Omid Farokhzad, Seer CEO

Seer rais­es an­oth­er $55M and fi­nal­ly re­veals pro­teom­ic tech — can it hold up?

Two years ago, Omid Farokhzad left his promi­nent nano-med­i­cine lab at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hos­pi­tal and moved across the coun­try to found a start­up off tech­nol­o­gy that, he said, could change the field of pro­teomics — and, with it, parts of med­i­cine, agri­cul­ture and a range of fields.

To­day, Farokhzad has fi­nal­ly re­vealed what that tech­nol­o­gy is. In a Na­ture Com­mu­ni­ca­tions pa­per, he showed how his com­pa­ny, Seer, and their lead prod­uct, called the Pro­teo­graph, can use nanopar­ti­cles to an­a­lyze the pro­tein com­po­si­tions in a sin­gle blood sam­ple, like a fish­ing net web­bing the con­tents of a par­tic­u­lar swath of sea. Or — to use the com­pa­ny’s pre­ferred metaphor — like a se­quenc­ing ma­chine read­ing out the base pairs on a par­tic­u­lar strand of DNA.

Along­side the pub­li­ca­tion, Seer al­so an­nounced a new $55 mil­lion round to help launch the prod­uct, bring­ing its to­tal fi­nanc­ing to over $150 mil­lion.

“We now en­able what was pre­vi­ous­ly not pos­si­ble,” Farokhzad told End­points News. “To­day about every 25 sec­onds, some­one [can] se­quence an­oth­er’s hu­man genome. This tech­nol­o­gy al­lows you to be­gin to in­ter­ro­gate the hu­man pro­teome in an un­bi­ased way, deep, in … speed and scale.”

It’s a bold talk for a field full of it, al­though it’s now at least bur­nished by peer-re­viewed da­ta — some­thing that can­not be said for all of Seer’s com­peti­tors. The pro­teome has long been a source of fas­ci­na­tion for sci­en­tists, for the sim­ple fact that we’re built of pro­teins, and changes in the con­cen­tra­tion or shape of pro­teins are what ul­ti­mate­ly un­der­lie changes in func­tion and dis­ease.

The prob­lem is that it’s far hard­er to get a com­plete pic­ture of some­one’s pro­teins than it is of their genes. Genes are com­par­a­tive­ly sim­ple: 4 base pairs, each of which can on­ly bind in one di­rec­tion. Pro­teins can be made of up to 20 amino acids that bind in myr­i­ad ways. They can al­so change af­ter trans­la­tion. The tech­no­log­i­cal or com­put­ing pow­er sim­ply did not ex­ist to an­a­lyze all of them at a rate com­pa­ra­ble to how re­searchers can an­a­lyze genes.

That’s changed to a de­gree in re­cent years. Sev­er­al com­pa­nies have popped up, most no­tably So­ma­Log­ic, of­fer­ing to screen peo­ple’s blood for a lim­it­ed set of pro­teins da­ta have in­di­cat­ed cor­re­lates with dis­ease. Re­searchers al­so have tech­niques to map out every pro­tein in a blood sam­ple, but it can take months.

Seer claims to be able to do screen­ing in a “fast and un­bi­ased way,” sim­i­lar to how we can now an­a­lyze genes — a quick and com­plete pic­ture. A new com­pa­ny, called Naut­lius, launched this year with over $100 mil­lion from promi­nent tech funds with a sim­i­lar promise, but they are ear­li­er stage and have yet to dis­close their tech. And every­one is com­par­ing them­selves to Il­lu­mi­na, the $60 bil­lion se­quenc­ing gi­ant, which it­self has a pro­teomics di­vi­sion.

Omead Os­tadan

“The key vari­able that next-gen se­quenc­ing and in par­tic­u­lar that Il­lu­mi­na tech­nol­o­gy changed was the abil­i­ty to ac­cess the genome or the tran­scrip­tome in an un­bi­ased, deep way, rapid­ly and at scale,” Omead Os­tadan, a for­mer Il­lu­mi­na ex­ec­u­tive who was re­cent­ly named Seer’s COO and pres­i­dent, told End­points. With Seer’s pro­teomics tech, “you en­able enor­mous depth and breadth anal­o­gous to the bi­o­log­ic in­sight that emerged when you could [first] ac­cess ge­nom­ic in­for­ma­tion.”

Seer has de­vel­oped over 250 nanopar­ti­cles for its Pro­teo­graph. These dif­fer­ent par­ti­cles, when put in the blood, at­tract dif­fer­ent pro­teins that bond to chem­i­cal groups on the sur­face, form­ing a “coro­na,” or a kind of mol­e­c­u­lar ha­lo around the pro­tein. Oth­er pro­teins then bind to those pro­teins and so on. Not every nanopar­ti­cle will bind to every pro­tein, but if you put in enough, the dif­fer­ent coro­nas will give a kind of pic­ture both of what pro­teins ex­ist and if those pro­teins have changed shape.

As a proof of con­cept, the com­pa­ny looked at sam­ples from ear­ly-stage non-small cell lung can­cer pa­tients and found pro­teins that cor­re­lat­ed with dis­ease.

This kind of analy­sis, Farokhzad said, could be used to di­ag­nose pa­tients ear­ly — a goal shared by well-backed liq­uid biop­sy com­pa­nies like GRAIL and Kar­ius. It could al­so, he said, be used to find new pro­teins as­so­ci­at­ed with can­cer, and those pro­teins could then be­come bio­mark­ers or tar­gets for new ther­a­pies. There are al­so ap­pli­ca­tions in agri­cul­ture and en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence.

For now, the com­pa­ny is fo­cused on build­ing new nanopar­ti­cles and launch­ing the prod­uct next year, be­fore find­ing new ap­pli­ca­tions. They’ll have to seal part­ners and buy­ers, who in turn will be able to say if the prod­uct is just as trans­for­ma­tion­al as they claim.

“It sounds sim­ple, but hav­ing lived through prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion, there’s a lot to do,” Os­tadan said.

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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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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Teresa Bitetti, Takeda's president of the global oncology business unit

Take­da wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for $400M col­orec­tal can­cer drug, li­censed from Hutchmed in Jan­u­ary

Takeda and Hutchmed scored a priority review Thursday afternoon for a colorectal cancer drug, the companies announced.

The experimental drug in question is fruquintinib, previously approved in China in 2018 to treat metastatic colorectal cancer. Takeda and Hutchmed are aiming to bring fruquintinib to the US and other countries outside China in the same indication, and the FDA set its decision date for Nov. 30 of this year.

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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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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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Car­mot rais­es an­oth­er $150M for obe­si­ty drugs, though race by com­peti­tors is well un­der­way

Carmot Therapeutics announced a $150 million Series E round that it plans to use to fund several trials of its obesity drugs.

Its lead candidate is a GLP-1/GIP dual receptor modulator heading into testing for obesity and diabetes. The latest round brings the startup’s total raised to around $370 million, according to the company.

Similar to Eli Lilly’s Mounjaro, Carmot’s lead drugs target hormones that together can impact insulin production and appetite. Its lead compound is CT-388, a once-weekly injection it is taking into Phase II. It also has a daily injection with the same mechanism and an oral GLP-1; a Phase I trial is in the works.

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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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