Scoop: Google’s GV spear­heads the Spot­light syn­di­cate — back­ing an up­start biotech aimed at ‘de­moc­ra­tiz­ing’ gene edit­ing

CRISPR had no soon­er start­ed to shake the very foun­da­tions of drug de­vel­op­ment be­fore its lim­i­ta­tions be­gan to loom large. Gene edit­ing could change the world — if on­ly you could get around the hur­dles that threat­ened to trip up every pro­gram.

Blake By­ers

So it’s on­ly nat­ur­al to see CRISPR 2.0 tak­ing shape be­fore the pi­o­neers can get the lead ther­a­pies through de­vel­op­ment. And who bet­ter than Google’s GV ven­ture arm to take the lead spot in a small syn­di­cate back­ing some sci­en­tists with their own unique twist on a so­lu­tion?

GV gen­er­al part­ner Blake By­ers took point on this one, join­ing with some in­di­vid­ual in­vestors who are stay­ing in the back­ground. They were all at­tract­ed by the idea that the small team at Spot­light Ther­a­peu­tics could by­pass the de­liv­ery is­sues em­bed­ded in every gene edit­ing pro­gram by us­ing pro­gram­ma­ble CRISPR ri­bonu­cle­o­pro­teins de­signed for in vi­vo cell-tar­get­ed de­liv­ery.

And now the Spot­light team is jump­ing in­to the in­dus­try spot­light with a $30 mil­lion launch round to go af­ter lead pro­grams in he­mo­glo­binopathies and im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

Right now, de­spite all the promise of CRISPR, the pi­o­neers are un­able to ad­dress spe­cif­ic cell types in vi­vo, says CEO Mary Haak-Frend­scho. This new ap­proach of­fers the op­por­tu­ni­ty “to re­al­ly open up, de­moc­ra­tize gene edit­ing.”

Mary Haak-Frend­scho

The tech used to­day de­pends a lot on us­ing an AAV or LNP to ex­press the ed­i­tor in the tar­get cell, says By­ers. Those have bet­ter up­take in liv­er cells, so that’s where the ear­ly play­ers have start­ed. And as we’ve seen at Sol­id and oth­er places, there are lin­ger­ing con­cerns about safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy.

Spot­light, he says, is tak­ing a dif­fer­ent, com­plete­ly non-vi­ral ap­proach. And it starts with a ques­tion.

“Why don’t we bind the RNP (ri­bonu­cle­o­pro­tein) ed­i­tor to oth­er things?” asks By­ers. “That could be oth­er pro­teins, let’s say an an­ti­body. Get an­ti­bod­ies to a tar­get on the cell sur­face, it’s in­ter­nal­ized at some rate, then hitch­hikes in­to the cell and from there ed­it the tar­get site in the genome.”

“There’s a lot of things you can latch your gene ed­i­tors to,” says By­ers. The goal is to ex­plore the space, search­ing for 5 to 10 port­fo­lio prod­ucts bound to dif­fer­ent hitch­hik­er mol­e­cules that you can use to get your ed­i­tor of choice in­to the ex­act cell type you want, with high speci­fici­ty and low cost of goods.

Alex Mar­son

In the process, you have to es­cape de­struc­tion by the lyso­some and go on to the nu­cle­o­some to do the edit­ing, so there’s plen­ty of de­bug­ging along the way to get it to work right.

Much of the in­spi­ra­tion for this work came from 3 key sci­en­tists who are ad­vis­ing the start­up.

Alex Mar­son and Patrick Hsu thought a lot of this out. Mar­son is at UC San Fran­cis­co and Hsu is now close by at UC Berke­ley. Ja­cob Corn at ETH Zürich rounds out the line­up of sci­en­tif­ic founders with pres­ti­gious re­sumes.

Patrick Hsu

The longterm plan is to stick with the non-vi­ral ap­proach and build a pipeline.

As A rounds go these days, $30 mil­lion isn’t a lot of mon­ey, par­tic­u­lar­ly when you’re talk­ing about a tech plat­form ap­proach like this. I point­ed that out to By­ers, who wasn’t feel­ing apolo­getic about the $30 mil­lion.

“How old school of us,” he re­spond­ed, adding that there are dif­fer­ent strate­gies for dif­fer­ent play­ers. Some should be laser fo­cused on prod­uct de­vel­op­ment. Be­sides, he adds, “small mounts of cap­i­tal are very fo­cus­ing for a com­pa­ny.”

