Plot­ting clin­i­cal en­try, James Wilson's gene ther­a­py start­up brings in bil­lion­aire for $110M Se­ries B

James Wil­son

The gene ther­a­py biotech that James Wil­son helped found to take some rare dis­ease pro­grams out of Penn all the way to an ap­proval has scored $110 mil­lion in its lat­est fi­nanc­ing.

Pas­sage Bio is get­ting a boost just sev­en months af­ter launch­ing with an­oth­er megaround. Ac­cess Biotech­nol­o­gy — the ther­a­peu­tic-fo­cused in­vest­ment arm of bil­lion­aire Len Blavat­nik’s con­glom­er­ate — is lead­ing the Se­ries B, which al­so in­clud­ed all the mar­quee in­vestors who pro­vid­ed the ini­tial $115 mil­lion: Or­biMed, Fra­zier Health­care Part­ners, Ver­sant Ven­tures, Lily Asia Ven­tures, New Leaf Ven­ture Part­ners and Vi­vo Cap­i­tal. New back­ers in­clude Box­er Cap­i­tal of Tavi­s­tock Group, High­line Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Lo­gos Cap­i­tal and Sphera Funds Man­age­ment.

Stephen Squin­to

The com­pa­ny is on track to ini­ti­ate clin­i­cal tri­als for its two lead pro­grams in the first half of 2020 as planned. True to its stat­ed mis­sion of tack­ling mono­genic CNS dis­ease, the ther­a­pies would treat GM1 gan­gliosi­do­sis, a neu­ron-de­stroy­ing dis­or­der most com­mon in in­fants, and fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia, which over­whelm­ing­ly af­fects the el­der­ly, re­spec­tive­ly.

A third pro­gram in Krabbe dis­ease — in­tend­ed to fix a ge­net­ic de­fect caus­ing a short­age of galac­to­syl­ce­rami­dase, an im­por­tant en­zyme for mak­ing myelin — is ex­pect­ed to fol­low lat­er in the year.

Keep­ing the stream of pro­grams flow­ing, Pas­sage Bio dis­closed that it’s li­censed two ad­di­tion­al in­di­ca­tions from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia while keep­ing an op­tion to grab sev­en more.

Tachi Ya­ma­da

Once Penn’s Gene Ther­a­py Pro­gram — where Wil­son is di­rec­tor — com­pletes the IND-en­abling pre­clin­i­cal work with the help of the Or­phan Dis­ease Cen­ter, the ba­ton is passed to Pas­sage Bio for all clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, reg­u­la­to­ry strat­e­gy and even­tu­al com­mer­cial­iza­tion.

“As we con­tin­ue to work to­ward ad­vanc­ing our three lead pro­grams in­to the clin­ic over the com­ing year, we are fo­cused on our mis­sion to serve pa­tients by of­fer­ing best-in-class, life-trans­form­ing ther­a­pies,” said Stephen Squin­to, the Alex­ion co-founder and Or­biMed part­ner who is run­ning the shop as in­ter­im CEO, in a state­ment.

Liam Rat­cliffe, the new­ly mint­ed head of Ac­cess Biotech­nol­o­gy, is join­ing the board chaired by Tachi Ya­ma­da.

Ya­ma­da, a VC at Fra­zier for­mer­ly of Glax­o­SmithK­line and Take­da, was an old men­tor of Wil­son’s who of­fered cru­cial sup­port in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of a clin­i­cal tri­al that led to the death of a teenag­er and sent the gene ther­a­py field in­to a harsh win­ter.

No­var­tis reshuf­fles its wild cards; Tough sell for Bio­gen? Googling pro­teins; Ken Fra­zier's new gig; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If you enjoy the People section in this report, you may also want to check out Peer Review, my colleagues Alex Hoffman and Kathy Wong’s comprehensive compilation of comings and goings in biopharma.

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Demis Hassabis, DeepMind CEO (Qianlong/Imaginechina via AP Images)

Google's Deep­Mind opens its pro­tein data­base to sci­ence — po­ten­tial­ly crack­ing drug R&D wide open

Nearly a year ago, Google’s AI outfit DeepMind announced they had cracked one of the oldest problems in biology: predicting a protein’s structure from its sequence alone. Now they’ve turned that software on nearly every human protein and hundreds of thousands of additional proteins from organisms important to medical research, such as fruit flies, mice and malaria parasite.

