From L to R: Manifold Bio co-founders Gleb Kuznetsov (CEO), Shane Lofgren (head of BD) and Pierce Ogden (CSO)

Pro­tein ther­a­peu­tics biotech us­ing 'pro­tein bar­codes' in drug de­vel­op­ment se­cures new fi­nanc­ing — led by Jeff Hu­ber

Two years af­ter kick­ing things off with $5.4 mil­lion, a George Church spin­out is re­fill­ing its cof­fers to fu­el its ef­forts tack­ling pro­tein ther­a­peu­tics R&D.

Boston biotech Man­i­fold Bio an­nounced the new Se­ries A Thurs­day, led by new VC Tri­atom­ic Cap­i­tal, rais­ing $40 mil­lion to ad­vance its in­ter­nal pipeline and ex­pand its plat­form ca­pa­bil­i­ties. CEO and co-founder Gleb Kuznetsov tells End­points News that the fi­nanc­ing should last the biotech close to 2.5 years, de­pend­ing on how fast the com­pa­ny spends it.

Jeff Hu­ber

The biotech was Tri­atom­ic’s first in­vest­ment, Man­i­fold said in a state­ment. The VC was found­ed by none oth­er than Jeff Hu­ber, the for­mer Google ex­ec and once-CEO of Sil­i­con Val­ley can­cer test­ing start­up Grail be­fore it got bought out by Il­lu­mi­na last year. Hu­ber will be join­ing Man­i­fold’s board of di­rec­tors.

The com­pa­ny got its start when Kuznetsov and an­oth­er co-founder, Man­i­fold’s CSO Pierce Og­den, were grad­u­ate stu­dents in famed ge­neti­cist George Church’s lab. Ac­cord­ing to Kuznetsov, the pair were very in­ter­est­ed in pro­teins and pro­tein de­sign — which led them to talk to dif­fer­ent in­dus­try folks about the over­all price and ther­a­peu­tics process, and see­ing if there was a way to in­cor­po­rate more tech­nol­o­gy in­to it.

Kuznetsov orig­i­nal­ly grad­u­at­ed from MIT with a Bach­e­lor’s and then a Mas­ter’s in Com­put­er Sci­ence and spent a year at Google as a soft­ware en­gi­neer. Sev­er­al years lat­er, he went back to MIT for a PhD in Bio­physics.

“We didn’t want to just kind of bring for­ward, you know, a new drug, and, you know, kind of go the stan­dard route of pick­ing one drug and de­vel­op it,” Kuznetsov said — ref­er­enc­ing a mind­set he had seen about “you just kind of dog­mat­i­cal­ly test one mol­e­cule in an an­i­mal even­tu­al­ly, and that sort of make it or break it for a pro­gram.” That said, that led to Man­i­fold’s whole ob­jec­tive: to use tech­nol­o­gy to re­de­fine the pro­tein ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery process.

The biotech first got off the ground in 2020 with $5.4 mil­lion in seed fund­ing.

As for what ex­act­ly Man­i­fold does, Kuznetsov said that the biotech wants to ad­dress what he called “bot­tle­necks” in drug cre­ation, with a spe­cif­ic pipeline fo­cus on can­cer tu­mors. One ex­am­ple was tar­get­ing — how to get a drug to start killing can­cer cells with­out harm­ing the rest of the pa­tient. Speci­fici­ty and com­plex­i­ty of which tar­gets a drug go af­ter were al­so key ques­tions at Man­i­fold.

To tack­le these bot­tle­necks, the biotech us­es “pro­tein bar­cod­ing” to track its drugs.

“From an en­gi­neer­ing per­spec­tive, you want to make these en­gi­neer mol­e­cules nav­i­gate this com­plex mam­malian en­vi­ron­ment and get just to those can­cer cells,” the CEO said. Af­ter mak­ing the drug com­po­nents in-house, the biotech then adds the pro­tein bar­codes — tiny bits of pro­tein that track how the drugs work and how ef­fec­tive the pro­tein ther­a­peu­tics are. Kuznetsov then gave an ex­am­ple, say a mouse mod­el that has a can­cer tu­mor.

Af­ter re­searchers put the drug can­di­dates in­to the tu­mor and an­a­lyze the re­sults, they count, us­ing pro­tein bar­codes plus some pro­pri­etary tech, which of the com­pa­ny’s drug de­signs end up ac­tu­al­ly be­ing suc­cess­ful.

Be­yond that, Man­i­fold has been in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­bin­ing mul­ti­ple binders to bet­ter tar­get can­cer cells that ex­press dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of tar­gets. How­ev­er, the CEO not­ed that as you add this kind of com­plex­i­ty, the en­gi­neer­ing re­quired goes up too.

