RA Cap­i­tal dou­bles down on Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee's vi­sion for a new cell en­gi­neer­ing ap­proach, lead­ing Vor's $110M Se­ries B

Vor Bio­phar­ma is muscling up.

Robert Ang

CEO Robert Ang, who was re­luc­tant to di­vulge the head­count when dis­cussing his move from Neon Ther­a­peu­tics to Vor last Au­gust, read­i­ly of­fered that the team has grown from 6 to 50 in less than a year. The biotech is mov­ing to a larg­er of­fice on Cam­bridge Park­way Dri­ve in weeks, giv­ing it more space to com­plete the IND-en­abling work and man­u­fac­tur­ing scale-up — con­duct­ed by a CD­MO part­ner — in prepa­ra­tion for clin­i­cal tri­als planned for the first half of 2021.

It’s al­so hauled in $110 mil­lion from its Se­ries B, led by RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment and fea­tur­ing new in­vestors like Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment & Re­search Com­pa­ny, Pagli­u­ca Fam­i­ly Of­fice and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments. 5AM Ven­tures, which co-led the $42 mil­lion Se­ries A with RA Cap­i­tal, al­so joined along­side old-timers PureTech Health, John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion — JJDC and Os­age Uni­ver­si­ty Part­ners.

“Vor has an el­e­gant ap­proach to en­gi­neer­ing hematopoi­et­ic stem cells that we be­lieve is amongst the most promis­ing in­no­va­tions in on­col­o­gy,” Joshua Resnick, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at RA Cap­i­tal, said in a state­ment.

Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee

Pi­o­neered by Co­lum­bia on­col­o­gist Sid­dhartha Mukher­jee (who has chron­i­cled the promise and price of the first gen­er­a­tion of CAR-T ther­a­pies), the ap­proach flips tra­di­tion­al cell ther­a­py on its head. Rather than en­gi­neer­ing im­mune cells to at­tack can­cer­ous ones, or tar­get­ing tu­mor cells, Vor is tin­ker­ing with the healthy cells.

By edit­ing out tar­gets that are present in both healthy and ma­lig­nant cells, the rea­son­ing goes, sci­en­tists can un­leash the full pow­er of tar­get­ed ther­a­pies with­out hav­ing to wor­ry about side ef­fects.

They are start­ing out with CD33 for acute myeloid leukemia, but the new cash will fund some new re­search in­to oth­er undis­closed tar­gets.

Al­so known as Siglec-3, the pro­tein is a com­mon tar­get for ex­ist­ing treat­ments like Pfiz­er’s an­ti­body-drug con­ju­gate My­lotarg. Large ge­nom­ic data­bas­es sug­gest there are in­di­vid­u­als who have lived their whole lives with­out ever ex­press­ing the CD33, Ang said, and re­searchers have shown that knock­ing it out in mice and hu­man cells in vit­ro doesn’t seem to im­pact func­tion­al­i­ty.

The re­al test, of course, will have to be in the clin­ic.

“We hope to see that it’s en­tire­ly bi­o­log­i­cal­ly re­dun­dant and safe,” Ang told End­points News.

On top of that — prov­ing not on­ly that they can ed­it the hematopoi­et­ic stem cells with­out in­duc­ing ma­lig­nan­cy, but al­so re­tain their re­pro­ducibil­i­ty — Vor is al­so aim­ing to test how their pro­gram, VOR33, may com­ple­ment My­lotarg or a CD33-tar­get­ed CAR-T ther­a­py, which would be a “nov­el nov­el treat­ment com­bi­na­tion.”

Vor has had a chance to dis­cuss these and oth­er con­cerns with FDA reg­u­la­tors back in Jan­u­ary, Ang added.

The tri­al would al­so be a test for the man­u­fac­tur­ing process Vor has de­vel­oped, pack­ing every­thing from ex­trac­tion to re­in­fu­sion in 48 hours.

“We’re do­ing it not just be­cause we can do it, but al­so be­cause I think it’s best for pa­tients that we do it,” Ang said. Not on­ly is there an ur­gency in the clin­ic, but less ma­nip­u­la­tion al­so means bet­ter chance of en­graft­ment and health­i­er cells. “What that al­so does is it gives us hope­ful­ly flex­i­bil­i­ty fur­ther down the track to think about how it could, more im­por­tant­ly, roll us out on a late de­vel­op­ment or com­mer­cial ba­sis.”

