Beth Seidenberg and Sean Harper, Westlake Village

Sean Harp­er and Beth Sei­den­berg add $500M to their new VC, bet­ting on the LA biotech ecosys­tem

When Ar­se­nal Bio launched last year, the head­line name was Nap­ster bil­lion­aire Sean Park­er, who, af­ter fund­ing an im­munother­a­py in­sti­tute, de­cid­ed to back a bold bet on cell ther­a­py 2.0.

The first in­vestor named on the press re­lease for Ar­se­nal’s $85 mil­lion launch, though, wasn’t Park­er; it was West­lake Vil­lage Biopart­ners, an LA-based VC firm found­ed just the year pri­or by long­time Am­gen R&D chief Sean Harp­er and the long­time life sci­ences chief at the leg­endary Sil­i­con Val­ley firm Klein­er Perkins, Beth Sei­den­berg.

Ar­se­nal marked West­lake’s first pub­lic in­vest­ment, and while 8 of the 11 com­pa­nies they’ve backed re­main un­der wraps, the duo has al­ready raised a new fund — two, ac­tu­al­ly. One fund, worth $430 mil­lion, will con­tin­ue their orig­i­nal goal, al­low­ing them to back about a dozen ear­ly-stage star­tups. An­oth­er, worth $70 mil­lion, will let the firm join Se­ries B and oth­er mid-rounds for the com­pa­nies they helped launch.

The new funds bring West­lake to $820 mil­lion in cap­i­tal in the two-plus years since their launch. They had al­ways in­tend­ed to raise the sec­ond fund. The third, they said, arose out of some strong sug­ges­tions they re­ceived as they were fundrais­ing.

“Our lim­it­ed part­ners were look­ing at my re­turns for my [Klein­er Perkins] biotech com­pa­nies and said, ‘Beth, do you know how much mon­ey you left on the ta­ble?'” Sei­den­berg told End­points News.

So far, the com­pa­nies they’ve an­nounced have fo­cused on high pro­file cell ther­a­py ef­forts. In ad­di­tion to Ar­se­nal, they al­so backed TMu­ni­ty, a Carl June-found­ed ef­fort to use CRISPR to en­gi­neer CAR-Ts. And they in­vest­ed in Kyver­na Ther­a­peu­tics, a Gilead-part­nered biotech, to use cell ther­a­py for au­to-im­mune and neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive con­di­tions.

Harp­er, though, says that amounts to a sam­pling er­ror, as most of the com­pa­nies they’ve backed re­main in stealth mode.

“We have cell-based ther­a­pies, gene ther­a­pies, small mol­e­cules and an­ti­bod­ies,” he told End­points. “We’re pret­ty ag­nos­tic in the modal­i­ty and we’re pret­ty op­por­tunis­tic and broad in the dis­ease ar­eas we’re work­ing in.”

The duo said they look for one of three things to build a biotech around, bring­ing to each first­hand tech­ni­cal knowl­edge of ear­ly drug de­vel­op­ment: A proven col­lec­tion of drug dis­cov­ery vet­er­ans, to whom they can pro­vide mon­ey and lab space and let them do their thing; a promis­ing tech­nol­o­gy com­ing out of the uni­ver­si­ty lev­el; or shelved drugs in oth­er com­pa­nies that they can of­fer a fo­cused de­vel­op­ment.

The fund’s lat­est com­pa­ny, al­so an­nounced Tues­day, amounts to a heavy bet on the first mod­el.

Known as Ace­lyrin, the com­pa­ny so far con­sists on­ly of Shao-Lee Lin and Bob Carey, the for­mer R&D chief and CBO of Hori­zon Ther­a­peu­tics, re­spec­tive­ly.  The plan, they say, is to part­ner and li­cense as­sets in im­munol­o­gy, but they haven’t dis­closed what as­sets or in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty they have — or even if they have li­censed any in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty. They al­so haven’t dis­closed the size of the Se­ries A, if they have lab space, or if they have any oth­er em­ploy­ees.

Harp­er notes, though, that the duo has suc­ceed­ed be­fore, build­ing Hori­zon’s pipeline, in­clud­ing a hand­ful of ap­proved im­munol­o­gy drugs. And Lin says they can of­fer fu­ture part­ners unique acu­men and ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There’s a lot of fund­ing out there,” she told End­points. “The gap we be­lieve we fill, is that in ad­di­tion to the ac­cess to cap­i­tal, we be­lieve we bring ex­per­tise to the ta­ble. We have track records of build­ing mul­ti-bil­lion dol­lar ther­a­peu­tics.”

