Samantha Truex

Scoop: Saman­tha Truex de­parts At­las to head $200M Or­biMed-backed im­munol­o­gy start­up

Af­ter long­time biotech ex­ec­u­tive Sam Truex an­nounced last year she was shut­ting down her short-lived im­munol­o­gy start­up Quench Bio, she said she planned to stay at At­las Ven­ture to help build a new start­up with many of her erst­while Quench em­ploy­ees.

A lit­tle less than a year lat­er, though, Truex ap­pears to have de­part­ed to lead a well-backed start­up from a ri­val firm, Or­biMed.

Two weeks ago, Truex post­ed a job list­ing on LinkedIn for head of trans­la­tion­al re­search at Up­stream Bio. Up­stream, the post said, had al­ready raised a $200 mil­lion round led by Or­biMed to de­vel­op drugs for in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases.

A Nov. 30 fil­ing in Mass­a­chu­setts lists Truex as Up­stream’s CEO. She de­clined to com­ment via email, say­ing the com­pa­ny was still in stealth.

“As you have seen we are just re­cruit­ing at this time,” she said in an email. “We are not ready to come out of stealth at this time, so are not pro­vid­ing any ad­di­tion­al de­tails.”

She added she main­tains a “strong, pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with At­las,” in­clud­ing serv­ing on the board of HotSpot Ther­a­peu­tics, where At­las part­ner Bruce Booth is chair.

At­sushi Sugi­ta

Ac­cord­ing to the list­ing, Up­stream has al­ready li­censed in one mol­e­cule with ear­ly hu­man da­ta and is try­ing to li­cense one more. Al­though it’s un­clear which com­pa­ny Up­stream struck a deal with, the biotech’s board of di­rec­tors in­cludes At­sushi Sugi­ta, pres­i­dent of Maruho, a Japan­ese phar­ma with nu­mer­ous der­ma­tol­ogy can­di­dates in clin­i­cal test­ing.

Oth­er board mem­bers in­clude Ron Re­naud, for­mer CEO of Trans­late Bio, and Srini­vas Akkara­ju, head of Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal. Adam Houghton, a for­mer Ab­b­Vie and Eli Lil­ly ex­ec­u­tive, is CBO.

Up­stream would be Truex’s third stint at the top of an im­munol­o­gy-fo­cused biotech since her work on mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis at Bio­gen. She was found­ing CBO at Pad­lock Ther­a­peu­tics be­fore Bris­tol My­ers Squibb bought the com­pa­ny and its rheuma­toid arthri­tis mol­e­cules for $600 mil­lion in 2016. And Quench, her pre­vi­ous ven­ture, sought to drug a new­ly dis­cov­ered path­way in in­flam­ma­tion.

At the same time, the At­las-backed com­pa­ny Truex be­gan build­ing af­ter shut­ting down Quench ap­pears to be near­ing the end of its stealth days as well.

Cor­po­rate fil­ings show At­las reg­is­tered a com­pa­ny named Eo­Cys Ther­a­peu­tics weeks af­ter Truex and Booth an­nounced that Quench sim­ply couldn’t build mol­e­cules that ef­fec­tive­ly in­hib­it­ed the new path­way.

An­dre Turenne

Lat­er records list Truex as Eo­Cys’ CEO, but a De­cem­ber fil­ing shows An­dre Turenne, who helmed the trou­bled gene ther­a­py biotech Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics un­til its piv­ot last spring, was named CEO.

Ac­cord­ing to job list­ings on At­las’s web­site, Eo­Cys is us­ing ad­vances in “ul­tra­deep chemo­pro­teomics”— new tools to an­a­lyze how small mol­e­cules in­ter­act with pro­teins — and ma­chine learn­ing to de­vel­op co­va­lent med­i­cines for can­cer and im­muno­log­i­cal dis­or­ders.