It could mean a re­gion­al mod­el or on-site man­u­fac­tur­ing; ei­ther way, it’s a de­cen­tral­ized fu­ture that Vor is now prepar­ing for.

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.

Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.

Richard Silverman, Akava Therapeutics founder and Northwestern professor

This time around, Lyri­ca's in­ven­tor is de­vel­op­ing his North­west­ern dis­cov­er­ies at his own biotech

Richard Silverman was left in the dark for the last five years of clinical development of the drug he discovered. The Northwestern University professor found out about the first approval of Lyrica, in the last few days of 2004, like most other people: in the newspaper.

What became one of Pfizer’s top-selling meds, at $5 billion in 2017 global sales before losing patent protection in 2019, started slipping out of his hands when Northwestern licensed it out to Parke-Davis, one of two biotechs that showed interest in developing the drug in the pre-email days, when the university’s two-person tech transfer team had to ship out letters to garner industry appetite.

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David Ricks, Eli Lilly CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eli Lil­ly set to in­vest $2.1B in home state man­u­fac­tur­ing boost

Eli Lilly is looking to expand its footprint in its home Hoosier State by making a major investment in manufacturing.

The pharma is investing $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites at Indiana’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District in Boone County, northwest of Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

The two new facilities will expand Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients and new therapeutic modalities, including genetic medicines, according to a press release.

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Up­dat­ed: US sees spike in Paxlovid us­age as Mer­ck­'s mol­nupi­ravir and As­traZeneca's Evusheld are slow­er off the shelf

New data from HHS show that more than 162,000 courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid were administered across the US over the past week, continuing a streak of increased usage of the pill, and signaling not only rising case numbers but more awareness of how to access it.

In comparison to this week, about 670,000 courses of the Pfizer pill have been administered across the first five months since Paxlovid has been on the US market, averaging about 33,000 courses administered per week in that time.

Pfiz­er and CD­MOs ramp up Paxlovid man­u­fac­tur­ing with Kala­ma­zoo plant ex­pan­sion lead­ing the way

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, pharma companies and manufacturers are exploring how to step up production on antivirals.

Pfizer is planning to expand its Kalamazoo-area facility to increase manufacturing capabilities for the oral Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid, according to a report from Michigan-based news site MLive. The expansion of the facility, which serves as Pfizer’s largest manufacturing location, is expected to create hundreds of “high-skilled” STEM jobs, MLive reported. No details about the project’s cost and timeline have been released, but according to MLive, Pfizer will announce the details of the expansion at some point in early June.

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FDA spells out the rules and re­stric­tions for states seek­ing to im­port drugs from Cana­da

The FDA is offering more of an explanation of the guardrails around its program that may soon allow states to import prescription drugs in some select circumstances from Canada, but only if such imports will result in significant cost reductions for consumers.

While the agency has yet to sign off on any of the 5 state plans in the works so far, and PhRMA’s suit to block the Trump-era rule allowing such imports is stalled, the new Q&A guidance spells out the various restrictions that states will have to abide by, potentially signaling that a state approval is coming.

Simba Gill, CEO of Evelo Biosciences

While down 87% YOY, Evelo gets Flag­ship and oth­ers to in­fuse new cap­i­tal for come­back hope

Just four years after Flagship spinout Evelo Biosciences went public in an IPO worth $85 million, the biotech has seen its share price tank from $13 a share this time last year (ultimately reaching a peak of over $17) to now under $1.50. And today, it looks like Flagship still thinks the fledging biotech, in a down market, is still worth something after initial pre-IPO backing from the likes of Google’s GV, Celgene, Mayo Clinic and Alexandria Venture.

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Peter Thompson, Terremoto Biosciences interim CEO

For­mer Prin­cip­ia team looks to shake up co­va­lent small mol­e­cules again, this time at 'earthquake' scale

Terremoto Biosciences goes back a long ways, in a sense, to about a dozen years ago when Principia Biopharma was founded by UCSF professor Jack Taunton. Peter Thompson initially helmed the biotech.

The company helped expand covalent small molecule inhibitors beyond oncology and into autoimmune disease by targeting cystine. But that amino acid is uncommon in a lot of proteins, offering fewer drug targets than, say, lysine, which is present in most proteins of interest. So, over the years, Taunton went back to the drawing board to check out that second amino acid.

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