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Justin Klee (L) and Joshua Cohen, Amylyx co-CEOs (Cody O'Loughlin/The New York Times; courtesy Amylyx)

Ad­vo­cates, ex­perts cry foul over Amy­lyx's new ALS drug, cit­ing is­sues with price, PhI­II com­mit­ment

Not 24 hours after earning the first ALS drug approval in five years, Amylyx Pharmaceuticals’ Relyvrio is already drawing scrutiny. And it’s coming from multiple fronts.

In an investor call Friday morning, Amylyx revealed that it would charge about $158,000 per year, a price point that immediately drew backlash from ALS advocates and some outside observers. The cost reveal had been highly anticipated in the immediate hours after Thursday evening’s approval, though Amylyx only teased Relyvrio would cost less than previously approved drugs.

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Land­mark Amy­lyx OK spurs de­bate; Some... pos­i­tive? Alzheimer's da­ta; Can­cer tri­al bot­tle­neck; Sanofi's CRISPR bet; 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.

After brief stops in Paris and Boston, John Carroll and the Endpoints crew are staying on the road in October with their return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London. The hybrid event fireside chats and panels on mRNA, oncology and the crazy public market. We hope you can join him there.

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Joshua Cohen (L) and Justin Klee, Amylyx co-CEOs

Up­dat­ed: Af­ter long and wind­ing road, FDA ap­proves Amy­lyx's ALS drug in vic­to­ry for pa­tients and ad­vo­ca­cy groups

For just the third time in its 116-year history, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

US regulators gave the thumbs-up to the drug, known as Relyvrio, in a massive win for patients and their families. The approval, given to Boston-area biotech Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, comes after two years of long and contentious debates over the drug’s effectiveness between advocacy groups and FDA scientists, following the readout of a mid-stage clinical trial in September 2020.

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#AAO22: J&J’s first look at com­mon eye dis­ease port­fo­lio pads the case for PhII of gene ther­a­py

CHICAGO — While the later-stage drug developers in the geographic atrophy field are near the finish line, Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen is taking a more deliberate route, with a treatment that it hopes to be a one-time fix.

The Big Pharma will take its Hemera Biosciences-acquired gene therapy into a Phase II study later this year in patients with GA, a common form of age-related macular degeneration that impacts about five million people worldwide. To get there, Janssen touted early-stage safety data at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual conference Saturday morning, half a day after competitors Apellis and Iveric Bio revealed their own more-detailed Phase III analyses.

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George Church (courtesy EnPlusOne BioSciences)

George Church, Wyss sci­en­tists and North­pond chal­lenge con­ven­tion­al RNA man­u­fac­tur­ing with new biotech

RNA medicine has been at the forefront for the past few years, with the first RNA silencing therapy approved in 2018, and mRNA Covid vaccines following after. But flying under the radar has been the process of actually making RNA for these treatments.

That’s what Daniel Wiegand and Jonathan Rittichier have been working on in George Church’s lab for the past six years.

Friday morning, they unveiled EnPlusOne Biosciences, a biotech built on their RNA synthesis platform. Wiegand will serve as the Watertown, MA-based biotech’s CEO, and Rittichier will be CSO. And no different from his other startups, Church will be acting as scientific advisor. Its fourth co-founder, Dan Ahlstedt, joined through a Harvard Business School program, and will be COO.

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Up­dat­ed: Al­ny­lam re­in­forces APOL­LO-B patisir­an da­ta be­fore head­ing to the FDA

Weeks after uncorking some mostly positive data for patisiran in transthyretin-mediated (ATTR) amyloidosis with cardiomyopathy, Alnylam is bolstering its package with new exploratory and subgroup data before shipping it off to regulators.

The RNAi drug maintained “generally consistent” benefits in efficacy and quality of life across several prespecified subgroups at month 12, Alnylam announced on Friday afternoon, including age, baseline tafamidis use, ATTR amyloidosis type, baseline six-minute walk test score and others.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Jerome Durso, Intercept Pharmaceuticals CEO

In­ter­cep­t's OCA fails a PhI­II NASH tri­al, rais­ing fresh doubts about its years­long quest for an OK

Intercept Pharmaceuticals has run into another big setback in its yearslong quest to win an approval for OCA in NASH. The biotech put out word Friday morning that its Phase III REVERSE study failed the primary endpoint for the liver disease, sending its share price into a tailspin.

There was no significant improvement in fibrosis among the patients suffering from cirrhosis who were treated with obeticholic acid, with investigators hunting for a minimum 1-stage histological improvement in the disease after 18 months of therapy.

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