Co­va­lent med­i­cines are mol­e­cules that form an ir­re­versible bond with their tar­get. His­tor­i­cal­ly, de­vel­op­ers tried to avoid these mol­e­cules for fear that they’d bring un­to­ward side ef­fects. But since the suc­cess of a hand­ful of co­va­lent drugs a decade ago, in­clud­ing Ab­b­Vie’s block­buster can­cer drug ibru­ti­nib, re­searchers have start­ed to rec­og­nize these com­pounds can bring dis­tinct ad­van­tages.

Some re­searchers now ar­gue the most po­tent tool for pre­dict­ing a mol­e­cule’s ef­fec­tive­ness is ac­tu­al­ly how long it sticks to its tar­get, as op­posed to stan­dard mea­sures like phar­ma­co­ki­net­ics. In Au­gust, Bay­er spent $1.5 bil­lion to buy out Vi­vid­ion Ther­a­peu­tics and its co­va­lent med­i­cines plat­form, de­spite the fact the com­pa­ny had yet to put a drug in the clin­ic.

“It’s had its ups and downs over the years, but in re­cent years it’s pret­ty much been on the up­swing,” said Derek Lowe, a long­time in­dus­try med­i­c­i­nal chemist.

Lowe said Eo­Cys like­ly de­rives its name from cys­tine — the amino acid that most co­va­lent med­i­cines bind to. But he cau­tioned that the body is full of cys­tine, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to de­sign a mol­e­cule with­out un­want­ed side ef­fects.

Eo­Cys, he said, is like­ly try­ing to de­sign drugs that can nuz­zle in­to the bind­ing pock­et of a pro­tein, where it then has a lit­tle co­va­lent war ham­mer at the end to latch on­to a cy­to­sine in­side. They’re like­ly us­ing ma­chine learn­ing to screen for oth­er hu­man pro­teins a can­di­date might hit, to see whether it will cause se­vere side ef­fects.

“There’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty that peo­ple maybe are a lit­tle too en­thu­si­as­tic about it,” Lowe said. “It’s not a walk in the park.”

Booth, list­ed in ear­ly fil­ings as Eo­Cys’ pres­i­dent, did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The fil­ings sug­gest Eo­Cys re­lies at least in part on re­search from Ed­waard Chouchani’s lab at Har­vard Med­ical School, where he stud­ies cell me­tab­o­lism and has writ­ten on new ap­proach­es to co­va­lent med­i­cines.

Achiev­ing Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion: Un­lock­ing Cost Re­duc­tion, Clin­i­cal Ex­cel­lence & Pre­ci­sion Ther­a­peu­tics Man­u­fac­tur­ing

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End­points 20(+2) un­der 40, 2023; Bio­phar­ma's high­est-paid CEOs; N-of-1 CRISPR sto­ry goes on af­ter tragedy; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

We will be off Monday in observance of Memorial Day — and when we get back, it will be a straight march to ASCO, BIO and more. Enjoy the (long) weekend!

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Bio­phar­ma's 20 high­est-paid CEOs of 2022, each bring­ing in $20M+ pay­days

Even in a down year for much of the biopharma market, 20 CEOs brought in pay packages valued at more than $20 million, an Endpoints News analysis found.

Endpoints collected data on more than 350 CEO compensation packages, covering a wide range of pharma, biotech, and life sciences companies. All told, the 20 largest earners made over $725 million in 2022 — an average package of $36.4 million. Three brought in paydays over $50 million, and one CEO broke the $100 million mark.

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Athena Countouriotis, Avenzo Therapeutics CEO (website via Nasdaq)

Ex-Turn­ing Point ex­ecs plan to have their next bet, Aven­zo, on the Nas­daq next sum­mer

The crew at Turning Point Therapeutics is back together for a new biotech that wants to acquire early-stage oncology small molecules, including antibody drug conjugates, and potentially form partnerships with China-based drug developers for ex-China rights as it eyes a speedy leap onto the Nasdaq around this time next year, CEO Athena Countouriotis told Endpoints News.

