Peter Thiel (Riccardo Savi/Sipa via AP Images)

Pe­ter Thiel joins fund­ing round for pep­tide drug play­er in lat­est swing at emerg­ing biotech mar­ket

For ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists work­ing in ear­ly-stage biotech, fail­ures are more com­mon than vic­to­ries as in­vestors search for nov­el path­ways to treat well-trod­den ther­a­peu­tic ar­eas. For the big-name in­vestors, that’s equal­ly true — but if your name’s Pe­ter Thiel, a cer­tain grav­i­ty and high ex­pec­ta­tions come with your mon­ey.

Bil­lion­aire tech en­tre­pre­neur and Face­book co-founder Thiel has joined a $35.4 mil­lion Se­ries B round for Pep­ti­log­ics, a pep­tide drug de­sign and de­vel­op­ment biotech, as the com­pa­ny looks to ex­pand on its lead an­ti-in­fec­tive can­di­date and tar­get more drugs for mar­ket.

Thiel’s Founders Fund, which has re­cent­ly made a se­ries of high-pro­file splash­es in the emerg­ing biotech field and pre­vi­ous­ly signed on as an in­vestor at Pep­ti­log­ics for an ear­li­er round, joins round leader Pre­sight Cap­i­tal. Pep­ti­log­ics in­tends to use its lat­est round to con­tin­ue fine-tun­ing its drug dis­cov­ery en­gine and ad­vance its pipeline can­di­dates, most no­tably PLG0206, a nov­el an­ti-in­fec­tive.

Pep­ti­log­ics’ “com­pu­ta­tion­al” plat­form pre-spec­i­fies tar­gets for its drug dis­cov­ery, then works back­ward through bio­med­ical da­ta to iden­ti­fy mol­e­cules — and lat­er ther­a­peu­tics — to hit those tar­gets, the com­pa­ny said in a re­lease. That strat­e­gy has caught in­vestors’ eyes as the po­ten­tial for nov­el path­ways for high­ly com­pet­i­tive ther­a­peu­tics ar­eas grows.

“Pep­ti­log­ics’ ap­proach chal­lenges tra­di­tion­al drug dis­cov­ery meth­ods by start­ing with a de­fined tar­get drug pro­file and work­ing back­wards to de­sign op­ti­mal, nov­el mol­e­cules,” Pre­sight Cap­i­tal’s Fabi­an Hansen said in a re­lease. “We be­lieve that scal­able ra­tio­nal de­sign, not ran­dom screen­ing, is the fu­ture of drug dis­cov­ery and Pep­ti­log­ics is well-po­si­tioned to lead the way.”

That in­ter­est has cer­tain­ly caught the eye of Thiel, who has made a se­ries of splashy en­tries in­to the field in re­cent years — some of them more suc­cess­ful than oth­ers.

As re­cent­ly as late No­vem­ber, Thiel shelled out $125 mil­lion as part of a Se­ries C fund­ing round to fu­el de­vel­op­ment at ATAI Life Sci­ences, a Berlin-based biotech that has as­sem­bled a port­fo­lio of com­pa­nies with psy­che­del­ic and non-psy­che­del­ic ap­proach­es to de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and ad­dic­tion.

And it’s not just fund­ing, ei­ther: Al­so in No­vem­ber, Thiel jumped aboard as a board mem­ber at Ab­Cellera, a com­pa­ny part­ner­ing with Eli Lil­ly on Covid-19 an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment, as the com­pa­ny chas­es a ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neered mouse mod­el that can de­vel­op hu­man an­ti­bod­ies.

The fate of those re­cent moves has yet to be seen, but at least one big Thiel in­vest­ment has re­cent­ly gone bel­ly up — a com­mon rit­u­al for sure in the world of emerg­ing biotech. Back in Au­gust, an­ti-ag­ing play­er Uni­ty Biotech­nol­o­gy flopped a ma­jor Phase II study in os­teoarthri­tis pain, jeop­ar­diz­ing the fu­ture of a com­pa­ny that once scored $200 mil­lion in ven­ture fund­ing from the likes of Thiel and Ama­zon helms­man Jeff Be­zos.

The com­pa­ny promised to be one of the first to ef­fec­tive­ly test the the­o­ry that clear­ing out old “senes­cent” cells could re­duce symp­toms as­so­ci­at­ed with ag­ing, but the ma­jor tri­al fail­ure cast doubt on Uni­ty’s promise in that field. This month, ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners’ Bob Nelsen, one of Uni­ty’s co-founders back in 2011, an­nounced he would step down from the board, join­ing pres­i­dent and co-founder Ned David, who is step­ping down at the end of the year, and an­oth­er board mem­ber, David Lacey, who is al­so de­part­ing.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Mer­ck scraps Covid-19 vac­cine pro­grams af­ter they fail to mea­sure up on ef­fi­ca­cy in an­oth­er ma­jor set­back in the glob­al fight

After turning up late to the vaccine development game in the global fight against Covid-19, Merck is now making a quick exit.

