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.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross on Omi­cron: 'It is a grim sit­u­a­tion...we’re go­ing to see a sig­nif­i­cant drop in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy'

Tillman Gerngross, the rarely shy Dartmouth professor, biotech entrepreneur and antibody expert, has been warning for over a year that the virus behind Covid-19 would likely continue to mutate, potentially in ways that avoid immunity from infection and the best defenses scientists developed. He spun out a company, Adagio, to build a universal antibody, one that could snuff out any potential mutation.

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In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Iain McGill, Quell CEO

Eu­ro­pean in­vestors pour $156M to beat Blue­stone, Third Rock and RA Cap­i­tal in multi­bil­lion-dol­lar race to the clin­ic

Amid burgeoning efforts to create a new type of cell therapy out of regulatory T cells — whether by channeling or blocking their immunosuppressive power — Quell Therapeutics wants to shoot for a first.

If everything goes well, the Syncona-backed biotech will be in the clinic early next year, marking what it calls the historic feat of dosing a patient with a CAR-Treg with multiple edited genes.

Like the flu vac­cine every year, the FDA could move quick­ly on a vari­ant-tar­get­ed Covid vac­cine

In the same way that the FDA signs off on flu vaccines every year without requiring large clinical trials to measure their efficacy, the FDA may employ a similar strategy in authorizing variant-focused versions of the mRNA vaccines.

As the world braces for more data on the latest variant Omicron, which may reduce vaccine efficacy, top vaccine developers like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have promised they can pull together a new vaccine targeted against a specific Covid variant in about 100 days. Since Omicron emerged last week, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J have all said they’ve begun work on Omicron-specific vaccines, if needed.

Jonathan Montagu (L) and Gerry Harriman, HotSpot co-founders

HotSpot gets hot­ter with $100M raise to push to­ward clin­ic

HotSpot Therapeutics, the allostery-focused biotech that works on what it calls “natural hotspots” — hence the name — is getting a bit hotter in its valuation from investors. And to that end they’ve raised $100 million.

The four-year-old AI computational biotech started by two former Nimbus execs announced this morning that it closed its Series C round right at the line of a 9-figure investment, courtesy of some big investors.

Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; 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.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

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What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Omi­cron: Re­searchers scram­ble as new coro­n­avirus mu­ta­tion takes flight around the globe — Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, Mod­er­na vow swift re­sponse

As Americans were waking up for their Black Friday rituals, they were greeted with the news that a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus has appeared and been sequenced — after it caught an international flight to Hong Kong. And two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine developers promised delivery of a new vaccine “within 100 days” if necessary while a third spelled out its 3-prong strategy hours later.

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