Ja­cob Corn

The mon­ey “gets us to 2022,” says the CEO. At that point they ex­pect to have their first de­vel­op­ment can­di­date, with­in a year of the clin­ic for ei­ther or both their cho­sen in­di­ca­tions.

And then they can see about start­ing their own gene edit­ing rev­o­lu­tion.

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.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO

'This is not go­ing to be good': Mod­er­na CEO Ban­cel warns of a 'ma­te­r­i­al drop' in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy as Omi­cron spreads

Even as public health officials remain guarded about their comments on the likelihood Omicron will escape the reach of the currently approved Covid-19 vaccines, there’s growing scientific consensus that we’re facing a variant that threatens to overwhelm the vaccine barricades that have been erected.

Stéphane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, one of the leading mRNA players whose quick vault into the markets with a highly effective vaccine created an instant multibillion-dollar market, added his voice to the rising chorus early Tuesday. According to Bancel, there will be a significant drop in efficacy when the average immune system is confronted by Omicron. The only question now is: How much?

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Philip Dormitzer, new GSK global head of vaccines R&D

Glax­o­SmithK­line poach­es Pfiz­er's vi­ral vac­cines lead in rush to cap­i­tal­ize on fu­ture of mR­NA

GlaxoSmithKline has appointed Philip Dormitzer, formerly chief scientific officer of Pfizer’s viral vaccines unit, as its newest global head of vaccines R&D, looking to leverage one of the leading minds behind Pfizer and BioNTech’s RNA collaboration that led to Covid-19 jab Comirnaty, the British drug giant said Tuesday.

Dormitzer had been with Pfizer for a little more than six years, joining up after a seven-year stint with Novartis, where he reached the role of US head of research and head of global virology for the company’s vaccines and diagnostics unit.

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In­tro­duc­ing End­points Stu­dio, a new way to ad­ver­tise with End­points-craft­ed brand­ing cam­paigns

Since our start in 2016, Endpoints has grown fast while executing our mission to cover biopharma’s most critical developments for industry pros worldwide. As readership has grown, our advertising business has too. Endpoints advertising partners support the mission and engage their desired audiences through announcements on our email and web platforms, brand recognition in our event coverage and sponsorships of Endpoints daily and weekly reports.

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.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: Ab­b­Vie’s Hu­mi­ra TV turns fo­cus to HS skin con­di­tion; Sanofi amps par­ent­ing pol­i­cy

After years as the top spending pharma TV advertiser, AbbVie’s Humira brand finally downshifted earlier this year, ceding much of its marketing budget to up-and-coming sibling meds Skyrizi and Rinvoq. However, now Humira is back on TV with ads for another condition — Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS).

The chronic and painful skin condition results in lumps and abscesses caused by inflammation or infection of sweat glands, most often in the armpits or groin. Humira was first approved to treat HS in 2015 and remains the only FDA-approved drug for the condition. Two TV ads both note more than 30,000 people with HS have been prescribed Humira.

As lead drug runs in­to a wall, De­ci­phera slims down its pipeline, puts 140 jobs on the chop­ping block

Barely a month after disappointing data shattered hopes for a major label expansion for the GI tumor drug Qinlock, Deciphera is making a major pivot — scrapping development plans for that drug and discarding another while it hunkers down and focuses on two remaining drugs in the pipeline.

As a result, 140 of its staffers will be laid off.

The restructuring, which claims the equivalent of 35% of its total workforce, will take place across all departments including commercial, R&D as well as general and administrative support functions, Deciphera said, as it looks to streamline Qinlock-related commercial operations in the US while concentrating only on a “select number of key European markets.”

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FDA can­cels ODAC meet­ing this week to re­view two more dan­gling ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals — but won't ex­plain why

The FDA’s Oncologic Drugs Advisory Committee has decided to cancel a planned meeting on Thursday to discuss two cancer drugs that previously won accelerated approvals but failed to confirm clinical benefit in required follow-up trials or have taken a long time to finish those trials.

The FDA said in a statement that the meeting “is no longer needed” but did not offer further detail on why exactly it was canceled, telling Endpoints News to contact the companies. Attempts to contact both Secura Bio and Acrotech went unreturned. The companies may have decided to pull these treatments from the market, or they’ve come to new agreements with the agency on their confirmatory trials.