The pharma giant is reporting this morning that it’s decided to drop development of 2 vaccines — V590 and V591 — after taking a look at Phase I data that simply don’t measure up to either the natural immune response seen in people exposed to the virus or the vaccines already on or near the market.

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IPO track­er: 2021 gets start­ed with a flur­ry of new of­fer­ings

A global pandemic couldn’t slow down what turned out to be a record year for biotech IPOs. With the calendar turning toward 2021, the Endpoints News team is prepped to track each new filing this year, and the outcome. We’re off to another hot start at least.

Below, you’ll find the companies that have filed to go public, in addition to those that have already priced. Through the first two business weeks of January, there have already been 9 biotechs that have filed or priced, and the number is only expected to grow. We’ll keep the tracker updated as it does.

Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Vivek Ra­maswamy and Matt Gline pen share­hold­er let­ters about the changes now un­der­way at Roivant

Friends and colleagues,

I am writing to provide our annual update on Roivant. These updates are usually restricted to our shareholders, but we are sharing this year’s letter more broadly to announce an upcoming change in my role from CEO to Executive Chairman and the promotion of Matt Gline to Chief Executive Officer.

Reflections on 2020

Much has transpired in the world and at our company since my last annual update in January 2020. One year ago we had just completed our $3 billion transaction with Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma (DSP), and we were evaluating how to reinvest in our business. At the same time, SARS-CoV-2 was still a distant virus barely on our minds. Today it has afflicted the entire world sparing literally no one from its effects.

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Matt Gline (L) and Vivek Ramaswamy

Scoop: Vivek Ra­maswamy is hand­ing the CEO job to a top lieu­tenant at Roivant — but he’s not ex­act­ly leav­ing the biotech scene

Over the past 7 years since founding Roivant, Vivek Ramaswamy has been a constant blur of biotech building motion.

He launched his first biotech with an Alzheimer’s drug he picked up cheap, and watched the experiment implode in one of the highest profile pivotal disasters seen in the last decade. But it didn’t slow the 30-something exec down; if anything, he hit the accelerator. Ramaswamy blazed global paths and went on to raise billions to spur the creation of a large lineup of little Vants promising big things at a fast pace. He sold off a section of the Vant brigade to Sumitomo Dainippon for $3 billion. And more recently the relentless dealmaker has been building a computational discovery arm to add an AI-driven approach to kicking up new programs and companies, supplementing the in-licensing drive while pursuing advances that have created more than 700 jobs at Roivant, with $2 billion in reserves.

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Can strug­gling Iterum turn the cor­ner to an an­tibi­ot­ic suc­cess sto­ry? They will know in six months

More than five years after Corey Fishman and Michael Dunne dusted sulopenem off Pfizer’s shelves — the second castoff antibiotic they’ve brought out of the pharma giant — and founded Iterum Therapeutics around that single drug, they have lined up a quick shot at approval with priority review from the FDA.

The decision, six months from now, will mark a make-or-break moment for a struggling biotech that has just enough cash to keep the lights on until the third quarter.

Bahija Jallal, Immunocore

Buried in Im­muno­core's IPO fil­ings? A kick­back scheme from a now for­mer em­ploy­ee

Immunocore spent much of 2019 dealing with the fallout of the Neil Woodford scandal, as the former star investor’s fall crashed the biotech’s valuation out of unicorn range. Now it turns out that the company spent 2020 dealing with another internal scandal.

The longtime UK biotech darling disclosed in their IPO filing last week that they had fallen victim to an alleged kickback scheme involving one of their employees. After a whistleblower came forward, they said in their F-1, they spent the summer and spring investigating, finding fraud on the part of an employee and two outside vendors.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na dou­bles down on Covid-19 with new boost­er tri­als; Aus­tralia plans do­mes­tic pro­duc­tion of As­traZeneca vac­cine amid dis­tri­b­u­tion lag

As Merck bows out of the global race to develop vaccines for Covid-19, Moderna is doubling down to make sure they can quell new variants that have recently emerged and quickly spread.

The Cambridge, MA-based biotech put out word on Monday that in vivo studies indicate their mRNA vaccine works well enough against two strains first detected in the UK and South Africa. But with a six-fold reduction in neutralizing titers observed against the latter strain, the company is launching a new study of a booster version to make sure it can do the job.

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Jean-Christophe-Hyvert, Lonza

Lon­za look­ing to build on 'd­if­fer­en­ti­at­ed ad­van­tage' in Covid-19, CD­MO mar­ket­place in 2021

It’s not new for Lonza, the Swiss CDMO nearing its quasquicentennial anniversary, to be in the upper echelon of the biotech manufacturing industry.

But 2020 — as it was for many CDMOs — was a special year even by Lonza’s standards. The company inked a deal to produce 1 billion worldwide doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine and tapped pharma vet Pierre-Alain Ruffieux to lead its operations, moves which have allowed Lonza to make a myriad of other deals that will continue to ramp up its global production capacity.