Ameet Nathwani, Dewpoint CEO (Viva Technology/Sipa/L.Chamussy, Sipa via AP Images)

Soft­Bank leads $150M round in­to Dew­point as con­den­sate biotech nears clin­ic

In an­oth­er mar­ket, Dew­point Ther­a­peu­tics may have gone pub­lic about now and raised a prince­ly sum.

Al­though they’re still around two years from hu­man tri­als, the biotech al­ready has blue-chip VC back­ers, three Big Phar­ma part­ner­ships, and a com­pelling sto­ry about be­ing the first and biggest en­trant to a new field of bi­ol­o­gy. But Wall Street isn’t buy­ing much of any­thing these days.

So Dew­point will have to set­tle for the next best thing: a ven­ture cap­i­tal firm that of­ten acts as if it has as much mon­ey as Wall Street — Soft­Bank.

The tech-fo­cused mega-VC led a $150 mil­lion Se­ries C for Dew­point, the com­pa­ny an­nounced Thurs­day. Those funds will be enough to car­ry Dew­point in­to the clin­ic at the end of 2023, while ad­vanc­ing of suite of 19 oth­er pro­grams as the com­pa­ny tries to fash­ion it­self in­to one of the next ma­jor biotechs,  in the vein of Al­ny­lam.

“The play­book is look, we’ve got new bi­ol­o­gy,” CEO Ameet Nath­wani said. “Let’s go as broad as we can and let’s go as fast as we can.”

Dew­point, of course, is still far from achiev­ing that. Their cen­tral fo­cus — what’s known as bio­mol­e­c­u­lar con­den­sates — were dis­cov­ered bare­ly a decade ago, al­though they’re al­ready im­pli­cat­ed in a host of cell process­es, from cell sig­nal­ing to gene ex­pres­sion, and a host of dis­eases, from ALS to in­fec­tions like RSV.

Con­den­sates are es­sen­tial­ly com­part­ments a cell can form to per­form a giv­en func­tion. In the nu­cle­us, for ex­am­ple, cells can use them to both bring tran­scrip­tion ma­chin­ery to­geth­er to make new pro­teins faster, and block off genes from be­ing tran­scribed al­to­geth­er.

They’re formed by liq­uid-liq­uid phase sep­a­ra­tion, the same physics that keeps oil droplets sus­pend­ed in wa­ter. (Ex­act­ly how the cell forms these droplets is still a mat­ter of de­bate. Quan­ta does a good job ex­plain­ing the com­pet­ing the­o­ries.)

Nath­wani’s com­pe­ti­tion al­so now faces com­pe­ti­tion. Dew­point, co-found­ed by An­tho­ny Hy­man, the prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor who first wrote about con­den­sates, was the first ma­jor com­pa­ny to ex­plore their po­ten­tial in ther­a­peu­tics. But they are no longer alone. Hy­man’s post­doc stu­dent, Clif­ford Brang­wynne, now a pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton, found­ed his own con­den­sate-fo­cused com­pa­ny in No­vem­ber 2020 called Nereid. Third Rock fol­lowed up a month lat­er with Faze Med­i­cines.

Nath­wani said the com­pa­ny dif­fer­en­ti­ates it­self with its breadth: It has in­ter­nal pro­grams in neu­ro­science and on­col­o­gy, and is team­ing with Mer­ck in HIV and with Bay­er in women’s health and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease. They’re try­ing, in oth­er words, to tack­le near­ly every ap­pli­ca­tion of con­den­sate bi­ol­o­gy.

Dew­point al­so boasts that it’s built ma­chine learn­ing tech­nol­o­gy to match ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions to changes to con­den­sates in the cell, along with a screen­ing plat­form for new mol­e­cules that can in­ter­fere with them.

“It’s go­ing to be a nov­el ge­net­ics ap­proach, it’s go­ing to be a nov­el com­put­er vi­sion ap­proach,” he said. “The bi­ol­o­gy plat­form is ex­treme­ly broad.”

It’s the kind of tech-first talk that can at­tract in­vestors like Soft­Bank. The firm has not al­ways been as the most dis­cern­ing VC, fa­mous­ly giv­ing We­Work $4.4 bil­lion af­ter a 12-minute tour and hand­ing a dog-walk­ing app $300 mil­lion. (A for­mer Soft­Bank ex­ec­u­tive once re­marked of Masayoshi Son, the founder: “Masa is not a par­tic­u­lar­ly deep thinker, but he has one strength: he’s de­vot­ed to buy­ing more lot­tery tick­ets than any­one else.”)

But in the last cou­ple years, Soft­Bank’s lat­est fund, led by Vikas Parekh, has wad­ed in­to biotech, most­ly in places tech VCs of­ten do: a com­pa­ny us­ing AI to screen mol­e­cules, an­oth­er promis­ing to use ma­chine learn­ing to en­gi­neer bet­ter gene ther­a­pies, Bren­dan Frey’s RNA-fo­cused AI start­up.