Kuznetsov al­so men­tioned that he has worked with Church di­rect­ly for a decade — start­ing in the ge­neti­cist’s lab back in 2012 as a re­search en­gi­neer be­fore start­ing his PhD in 2014. And be­cause of that re­la­tion­ship, Church meets with Man­i­fold once a month where the founders “ba­si­cal­ly pri­or­i­tize what we’re try­ing to do. And then George brings forth his own view of things,” the CEO not­ed.

The biotech, cur­rent­ly 15 strong, is plan­ning on dou­bling in size through­out the Se­ries A.

Kuznetsov added that while the biotech is not cur­rent­ly look­ing at ex­pand­ing its pipeline be­yond on­col­o­gy, it is in dis­cus­sions with a num­ber of oth­er com­pa­nies for pos­si­ble part­ner­ships. The biotech al­so not­ed that it start­ed work­ing on the Se­ries A just ear­li­er this year — and that it on­ly took a few months to se­cure in­vest­ments in light of how the biotech mar­ket has per­formed since Jan­u­ary.

New in­vestors for the Se­ries round in­clude Sec­tion 32, FPV, Hori­zons and Ten­cent. Pre­vi­ous in­vestors that al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed in this round in­clude Fifty Years, Play­ground Glob­al and FAST by GET­TY­LAB.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

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Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee lobs more bi­par­ti­san pres­sure on­to PBMs

Congress is honing in on how it wants to overhaul the rules of the road for pharmacy benefit managers, with a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday serving as the latest example of the Hill’s readiness to make changes to how pharma middlemen operate.

While pledging to ensure patients and pharmacies “don’t get a raw deal,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) laid out the beginning of what looks like a major bipartisan effort — moves the PBM industry is likely to challenge vigorously.

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Nicklas Westerholm, Egetis Therapeutics CEO

Ac­qui­si­tion talks on­go­ing for Swedish rare dis­ease biotech Egetis, shares up al­most 40%

Shares of the Sweden-based rare disease biotech Egetis Therapeutics skyrocketed on Thursday afternoon as the company said it’s engaged in “ongoing discussion” with external parties regarding a “potential acquisition.”

Egetis confirmed rumors with a statement on Thursday while noting that there is no certainty that a takeover offer will be made.

Nonetheless, the possibility of an acquisition has shot up Egetis’ share price. By the afternoon on Thursday, its stock price was {$EGTX.ST} up over 38%. An Egetis spokesperson told Endpoints News in an email that it has no further comments.

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Lu­pus drug de­vel­op­ment mar­ket heat­ing up, while FDA links with ad­vo­ca­cy group to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate re­search

The long-underserved systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) market is suddenly buzzing with treatment possibilities. Less than two years after AstraZeneca’s approval for Saphnelo — the first new SLE drug in a decade and joining just one other approved in GSK’s Benlysta – the pipeline of potential drugs numbers in the dozens.

Although most are very early stage — Spherix Global Insights estimates five in Phase II/III — the pharma R&D enthusiasm is catching on among doctors, patients and advocacy groups. On Wednesday, the Lupus Research Alliance and the FDA formed a novel private-public partnership called Lupus Accelerating Breakthroughs Consortium (Lupus ABC) to help advance lupus clinical trial success.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mod­er­na so­lid­i­fies deal with Kenya to build mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty

The mRNA player Moderna is further cementing its presence on the African continent.

Moderna announced on Thursday that it has finalized an agreement with Kenya’s government to partner up and bring an mRNA manufacturing facility to the east African nation. The new facility aims to manufacture up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually. Moderna also said the new facility will have the ability to spike its production capabilities to respond to public health emergencies on the continent or globally.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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John Flavin, Portal Innovations CEO

Por­tal In­no­va­tions takes its Chica­go biotech in­vest­ing, lab space mod­el to Boston with Bob Langer start­up in tow

Life sciences investor and lab operator Portal Innovations is taking the blueprint it set in Chicago and expanding to Massachusetts, where it will deploy $25 million, and help house new startups in the former Boston Globe headquarters.

Portal CEO and founder John Flavin told Endpoints News the company will open its Boston-area operations in the coming weeks, and its first lab occupant will be Syntis Bio, an early-stage biotech out of Moderna co-founder Bob Langer, MIT professor Giovanni Traverso and Sherlock Biosciences co-founder Rahul Dhanda.

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Deborah Waterhouse, ViiV Healthcare CEO

MPP re­cruits three gener­ic man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­pand use of Vi­iV's in­jectable PrEP drug

ViiV Healthcare has teamed up with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool and three generic manufacturers to expand access to medicine that can prevent HIV.

ViiV and the Medicines Patent Pool jointly announced Thursday that the MPP signed sub-licensing agreements with Aurobindo, Cipla and Viatris to manufacture generics of a long-acting form of cabotegravir for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). As a result of the agreement, the manufacturers will be able to develop, manufacture and supply generic versions of cabotegravir LA in 90 countries — subject to regulatory approvals.