Pfiz­er re-ups on Mis­sion Ther­a­peu­tics col­lab­o­ra­tion, lead­ing a $15M round and grab­bing first dibs on DUBs

Sev­en years af­ter Pfiz­er first in­vest­ed in Mis­sion Ther­a­peu­tics, a biotech that re­search­es se­lec­tive­ly in­hibit­ing deu­biq­ui­ty­lat­ing en­zymes (DUBs), the phar­ma gi­ant is re-up­ping its com­mit­ment to the com­pa­ny in an­oth­er sign of con­fi­dence in the field of pro­tein degra­da­tion.

Pfiz­er’s VC arm is head­ing up a $15 mil­lion round, an­nounced Mon­day morn­ing, and in­creas­ing its over­all stake in Mis­sion. Pfiz­er is al­so en­ter­ing in­to a li­cens­ing agree­ment that would give it first dibs at ne­go­ti­at­ing ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter ac­cess­ing cer­tain DUB in­hibitors and screen­ing them for their po­ten­tial as drugs.

Mis­sion’s lead DUB pro­grams such as USP30, which is be­ing stud­ied to treat acute kid­ney in­juries, pul­monary fi­bro­sis and mi­to­chon­dr­i­al dis­eases, will not be af­fect­ed by this agree­ment.

In­vest­ment in­to pro­tein degra­da­tion has heat­ed up over the last sev­er­al years as the tech­nol­o­gy can po­ten­tial­ly have wide-rang­ing ap­pli­ca­tions. Pfiz­er it­self inked a deal in ear­ly 2018 with Arv­inas, one of the pi­o­neers, tied to $830 mil­lion in mile­stones, which fol­lowed a $650 mil­lion agree­ment Arv­inas reached with Genen­tech just a few months ear­li­er.

Pfiz­er’s first in­vest­ment in Mis­sion head­lined a $32 mil­lion Se­ries B for the biotech. Mis­sion, which com­plet­ed its Se­ries C fundrais­ing in 2016 and has al­so re­ceived fund­ing from Roche, Sofinno­va and IP­Group, has now raised over $100 mil­lion to date. Mis­sion al­so part­nered with Ab­b­Vie in late 2018 to re­search and de­vel­op DUB in­hibitors to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkin­son’s dis­eases.

The DUB fam­i­ly con­tains about 100 dif­fer­ent pro­teins and col­lec­tive­ly func­tion as a nat­ur­al waste dis­pos­al sys­tem for cells. DUBs have re­cent­ly be­come ap­peal­ing tar­gets for small mol­e­cule drug dis­cov­ery be­cause they con­tain a well-de­fined ac­tive site. How­ev­er, false pos­i­tives for hits can fre­quent­ly ap­pear in test­ing due to the method in which DUBs trans­fer ubiq­ui­tin mol­e­cules.

Mis­sion’s tech plat­form promis­es to more eas­i­ly screen for such false pos­i­tives, elim­i­nat­ing them as ear­ly as pos­si­ble. Ad­di­tion­al­ly, giv­en that the com­plex­i­ty of the DUB mech­a­nisms can make them of­ten hard to iden­ti­fy, Mis­sion has de­vel­oped a DUB-spe­cif­ic com­pound li­brary to over­come this chal­lenge.

Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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CF Foun­da­tion, Long­wood team on new in­cu­ba­tor for com­pa­nies with cut­ting-edge CF treat­ments

Nine months after launching a $500 million hunt for a cure for cystic fibrosis, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation said it will use a portion of those funds to do something it has never done before: help launch new companies.

The CF Foundation, whose venture philanthropy efforts helped fund Vertex’s line of powerful CF drugs, is teaming with Longwood Fund to create a CF incubator. The incubator will identify new companies with platforms or technologies that can be applied in the rare genetic condition. The partners can then finance early development in exchange for a commitment from the companies to focus on applications in cystic fibrosis.

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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Kiersten Stead, John Hamer (DCVC Bio)

Deep tech, round 2: DCVC Bio bags $350M fund to chase the tip of the life sci­ence spear

It took one trip from San Francisco to Vancouver for Kiersten Stead and her DCVC Bio crew to feel confident about throwing their weight — and cash — behind AbCellera.

CEO Carl Hansen’s academic background and the potential of the platform, which combined machine vision and robotics with microfluidics, were promising. But the site visit sealed the Series A deal, where DCVC was the lead and only investor.

J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Mer­ck scoops up a PhII J&J dis­card in a bar­gain-base­ment deal. And this time they’re shoot­ing at NASH

When J&J turned to South Korea’s Hanmi for a GLP-1/glucagon dual receptor agonist obesity drug, the pharma giant paid $105 million in a cash upfront for the licensing rights and plotted a big clinical trial program to test it. A year ago, like a few of Hanmi’s big partners, J&J reviewed their trial data and walked away, handing it back.

Now Merck is stepping up to grab it for their NASH pipeline — and they got it a lot cheaper than J&J.

Igor Splawski (CureVac)

Cure­Vac nabs a top No­var­tis sci­en­tist for CSO slot as mR­NA vac­cines seize the spot­light

One of the key players in the race to develop a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19 has reshuffled the top spots in the executive suite. And they’re bringing in a Novartis vet out of Harvard to spearhead their work on mRNA.

CureVac, which just filed for an IPO that’s still taking shape, has formally handed Franz-Werner Haas the CEO title, after giving it to him on an interim basis. And the still rather stealthy German biotech largely owned by billionaire Dietmar Hopp has recruited Igor Splawski as its chief scientific officer.

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Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

FDA touts ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing to ad­dress Covid-19 short­falls

Advanced manufacturing techniques can be employed to help address some of the manufacturing and supply chain problems the US has seen during the Covid-19 pandemic, Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner, and Anand Shah, FDA deputy commissioner for medical and scientific affairs, wrote in a blog post on the FDA website.

“The potential public health value of advanced manufacturing is even greater in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has highlighted the strain on supply chains and the need for adaptive manufacturing systems to accelerate the production of medical countermeasures,” Hahn and Shah wrote. “The FDA has established a strong regulatory foundation to support the uptake of advanced manufacturing, and COVID-19 provides the unique impetus to spur further advancement of medical manufacturing.”

Tony Coles, Cerevel Therapeutics CEO

Adding $445M, Tony Coles and his big Pfiz­er neu­ro spin­out hitch a ride to Wall Street on Per­cep­tive’s SPAC

Two years ago, after Pfizer abruptly shut down its entire neuroscience division, Bain Capital bet $350 million that those assets were still worth something and packaged them into a new biotech: Cerevel Therapeutics. A year later, they got seasoned executive Tony Coles, who had recently jumped back into the C-suite of another neuroscience startup, to run the company.

Now Coles is steering Cerevel public, in what he says is the largest ever transaction of its kind. Cerevel has agreed to merge with Perceptive Advisors’ specialty acquisition company ARYA II. Between the roughly $125 million Perceptive raised through ARYA and an additional investment of $320 million Bain Capital, Perceptive and — yes, really — Pfizer, among others, Cerevel will now move forward with an added $445 million in its coffers.

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