After selling Turning Point to Bristol Myers Squibb, announced at the onset of last year’s ASCO confab, she and colleague Mohammad Hirmand founded Avenzo Therapeutics. The CEO and CMO already have approximately $200 million in seed and Series A financing from five big-name investors to evaluate which drugs to bring into its pipeline. That includes SR One, OrbiMed, Foresite Capital, Citadel’s Surveyor Capital and Lilly Asia Ventures. Bidding wars for assets have led Avenzo to miss out on some deals in recent months, but the biotech has three active term sheets and hopes to bring in its first asset in the third quarter, Countouriotis said in a Friday morning interview.

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Rich Horgan (R) with his late brother, Terry

Rich Hor­gan spear­head­ed a gene ther­a­py for his broth­er. The tri­al end­ed in tragedy, but the work con­tin­ues for more pa­tients

Rich Horgan’s quest to create a custom gene therapy for his brother, Terry, ended in tragedy. But Horgan doesn’t believe it’s the end of the story.

Terry, a 27-year-old patient with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, died last October just eight days after receiving the therapy in a clinical trial in which he was the only participant. The case raised questions about the safety of certain gene therapies and what would happen to other drug programs under a nonprofit that Horgan created, called Cure Rare Disease.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO

An­nex­on’s GA drug miss­es on pri­ma­ry goal but win on vi­su­al acu­ity will be fo­cus of planned late-stage tri­al

Annexon’s complement inhibitor didn’t prove better than sham at reducing lesion growth in a leading cause of blindness, but the biotech still plans to move forward on the back of secondary endpoints showing visual acuity preservation, which will “certainly” be the primary goal in a late-stage trial to be discussed shortly with the FDA, CEO Douglas Love told Endpoints News. 

The California biotech’s ANX007 was not statistically significant compared to pooled sham, the comparator, at 12 months in patients with geographic atrophy, per a Wednesday presentation. In every-month dosing, the GA lesion area changed about 6.2% from baseline (p=0.526) and 1.3% (p=0.896) in the every-other-month group. In a March note, Jefferies analyst Suji Jeong said a reduction of 20% to 30% would be “encouraging.”

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The 20(+2) un­der 40: Your guide to the next gen­er­a­tion of biotech lead­ers

This year’s list of 20 biotech leaders under the age of 40 includes a huge range of ambitions. Some of our honorees are planning to create the next big drug giant. Others are pushing the bounds of AI. One is working to revolutionize TB testing. All are compelling talents who are still young in age, but already far along in achievement.

And, as in years past, we went over. The 20 are actually 22 because of two double profiles that reflect how important teamwork is in the industry. As one of our honorees, Joe Illingworth of DJS Antibodies, told me in our interview, “It takes a village to raise a biotech.”

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FDA ap­proves Lex­i­con’s heart-fail­ure drug af­ter de­feat in di­a­betes

The FDA on Friday approved Lexicon’s heart failure drug sotagliflozin following a string of setbacks for the pharma company, including an FDA rejection in diabetes and the loss of a development deal with Sanofi.

The dual SGLT1 and SGLT2 inhibitor will be marketed as Inpefa and is a once-daily tablet. It’s been approved to reduce the risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure-related hospitalization or urgent visits in adults with heart failure or type 2 diabetes mellitus, chronic kidney disease, and other cardiovascular risk factors. The label spans the range of left ventricular ejection fraction, including preserved ejection fraction and reduced ejection fraction, as well as patients with or without diabetes, Lexicon said Friday.

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Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion to re­ceive few­er Pfiz­er-BioN­Tech vac­cine dos­es un­der amend­ed con­tract

The European Commission has made a few changes to its vaccine contract with Pfizer and BioNTech, reducing the dose volume while extending the delivery timeline to cope with “evolving public health needs.”

The Commission previously struck a contract in May 2021 for 900 million doses, with the option to purchase another 900 million. Of those, 450 million were expected to be delivered in 2023, though an amendment now calls for fewer doses. While neither the Commission nor Pfizer and BioNTech have revealed an exact amount, an unnamed source told Reuters that the amendment reduces the remaining expected doses by about a third.

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