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.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Pfiz­er, Sarep­ta and two oth­ers sug­gest Duchenne drug safe­ty is­sues tied to "class ef­fect"

Since the first experimental Duchenne gene therapy programs came about, the space has proven rife with safety issues and patient deaths in clinical trials. Pfizer and three biotechs now think they’ve found a reason why.

The four companies suggested there may be a “class effect” causing the adverse events in Duchenne gene therapies, they wrote in a new study. They specifically highlighted how side effects in five patients across three trials, who all showed muscle weakness with cardiac involvement, were “strikingly similar.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Tom Anderson, SwanBio CEO

Af­ter lay­ing off a fourth of its staff, gene ther­a­py start­up Swan­Bio sees fresh fi­nanc­ing as it heads to­wards the clin­ic

Just a few short weeks after SwanBio laid off a quarter of its 60-person workforce, it has returned with $56 million in new financing.

The layoffs ensued as the gene therapy biotech was unable to get new financing in the first quarter of the year when its investors backed out, Endpoints News had learned, but it appears not all the investors walked out. Notably, one of SwanBio’s returning investors, Syncona, also owns 75% of the company. Its other lead investor this round, Mass General Brigham Ventures, was also a founding investor.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.

Martin Shkreli (Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

In­fa­mous biotech ex­ec Mar­tin Shkre­li gets out of prison, hits the street

Martin Shkreli, the infamous biotech CEO who made headlines for his jeering assault on a legion of critics in and out of Congress, is back on the streets after 4 years inside a federal penitentiary.

Shkreli’s attorney put out a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the “pharma bro” had been transferred to a halfway house in New York with a few more months to go under federal custody, slated to end September 14. Attorney Benjamin Brafman acknowledged the release and vowed that he and Shkreli are keeping quiet.

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De­spite fed­er­al ef­forts to di­ver­si­fy clin­i­cal tri­als, progress re­mains 'stag­nan­t' — re­port

While calls to diversify clinical trials have grown louder in recent years — gaining support from federal agencies such as the FDA and NIH — progress has largely stalled, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

Swaths of patients in racial and ethnic minority groups, as well as LGBTQIA+, pregnant and older adult populations continue to be left out of clinical trials. While some advances have been made in the last 30 years — women now account for roughly half of clinical trial participants — growth in other areas remains stagnant, according to the report, which was mandated by Congress and sponsored by the NIH.

Paul Chaplin, Bavarian Nordic president and CEO

Bavar­i­an Nordic se­cures BAR­DA con­tract for small­pox vac­cine

It seems that smallpox vaccination production is weighing on the mind of the US government. And manufacturer Bavarian Nordic is the latest company to benefit.

Just a few days after Emergent, a company that has made government contracts its lifeblood, acquired the exclusive rights to Tembexa from Chimerix, with a $225 million cash payment and an expected BARDA contract, the agency has offered a contract for smallpox vaccine production.

Frank Pallone (D-NJ), House Energy and Commerce Committee chair (Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP Images)

House com­mit­tee unan­i­mous­ly ad­vances FDA user fee leg­is­la­tion with ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval tweaks

The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday offered a rare show of bipartisan support for a bill that would provide the FDA with user fees for the next five years.

The committee voted 55-0 to advance the quinquennial user fee bill to the full House floor, which if approved, will allow the FDA to use biopharma funds to hire new reviewers, and hit new marks as outlined in the user fee deals that the FDA and biopharma companies forged over the past several years.