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.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

David Baker working with a student on their protein design (Jason Mast)

Sci­en­tists are fi­nal­ly learn­ing how to de­sign pro­teins from scratch. Drug de­vel­op­ment may nev­er be the same

SEATTLE — It’s a cloudy Thursday afternoon in mid-July and David Baker is reclining into the futon in his corner office at the University of Washington, arms splayed out like a daytime talk show host as he coaches another one of his postdocs through the slings and arrows of scientific celebrity.

“Be jealous of your time,” he says, before plotting ways of sneaking her out of Zooms. “It’s this horrible cost to science that you’re tied up in some stupid meeting.”

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Pre­sent­ing a live End­points News event: Man­ag­ing a biotech in tur­bu­lent times

Biotech is one of the smartest, best educated industries on the planet. PhDs abound. We’ve had a long enough track record to see a new generation of savvy, experienced execs coming together to run startups.

And in these times, they are being tested as never before.

Biotech is going through quite a rough patch right now. For 2 years, practically anyone with a decent resume and some half-baked ideas on biotech could start a company and get it funded. The pandemic made it easy in many ways to pull off an IPO, with traditional road shows shut down in exchange for a series of quick Zoom meetings. Generalist investors flocked as the numbers raised soared into the stratosphere.

Patty Murray, D-WA (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­ate user fee reau­tho­riza­tion bill omits ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval re­forms, shows wide gaps with House ver­sion

The Senate health committee on Tuesday released its first version of the bill to reauthorize all the different FDA user fees. But unlike the House version, there are only a few controversial items in the Senate’s version, which does not address either accelerated approval reforms or clinical trial diversity (as the House did).

While it’s still relatively early in the process of finalizing this legislation (the ultimate statutory deadline is the end of September), the House and Senate, at least initially, appear to be starting off in different corners on what should be included.

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Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway CEO

Berk­shire Hath­away pulls out of Ab­b­Vie, Bris­tol My­ers Squibb in­vest­ments

It looks like Warren Buffett is sticking to ice cream and railroads for the moment.

The billionaire CEO of Berkshire Hathaway backed out of two major holdings in the pharma industry, Forexlive first reported, including a $410 million investment in AbbVie and a $324.4 million stake in Bristol Myers Squibb.

The move comes after Berkshire abandoned its Teva shares just last quarter, Bloomberg reported.

Long-ex­pect­ed UK lay­offs im­mi­nent for No­var­tis fol­low­ing sale

Nearly a year ago, more than 200 workers at Novartis’ Grimsby, UK, facility were able to hang on to their jobs after the pharma closed a Switzerland site as a part of its workforce restructuring plan. Now, it looks like those employees’ time is up, as the site has been sold, Grimsby Telegraph reported today.

The manufacturing site has been sold to Humber Industrials, a subsidiary of International Process Plants. None of the current staff members will be working with the new owners, however.

FDA lob­bies Con­gress over rare dis­ease court rul­ing with wide im­pli­ca­tions

Usually reserved for making decisions on drug applications or enforcing what Congress stipulates, the FDA is now dipping its toe into the wild world of congressional politics as it attempts to fix a major court decision that could have a chilling effect on rare disease R&D.

The case in question from last October saw a US appeals court overturn a prior FDA court win, saying that the agency never should’ve approved a rare disease drug because a previously approved but more expensive drug with the same active ingredient has orphan drug exclusivity barring such an approval.

Peter Marks (Greg Nash/Pool via AP)

Even FDA's Pe­ter Marks is wor­ried about the com­mer­cial vi­a­bil­i­ty of gene and cell ther­a­pies

When bluebird bio’s gene therapy to treat beta thalassemia won European approval in 2019, the nearly $2 million per patient price tag for the potential cure seemed like a surmountable hurdle.

Fast forward two years later, and bluebird has withdrawn Zynteglo, the beta thal drug, along with the rest of its gene therapy portfolio from Europe, which the company said is generally unwilling to pay a fair price for the treatment.

Pri­cy in­halers re­main ex­pen­sive due to de­vice tweaks that keep com­peti­tors at bay, re­searchers find

New research published in Health Affairs today highlights the way in which the FDA’s inhaler regulations have rewarded incremental adjustments to older products, thereby enabling companies to skirt around cheaper competition.

A DC appeals court clerk and researchers from Harvard and the University of Calgary dug through all the patents and regulatory exclusivities granted to inhalers approved by the FDA between 1986 and 2020, finding that of the 62 inhalers approved, 53 (or 85%) were brand-name products, with a median of 16 years of protection from generic competition.