Ron De­Pin­ho rais­es seed cash for MD An­der­son col­league's work on a 'Holy Grail mol­e­cule' in can­cer, in­flam­ma­tion

Ron De­Pin­ho has blazed a wide trail in can­cer re­search. As found­ing di­rec­tor of the Belfer In­sti­tute for Ap­plied Can­cer Sci­ence at Dana-Far­ber and for­mer pres­i­dent of MD An­der­son Can­cer Cen­ter in Hous­ton — where he de­part­ed af­ter a rocky tenure which he now fierce­ly de­fends — De­Pin­ho spear­head­ed trans­la­tion­al pro­grams and man­aged, among oth­er things, to build a clin­i­cal tri­al en­gine that proved piv­otal in a num­ber of FDA ap­provals.

That’s why when he learned about his col­league David Tweardy’s work on STAT3 — a pro­tein tied to a wide range of dis­eases — the se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur went all in to co-found Tvar­di Ther­a­peu­tics.

“It’s been one of these Holy Grail mol­e­cules that folks have tried to de­vel­op in­hibitors for,” he tells me.

David Tweardy

Us­ing a screen he de­signed 10 years ago, Tweardy, head of in­ter­nal med­i­cine at MD An­der­son, had found a com­pound that pre­vents STAT3 from be­com­ing phos­pho­ry­lat­ed by the re­cep­tors it typ­i­cal­ly in­ter­acts with, mean­ing it can­not then go on to turn on genes that are im­por­tant in can­cer, fi­bro­sis and in­flam­ma­tion. Giv­en that hy­per­ac­ti­vat­ed STAT3 is present in more than 50% of can­cers — of­ten turn­ing up im­muno­sup­pres­sion in the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment — he the­o­rized that a po­tent in­hibitor here that doesn’t trig­ger safe­ty is­sues could have a big im­pact.

That seems to be the case through­out the pre­clin­i­cal test­ing done in his lab, which led Tweardy and De­Pin­ho to the Phase I that Tvar­di is cur­rent­ly con­duct­ing. Now, with a fresh $9 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing, the biotech ex­pects to wrap up dose and safe­ty stud­ies in 3 to 4 can­cer types for its lead oral drug, ex­plore an IV for­mu­la­tion for use in non-can­cer in­di­ca­tions, and hus­tle a sec­ond pro­gram to the door of the clin­ic.

Some­where in that time­line are tri­als in­volv­ing check­point in­hibitors, as Tvar­di be­lieves TTI-101 could be used in com­bo or as a fol­low-up to PD-1 agents.

And they hope to do all that by the end of 2019, with the help of a per­ma­nent CEO they are still search­ing for.

It’s not a ton of mon­ey in to­day’s mega-round stud­ded world, but De­Pin­ho says stay­ing flex­i­ble and cap­i­tal ef­fi­cient would be a key strat­e­gy for the com­pa­ny’s ear­ly days — a strat­e­gy that al­so in­volves seek­ing non-di­lu­tive grant fund­ing. Most of the in­vestors in this round will re­main un­named, but he vol­un­teered Mon­i­ca Beam at Alexan­dria as an ex­am­ple of the “very so­phis­ti­cat­ed but pri­vate in­vestors” he chose to work with.

“We don’t have a large bu­reau­crat­ic or­ga­ni­za­tion, so we’re able to make de­ci­sions and be very flex­i­ble which is crit­i­cal­ly im­por­tant here, be­cause STAT3 has so many dif­fer­ent op­por­tu­ni­ties […] that one needs to have a cer­tain lev­el of fo­cus and pri­or­i­ti­za­tion,” he says.

At around a dozen em­ploy­ees, the small com­pa­ny is rem­i­nis­cent of Karyopharm, an­oth­er on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny De­Pin­ho helped start be­fore join­ing MD An­der­son — where he is still fac­ul­ty af­ter step­ping down from a six-year tenure as pres­i­dent. Dur­ing that time, the cen­ter ex­pe­ri­enced re­port­ed op­er­at­ing loss­es of more than $460 mil­lion over 16 months and hun­dreds of staffers were laid off.

De­Pin­ho, how­ev­er, sees it dif­fer­ent­ly.

“It was an ex­tra­or­di­nar­i­ly suc­cess­ful fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion,” he tells me, cit­ing “$3.7 bil­lion in mar­gin, the health­i­est fi­nan­cial bal­ance sheet in the Unit­ed States for an aca­d­e­m­ic med­ical cen­ter, record phil­an­thropy and ranked No. 1 in cor­po­rate al­liance rev­enues and IP rev­enues.”

He’s now moved on to new en­deav­ors, in­clud­ing Tvar­di. Once the Phase I da­ta are in, De­Pin­ho ex­pects to ramp up busi­ness de­vel­op­ment talks. He’s al­ready think­ing about the next round, which “would like­ly be our last one en route to ei­ther an IPO or oth­er event.”


Im­age: Ron De­Pin­ho. TVAR­DI

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 159,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 159,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 159,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.