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.

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Michelle Longmire, Medable CEO (Jeff Rumans)

Med­able gets $91M for vir­tu­al clin­i­cal tri­als, bring­ing to­tal raise to $136M

As biotechs look to get clinical studies back on track amid the pandemic, Medable returned to the venture well for the second time this year, bagging a $91 million Series C to build out its virtual trial platform.

The software provider recently launched three new apps for decentralizing clinical trials, and saw a 500% revenue spike this year. And it isn’t alone. Back in August, Science 37 secured a $40 million round for its virtual trial tech, with support from Novartis, Sanofi Ventures and Amgen. Patients and researchers are taking a liking to the online approach, suggesting regulators could allow it to become a new normal even after the pandemic is over.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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