The new database of roughly 350,000 protein sequences and structures represents a potentially monumental achievement for the life sciences, one that could hasten new biological insights and the development of new drugs. DeepMind said it will be free and accessible to all researchers and companies.

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In­side Bio­gen's scram­ble to sell Aduhelm: Pro­ject 'Javelin' and pres­sure to ID as many pa­tients as pos­si­ble

In anticipation of Aduhelm’s approval for Alzheimer’s in June, Biogen employees were directed to identify and guarantee treatment centers would administer the drug through a program called “Javelin,” a senior Biogen employee told Endpoints News.

The program identified about 800 centers for use, he said, and Biogen now pays for the use of bioassays to identify beta amyloid in potential patients having undergone a lumbar puncture procedure, the employee said — and one center preparing to administer the drug confirmed its participation in the bioassay program.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis dis­cards one of its ‘wild card’ drugs af­ter it flops in key study. But it takes one more for the hand

Always remember just how risky it is to gamble big on small studies.

A little more than 4 years ago, Novartis reportedly put up a package worth up to $1 billion for the dry eye drug ECF843 after a small biotech called Lubris put it through its paces in a tiny study of 40 moderate to severe patients, tracking some statistically significant markers of efficacy.

By last fall, the program had risen up to become one of CEO Vas Narasimhan’s top “wild card” programs in line for a potential breakthrough year in 2021. These drugs were all considered high-risk, high-reward efforts. And in this case, risk won.

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UP­DAT­ED: Three biotechs price hefty IPOs just be­fore the week­end, while a fourth and a SPAC seek spots on Wall Street

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A handful of biotechs are hitting Wall Street just before the start of the weekend, with three companies — Caribou Biosciences, Sophia Genetics and Absci — all pricing big raises Wednesday and Thursday. Gamma delta T cell-focused IN8bio relaunched its IPO campaign months after postponing it last November, seeking a slightly lower raise. And another SPAC has filed for a public debut.

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Victor Perlroth, Kodiak Sciences CEO

Ko­di­ak turns down $125M pay­ment from Bak­er Bros. deal, slash­es roy­al­ty cap by 55%

Following a massive public raise last November, Kodiak Sciences has re-worked a royalty sale agreement with an old partner — and declined new funds in the process.

Kodiak is turning down a planned $125 million payment from Baker Bros. Advisors, according to an SEC filing, cutting short an agreement that saw the biotech hand over a 4.5% stream of royalty sales on its experimental anti-VEGF therapy KSI-301 for retinal vascular diseases. In conjunction with the move, Kodiak is shrinking the royalty cap from just over $1 billion to $450 million.

EMA re­jects FDA-ap­proved Parkin­son's drug, signs off on Mod­er­na vac­cine use in ado­les­cents ahead of FDA

The European Medicines Agency on Friday rejected Kyowa Kirin’s Parkinson’s disease drug Nouryant (istradefylline), which the US FDA approved in 2019 under the brand name Nourianz.

EMA said it considered that the results of the clinical studies used to support the application “were inconsistent and did not satisfactorily show that Nouryant was effective at reducing the ‘off’ time. Only four out of the eight studies showed a reduction in ‘off’ time, and the effect did not increase with an increased dose of Nouryant.”

6 top drug­mak­ers of­fer per­spec­tives on FDA's new co­vari­ates in RCTs guid­ance

Back in May, the FDA revised and expanded a 2019 draft guidance that spells out how to adjust for covariates in the statistical analysis of randomized controlled trials.

Building on the ICH’s E9 guideline on the statistical principles for clinical trials, the 3-page draft was transformed into an 8-page draft, with more detailed recommendations on linear and nonlinear models to analyze the efficacy endpoints in RCTs.

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Laurent Fischer, Adverum CEO

Ad­verum faces murky fu­ture af­ter re­view turns up deep­er safe­ty is­sues for gene ther­a­py

Three months after revealing that a patient lost significant vision in one eye after receiving its experimental gene therapy, Adverum announced it found the safety issues were more widespread: Five of 12 patients who received a high dose of the therapy saw “similar clinically-relevant events.”

Three required surgery on their treated eye. And all 12 are being recommended “aggressive immunomodulatory treatments” to prevent further injury.

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