Rich Hey­man's Metacrine tacks on an­oth­er $65M to tack­le a su­pe­ri­or NASH drug

Just six months af­ter un­wrap­ping its B round to push a NASH drug through the clin­ic, San Diego’s Metacrine is ramp­ing up ef­forts to­wards that cause with a $65 mil­lion in­fu­sion of cash.

Rich Hey­man

The mon­ey comes from a long list of new in­vestors led by Ven­rock, and it brings the start­up’s to­tal VC haul to $125 mil­lion since its 2015 found­ing. The com­pa­ny was co-found­ed by se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur Rich Hey­man — the man be­hind Aragon and Ser­agon, which both sold for over $1 bil­lion in the span of one year — and Ronald Evans, the Salk sci­en­tist be­hind a slew of biotech com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Lig­and Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and the re­cent­ly ac­quired Mi­to­bridge. Both Evans and Hey­man are still in­volved with Metacrine: Hey­man is chair­man, while Evans sits on the board.

Metacrine is tack­ling ther­a­pies in liv­er, gas­troin­testi­nal and meta­bol­ic dis­eases, with a lead NASH pro­gram called MET409.

Ken Song

The com­pa­ny’s CEO, Ken Song, who’s led Metacrine for just un­der two years now, told me late last year he’s acute­ly aware of the need to dif­fer­en­ti­ate from oth­er play­ers pur­su­ing NASH.

“This is prob­a­bly one of the most com­pet­i­tive ar­eas in biotech right now,” Song said. “It’s an enor­mous dis­ease in­di­ca­tion, and there’s no ap­proved ther­a­pies in the space. Those two fac­tors are dri­ving a lot of in­ter­est. Every week there’s an­oth­er new an­gle or new tar­get.”

The start­up’s shtick is not to find a brand new tar­get to take down NASH. In­stead, Song said the com­pa­ny is fo­cus­ing on the on­ly clin­i­cal­ly-val­i­dat­ed tar­get in the space: the Far­ne­soid X Re­cep­tor. FXR is a nu­clear hor­mone re­cep­tor, which is a class of pro­teins Evans hap­pens to be an ex­pert in.

The tar­get has been val­i­dat­ed by In­ter­cept, a com­pa­ny that’s in its own Phase III tri­al in­volv­ing a bile acid FXR ag­o­nist in NASH. But Song said this ap­proach ap­pears to come with some un­want­ed side ef­fects for pa­tients: itch­i­ness and a boost to their LDL cho­les­terol.

Metacrine has ideas on what’s caus­ing both side ef­fects: the bile acid. So the com­pa­ny plans to try out a non-bile acid FXR ag­o­nist in hopes to re­solve the is­sues.

The com­pa­ny plans to use cash from this re­cent round to fi­nance MET409’s progress in the clin­ic, with a Phase I study set for ear­ly 2019. Metacrine al­so has plans for ap­pli­ca­tions in IBS-D, and in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, and to ex­pand its pipeline through some in­ter­nal dis­cov­ery work.

“The strong in­ter­est from high-qual­i­ty in­vestors fur­ther val­i­dates the po­ten­tial of MET409 for treat­ing liv­er and gas­troin­testi­nal dis­eases,” Song said in a state­ment. “We have pur­pose­ful­ly de­signed an in­dus­try lead­ing FXR ag­o­nist port­fo­lio with the po­ten­tial for best-in-class ther­a­py in NASH and first-in-class ther­a­pies for IBS-D and IBD.”

Sanofi brings in 4 new ex­ec­u­tives in con­tin­ued shake-up, as vac­cines and con­sumer health chief head out the door

In the middle of Sanofi’s multi-pronged race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine, David Loew, the head of their sprawling vaccines unit, is leaving – part of the final flurry of moves in the French giant’ months-long corporate shuffle that will give them new-look leadership under new CEO Paul Hudson.

The company also said today that Alan Main, the head of their consumer healthcare unit, is out, and they named 4 executives to fill new or newly vacated positions, 3 of whom come from both outside both Sanofi and from Pharma.

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As­traZeneca trum­pets the 'mo­men­tous' da­ta they found for Tagris­so in an ad­ju­vant set­ting for NSCLC — but many of the ex­perts aren’t cheer­ing along

AstraZeneca is rolling out the big guns this evening to provide a salute to their ADAURA data on Tagrisso at ASCO.

Cancer R&D chief José Baselga calls the disease-free survival data for their drug in an adjuvant setting of early stage, epidermal growth factor receptor-mutated NSCLC patients following surgery “momentous.” Roy Herbst, the principal investigator out of Yale, calls it “transformative.”

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Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Ab­b­Vie wins an ap­proval in uter­ine fi­broid-as­so­ci­at­ed heavy bleed­ing. Are ri­vals My­ovant and Ob­sE­va far be­hind?

Women expel on average about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during their time of the month. But with uterine fibroids, heavy bleeding is typical — a third of a cup or more. Drugmakers have been working on oral therapies to try and stem the flow, and as expected, AbbVie and their partners at Neurocrine Biosciences are the first to make it across the finish line.

Known chemically as elagolix, the drug is already approved as a treatment for endometriosis under the brand name Orilissa. It targets the GnRH receptor to decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone.

Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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Daphne Koller, insitro CEO (insitro)

Daphne Koller’s AI start­up gets $143M in new cash from a16z, oth­ers

Biotech is becoming saturated with machine learning companies promising to reinvent and hasten drug development, but few, if any, have amassed the war chest Daphne Koller has.

Entering Tuesday, the former Stanford professor, MacArthur Fellowship recipient, Coursera founder and chief computing officer of Google’s secretive anti-aging biotech Calico had raised $100 million for her AI startup insitro. Now she’s raised $143 million more.

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As­traZeneca’s $7B ADC suc­ceeds where Roche failed, im­prov­ing sur­vival in gas­tric can­cer

Another day, another win for Enhertu.

The antibody-drug conjugate AstraZeneca promised up-to $7 billion to partner on has had a quite a few months, beginning with splashy results in a Phase II breast cancer trial, a rapid approval and, earlier this month, breakthrough designations in both non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Now, at ASCO, the British pharma and their Japanese partner, Daiichi Sankyo, have shown off the data that led to the gastric cancer designation, which they’ll take back to the FDA. In a pivotal, 187-person Phase II trial, Enhertu shrunk tumors in 42.9% of third-line patients with HER2-positive stomach cancer, compared with 12.5% in a control arm where doctors prescribed their choice of therapy. Progression-free survival was 5.4 months for Enhertu compared to 3.5 months for the control.