Ro­mesh Sub­ra­man­ian births a new biotech with $50M and a plan to steer to­ward the clin­ic with drugs for rare mus­cle dis­eases

The At­las Ven­ture crew has nev­er liked be­ing splashy with mon­ey when it comes to star­tups. They like to get a good, lean team to­geth­er with some seed mon­ey, find an ex­pe­ri­enced helms­man on the bench, gath­er a string of ex­perts to lend ad­vice and of­fer enough cash in the A round — usu­al­ly with syn­di­cate part­ners — to see if they’re re­al­ly on­to some­thing with their lead drug. 

Maybe, the At­las team could even score a pre­clin­i­cal deal, like the one they did with Delinia. Be­cause they are al­ways on the look­out for a great X fac­tor re­turn for an in­vest­ment. The high­er the bet­ter. 10X will get a rous­ing cheer go­ing in this group. A fast 10X-plus works even bet­ter. And if it looks like too long a path to piv­otal da­ta, they’ve been known to bow out as well.

So along those lines, it’s not too sur­pris­ing to see the start­up mod­el Ro­mesh Sub­ra­man­ian is rolling in­to the biotech lane to­day.

Ja­son Rhodes

At­las, For­bion and MPM got to­geth­er to pro­vide the $50 mil­lion launch round, which will al­low the CEO to build up the crew as they build on the pre­clin­i­cal work they’ve been at for the past year or so — cour­tesy of At­las Ven­ture’s in­cu­ba­tion funds.

At­las’ Ja­son Rhodes will be play­ing a key role as ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, help­ing steer a com­pa­ny he co-found­ed.

The biotech is called Dyne Ther­a­peu­tics and they’ve been work­ing on us­ing oligonu­cleotides to de­grade RNA re­spon­si­ble for dis­ease — with a spe­cial fo­cus on mus­cle ail­ments.

Dyne has been de­vel­op­ing its own in-house con­ju­gate tech­nol­o­gy so they can take this ap­proach and care­ful­ly tar­get it to mus­cles. Ze­ro in close enough and you can amp up your dosage and avoid off-tar­get is­sues. 

Their first dis­ease is my­oton­ic dy­s­tro­phy type 1 — or DM1 — a rare, in­her­it­ed ail­ment that caus­es mus­cle weak­ness. The plan is to build a pipeline of ther­a­pies that can kick down gene ex­pres­sion for rare, mono­genic neu­ro­mus­cu­lar dis­eases, start­ing with skele­tal, car­diac and smooth mus­cle. And they want to stay fo­cused on break­through ther­a­pies.

“Fifty mil­lion takes us to the clin­ic,” says Sub­ra­man­ian. He’s not shar­ing any time­lines with me — not un­usu­al in a start­up’s ear­ly days. But with these back­ers, clear, track­able progress is baked in­to every­thing they do.

This is all fa­mil­iar ter­ri­to­ry for Sub­ra­man­ian, a well-known fig­ure in biotech, who did a stint as a se­nior sci­en­tist at Pfiz­er with Art Krieg be­fore mov­ing on to co-found RaNA and then set up trans­la­tion­al re­search groups for rare dis­eases at Alex­ion — up un­til Lud­wig Hantson’s big purge in the fall of 2017.

With­in months, he was build­ing the new com­pa­ny at At­las. These days, you see one door close, you po­ten­tial­ly get to have your pick of doors. 


Left to right: Sud­hir Agraw­al, Charles Thorn­ton, Louis Kunkel, Nan­cy An­drews.

Here’s their im­pres­sive list of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers help­ing Dyne stay on track:

— Nan­cy An­drews, for­mer dean of the School of Med­i­cine at Duke Uni­ver­si­ty and No­var­tis board mem­ber.

— Louis Kunkel, mem­ber of the Di­vi­sion of Ge­net­ics and Ge­nomics at Boston Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal and pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics and ge­net­ics at Har­vard Med­ical School.

— Charles Thorn­ton, Saun­ders Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Neu­ro­mus­cu­lar Re­search at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester.

— Sud­hir Agraw­al, vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor in the De­part­ment of Med­i­cine at The Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Med­ical School and founder of Idera Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.

An ex­pe­ri­enced biotech is stitched to­geth­er from transpa­cif­ic parts, with 265 staffers and a fo­cus on ‘new bi­ol­o­gy’

Over the past few years, different teams at a pair of US-based biotechs and in labs in Japan have labored to piece together a group of cancer drug programs, sharing a single corporate umbrella with research colleagues in Japan. But now their far-flung operations have been knit together into a single unit, creating a pipeline with 10 cancer drug development programs — going from early-stage right into Phase III — and a host of discovery projects managed by a collective staff of some 265 people.

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