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.

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

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An Endpoints Zoom meeting; and the email header employees will see if your company is a Premium subscriber

What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.

Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

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Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

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Kimberly Smith, ViiV R&D chief (ViiV Healthcare)

Af­ter sting­ing FDA set­back, Glax­o­SmithK­line's Vi­iV fi­nal­ly notch­es US ap­proval for long-act­ing HIV in­jec­tion

GlaxoSmithKline’s HIV unit ViiV was dealt a stinging loss back in late 2019 when the FDA slammed the brakes on its application for a once-monthly injection based on manufacturing issues. Now, with that roadblock in the rearview, ViiV has finally made good on its promise to change the HIV game.

The FDA on Thursday approved ViiV’s Cabenuva (cabotegravir and rilpivirine) as a long acting, once-monthly therapy for HIV-positive adults who are virologically suppressed and on a stable antiviral regimen.