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.

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

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For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

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