Greg Verdine, LifeMine

Rick Klaus­ner fronts cash for his fun­gus out­fit LifeM­ine and brings on No­bel lau­re­ate to fur­ther push can­cer dis­cov­ery

More than three years af­ter launch­ing with a $55 mil­lion Se­ries A, fun­gus play­er LifeM­ine Ther­a­peu­tics is back with a tri­fec­ta of new good­ies: cash, a promi­nent in­vestor and a No­bel lau­re­ate.

Rick Klaus­ner

Rick Klaus­ner is lead­ing a $50 mil­lion Se­ries B round with his Milky Way In­vest­ments for LifeM­ine, which he al­so co-found­ed, as it aims to ex­pand its ef­forts in bring­ing fun­gi to the fore­front of drug R&D, the com­pa­ny said Thurs­day. William Kaelin, who won the 2019 No­bel Prize in Phys­i­ol­o­gy or Med­i­cine for his work in un­der­stand­ing how cells sense and adapt to changes in oxy­gen, is al­so join­ing LifeM­ine’s board of di­rec­tors.

“[Kaelin] has that broad base of ex­pe­ri­ence in all of the ac­tiv­i­ty go­ing all the way from fun­da­men­tal bi­ol­o­gy to drug dis­cov­ery and com­pa­ny build­ing,” CEO Greg Ver­dine told End­points News. “He’s a unique re­source that brings all those in­sights and ex­per­tise to the com­pa­ny.”

Klaus­ner orig­i­nal­ly helped co-found the com­pa­ny and serves as chair­man, but this is the first time he’s par­tic­i­pat­ed in an in­vest­ment round, Ver­dine added.

The big the­o­ry at LifeM­ine has to do with se­quenc­ing fun­gi in or­der to find new break­throughs for can­cer med­i­cine. LifeM­ine says it aims to ac­com­plish that by query­ing its mas­sive fun­gal data­base us­ing search al­go­rithms and da­ta sci­ence and lo­cat­ing which fun­gal genes can be used in small mol­e­cules based on how they en­code nat­ur­al prod­ucts.

Over the last few years, LifeM­ine has built up its repos­i­to­ry to com­prise over 100,000 dif­fer­ent fun­gal strains, which in­cludes the en­tire col­lec­tions of some ma­jor play­ers like Mer­ck and Pfiz­er. Cur­rent­ly, LifeM­ine re­searchers have two drug tar­gets they’re look­ing at to ad­vance in­to the clin­ic, but Ver­dine said it’s still too ear­ly to say when they might be ready to take that step.

Ver­dine al­so de­murred on how ex­act­ly the two pro­grams func­tion and the mech­a­nisms they uti­lize, say­ing on­ly that they fall in the on­col­o­gy and T cell pro­lif­er­a­tion ar­eas. But he em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of how quick­ly tar­gets can be found and de­vel­oped us­ing LifeM­ine’s fun­gal data­base, giv­en the sim­i­lar­i­ties in hu­man and fun­gal genomes.

“For the most part, let’s say from the ze­ro yard line to the 90-yard line, the fun­gi are do­ing most of the drug dis­cov­ery,” Ver­dine said. “It’s re­al­ly about search and re­trieval, and then if nec­es­sary, clos­ing that last 10 yards to get over the goal line. That’s re­al­ly un­usu­al.”

The genes that serve as the jump­ing off point for these po­ten­tial drugs of­ten form clus­ters in spe­cif­ic parts of the fun­gal chro­mo­somes, Ver­dine added, al­low­ing for LifeM­ine to eas­i­ly pin­point where and how to look. Once re­searchers se­lect an ap­pro­pri­ate tar­get, LifeM­ine’s com­put­er forms an “avatar” mod­el based on the fun­gus for how it can be used in hu­mans.

Back in Sep­tem­ber 2017, Ver­dine said LifeM­ine was made up of on­ly about a dozen sci­en­tists and five DNA spe­cial­ists — the com­pa­ny now boasts 100 staffers. Ver­dine al­so teased a po­ten­tial deal is in the works with a ma­jor phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal play­er, and said LifeM­ine will have more to say about that lat­er this year.

LifeM­ine saw ad­di­tion­al par­tic­i­pa­tion from ex­ist­ing in­vestors GV (for­mer­ly Google Ven­tures), WuXi Health­care Ven­tures, Fore­site Cap­i­tal, Arch Ven­tures, Blue Pool Cap­i­tal and MRL Ven­tures Fund.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.