an in­vest­ment for Perl­stein’s com­pa­ny. Be­fore Mar­tin Shkre­li’s pub­lic flay­ing (and felony con­vic­tion), Perl­stein and Shkre­li were al­so ex­chang­ing tweets.

“I wasn’t ask­ing peo­ple for in­vest­ment on Twit­ter or any­thing, I was just com­ment­ing on sci­ence for rare dis­ease,” Perl­stein said. “It caught Mar­tin’s at­ten­tion.”

Af­ter the Twit­ter con­ver­sa­tion, Shkre­li in­vest­ed in Per­lara and was in­volved with the com­pa­ny for a short time. But Perl­stein said he asked Shkre­li to ex­tri­cate him­self from the busi­ness in ear­ly 2016.

“I asked him to be bought out by oth­er share­hold­ers,” Perl­stein said. “Now he’s out of the cap ta­ble and out of the com­pa­ny. He can de­stroy your rep­u­ta­tion just by as­so­ci­a­tion. Plus, I had learned he wasn’t a good per­son to do busi­ness with.”

A biotech born from Twit­ter

Perl­stein said Twit­ter has ac­tu­al­ly played an in­te­gral role in the de­vel­op­ment of Per­lara.

“Af­ter the post­do­ca­lypse, I left acad­e­mia,” Perl­stein said. “Twit­ter was the place I was re­born pro­fes­sion­al. I can hon­est­ly say that Per­lara wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Twit­ter.”

Per­lara is work­ing on six drug pro­grams for ul­tra-rare dis­eases, in­clud­ing lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­eases. Since the com­pa­ny’s 2014 in­cep­tion, it’s large­ly re­lied on part­ner­ships with pa­tient groups. Last year, how­ev­er, it land­ed a re­search part­ner­ship with No­var­tis. Af­ter hit­ting its mile­stones on that deal, Per­lara just re­ceived some ex­tra fi­nan­cial sup­port from No­var­tis in its lat­est Se­ries A round, an­nounced this morn­ing.

The to­tal eq­ui­ty round ($7.4 mil­lion) in­clud­ed with cash from in­vestors Piv­otal Cap­i­tal Al­pha, Al-Ham­ra Group, Home­brew Ven­tures, Haystack Fund and ex­ist­ing in­vestors.

The top 10 block­buster drugs in the late-stage pipeline — Eval­u­ate adds 6 new ther­a­pies to heavy-hit­ter list

Vertex comes in for a substantial amount of criticism for its no-holds-barred tactical approach toward wresting the price it wants for its commercial drugs in Europe. But the flip side of that coin is a highly admired R&D and commercial operation that regularly wins kudos from analysts for their ability to engineer greater cash flow from the breakthrough drugs they create.

Both aspects needed for success in this business are on display in the program backing Vertex’s triple for cystic fibrosis. VX-659/VX-445 + Tezacaftor + Ivacaftor — it’s been whittled down to 445 now — was singled out by Evaluate Pharma as the late-stage therapy most likely to win the crown for drug sales in 5 years, with a projected peak revenue forecast of $4.3 billion.

The latest annual list, which you can see here in their latest world preview, includes a roster of some of the most closely watched development programs in biopharma. And Evaluate has added 6 must-watch experimental drugs to the top 10 as drugs fail or go on to a first approval. With apologies to the list maker, I revamped this to rank the top 10 by projected 2024 sales, instead of Evaluate's net present value rankings.

It's how we roll at Endpoints News.

Here is a quick summary of the rest of the top 10:

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How small- to mid-sized biotechs can adopt pa­tient cen­tric­i­ty in their on­col­o­gy tri­als

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Clin­i­cal tri­als in on­col­o­gy can be cost­ly and chal­leng­ing to man­age. One fac­tor that could re­duce costs and re­duce bar­ri­ers is har­ness­ing the pa­tient voice in tri­al de­sign to help ac­cel­er­ate pa­tient en­roll­ment. Now is the time to adopt pa­tient-cen­tric strate­gies that not on­ly fo­cus on pa­tient needs, but al­so can main­tain cost ef­fi­cien­cy.

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In a re­sponse let­ter to an MP, the Fi­nan­cial Con­duct Au­thor­i­ty re­vealed that it’s opened an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing months of en­gage­ment with Link Fund So­lu­tions, which tech­ni­cal­ly del­e­gat­ed Wood­ford’s firm to man­age its funds.

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Blue­bird bio $BLUE chief Nick Leschly court­ed con­tro­ver­sy last week when he re­vealed the com­pa­ny’s be­ta tha­lassemia treat­ment will car­ry a jaw-drop­ping $1.8 mil­lion price tag over a 5-year pe­ri­od in Eu­rope — mak­ing it the plan­et’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py be­hind No­var­tis’ $NVS fresh­ly ap­proved spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy ther­a­py, Zol­gens­ma, at $2.1 mil­lion. A Chica­go biotech, mean­while, has been fum­ing at the side­lines. In a law­suit filed ear­li­er this month, Er­rant Gene Ther­a­peu­tics al­leged that blue­bird and ven­ture cap­i­tal group Third Rock un­law­ful­ly prised a vi­ral vec­tor, de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with the Memo­r­i­al Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter (MSK), from its grasp, and thwart­ed the de­vel­op­ment of its sem­i­nal gene ther­a­py.

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Health and tech ven­ture group Po­laris Part­ners, which counts Alec­tor, Al­ny­lam and Ed­i­tas Med­i­cine as part of its port­fo­lio, is set­ting up its ninth fund, rough­ly two years af­ter it closed Po­laris VI­II with $435 mil­lion in the bank, sur­pass­ing its tar­get by $35 mil­lion.

The Boston-based firm, in an SEC fil­ing, said it in­tends to raise $400 mil­lion for the fund. Po­laris — which rou­tine­ly backs com­pa­nies mold­ed out of the work done in the lab of pro­lif­ic sci­en­tist Bob Langer of MIT  — typ­i­cal­ly in­vests ear­ly, and sticks around till com­pa­nies are in the green. Like its peers at Flag­ship and Third Rock, Po­laris is all about cham­pi­oning the lo­cal biotech scene with a steady flow of start­up cash.

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Catalent is staying on the growth track.

Just two months after committing $1.2 billion to pick up Paragon and take a deep dive into the sizzling hot gene therapy manufacturing sector, the CDMO is bouncing right back with a deal to buy out Bristol-Myers’ central launchpad for new therapies in Europe, acquiring a complex in Anagni, Italy, southwest of Rome, that will significantly expand its capacity on the continent.

There are no terms being offered, but this is no small deal. The Anagni campus employs some 700 staffers, and Catalent is planning to go right in — once the deal closes late this year — with a blueprint to build up the operations further as they expand on oral solid, biologics, and sterile product manufacturing and packaging.

This is an uncommon deal, Catalent CEO John Chiminski tells me. But it offers a shortcut for rapid growth that cuts years out of developing a green fields project. That’s time Catalent doesn’t have as the industry undergoes unprecedented expansion around the world.

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Partners Innovation Fund

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Canaan jumped in along­side ex­ist­ing in­vestor Sofinno­va Part­ners to co-lead the round, with par­tic­i­pa­tion by ex­ist­ing in­vestor INKEF Cap­i­tal and new in­vestor BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal.

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