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.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; and more

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Andrew Phillips, Nexo Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Ver­sant, NEA launch new biotech helmed by ex-CEO of pro­tein de­grad­er C4 Ther­a­peu­tics

Long-time biotech venture firms Versant and New Enterprise Associates are backing a new startup run by former C4 Therapeutics chief executive Andrew Phillips.

The fledgling biotech has raised at least $30 million so far, according to paperwork filed with the SEC this week. The round could balloon to $60 million.

Phillips, who left protein degradation startup C4 in 2020 to be a managing director at Cormorant Asset Management, is running the show of the new venture as president, the SEC filing outlines. He also served as interim CEO of Cormorant-backed and Hansoh Pharmaceutical-partnered Blossom Bioscience last year.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Phil L’Huillier, CatalYm CEO

Ger­man biotech CatalYm rais­es $50M to flip weight loss tar­get for can­cer

GDF15 might sound familiar. It’s a protein that Amgen, Merck and Eli Lilly built analogs for in attempts to make new weight loss drugs. But those drugs largely failed — and Amgen, the last standing of the three — quietly pulled the plug on its GDF15 program in January.

But GDF15 is not dead. The science behind the weight loss drugs goes back to the observation that some cancer patients have high levels of GDF15 and lose a lot of weight, so cancer researchers have been making antibodies that inhibit the protein instead of mimicking it.

Szabolcs Nagy, Turbine co-founder and CEO

Sim­u­la­tions for ex­per­i­ments: Bay­er-backed start­up lands $20M to test out its tech

How do you get the attention of Big Pharma when you’re a small biotech startup working out of Budapest, Hungary?

For Szabolcs Nagy and his co-founders at Turbine, the golden ticket came through Bayer’s grant program for digital health, G4A, for which the company was selected a few years back.

“We roamed around the building and sort of just knocked on a whole bunch of doors after a lot of introductions,” Nagy told Endpoints News.

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J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.