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.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Eef Schimmelpennink, Lenz CEO (Business Wire)

A re­place­ment for read­ing glass­es? An RA, Ver­sant-backed start­up thinks its eye­drops could solve far­sight­ed­ness

The brain trusts at RA Capital and Versant Ventures have developed an eye for winners in the red-hot biotech space, but every once in a while a candidate comes along with so much potential it makes for an obvious investment. That’s what the partners think they’ve found in San Diego biotech looking to challenge reading glasses for farsightedness.

Lenz Therapeutics launched its rebrand from Presbyopia Therapies with a $47 million Series A and backing from RA and Versant to advance its late-stage-ready small molecule for farsightedness, a market where the biotech thinks it could have a shot at 120 million US patients and 2 billion around the world, the company said.