The same thing drew them to Dew­point, Nath­wani said.

“It’s the dig­i­tal as­pect com­bined with the bi­ol­o­gy,” he said.

And yet Faze and Nereid have promised to bring sim­i­lar lev­els of dig­i­tal so­phis­ti­ca­tion to in­ter­ro­gate con­den­sates and de­sign new med­i­cines, the lat­ter re­ly­ing in part on ap­proach­es Brang­wynne has de­vel­oped over the years in his lab.

None have yet de­liv­ered da­ta. They’ll like­ly be com­pet­ing for years, each hop­ing that new bi­ol­o­gy doesn’t bring too much of what it al­ways brings: new sur­pris­es.

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Dipal Doshi, Entrada Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex just found the next big ‘trans­for­ma­tive’ thing for the pipeline — at a biotech just down the street

Back in the summer of 2019, when I was covering Vertex’s executive chairman Jeff Leiden’s plans for the pipeline, I picked up on a distinct focus on myotonic dystrophy Type I, or DM1 — one of what Leiden called “two diseases (with DMD) we’re interested in and we continue to look for those assets.”

Today, Leiden’s successor at the helm of Vertex, CEO Reshma Kewalramani, is plunking down $250 million in cash to go the extra mile on DM1. The lion’s share of that is for the upfront, with a small reserve for equity in a deal that lines Vertex up with a neighbor in Seaport that has been rather quietly going at both of Vertex’s early disease targets with preclinical assets.

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Christian Itin, Autolus CEO (UKBIO19)

Au­to­lus tips its hand, bags $220M as CAR-T show­down with Gilead looms

The first batch of pivotal data on Autolus Therapeutics’ CAR-T is in, and execs are ready to plot a path to market.

With an overall remission rate of 70% at the interim analysis featuring 50 patients, the results set the stage for a BLA filing by the end of 2023, said CEO Christian Itin.

Perhaps more importantly — given that Autolus’ drug, obe-cel, is going after an indication that Gilead’s Tecartus is already approved for — the biotech highlighted “encouraging safety data” in the trial, with a low percentage of patients experiencing severe immune responses.

WIB22: Am­ber Salz­man had few op­tions when her son was di­ag­nosed with a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease. So she cre­at­ed a bet­ter one

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

Amber Salzman’s life changed on a cold, damp day in Paris over tiny plastic cups of lukewarm tea.

She was meeting with Patrick Aubourg, a French neurologist studying adrenoleukodystrophy, or ALD, a rare genetic condition that causes rapid neurological decline in young boys. It’s a sinister disease that often leads to disability or death within just a few years. Salzman’s nephew was diagnosed at just 6 or 7 years old, and died at the age of 12.

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Ahead of ad­comm, FDA rais­es un­cer­tain­ties on ben­e­fit-risk pro­file of Cy­to­ki­net­ic­s' po­ten­tial heart drug

The FDA’s Cardiovascular and Renal Drugs Advisory Committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss whether Cytokinetics’ potential heart drug can safely reduce the risk of cardiovascular death and heart failure in patients with symptomatic chronic heart failure with reduced ejection fraction.

The drug, known as omecamtiv mecarbil and in development for more than 15 years, has seen mixed results, with a first Phase III readout from November 2020 hitting the primary endpoint of reducing the odds of hospitalization or other urgent care for heart failure by 8%. But it also missed a key secondary endpoint analysts had pegged as key to breaking into the market.

Ab­b­Vie slapped with age dis­crim­i­na­tion law­suit, fol­low­ing oth­er phar­mas

Add AbbVie to the list of pharma companies currently facing age discrimination allegations.

Pennsylvania resident Thomas Hesch filed suit against AbbVie on Wednesday, accusing the company of passing him over for promotions in favor of younger candidates.

Despite 30 years of pharma experience, “Hesch has consistently seen younger, less qualified employees promoted over him,” the complaint states.

Rami Elghandour, Arcellx CEO

Up­dat­ed: Gilead, Ar­cel­lx team up on an­ti-BC­MA CAR-T as biotech touts a 100% re­sponse rate at #ASH22

Gilead and Kite are plunking down big cash to get into the anti-BCMA CAR-T game.

The pair will shell out $225 million in cash upfront and $100 million in equity to Arcellx, Kite announced Friday morning, to develop the biotech’s lead CAR-T program together. Kite will handle commercialization and co-development with Arcellx, and profits in the US will be split 50-50.

Concurrent with the deal, Arcellx revealed its latest cut of data for the program known as CART-ddBCMA, ahead of a full presentation at this weekend’s ASH conference — a 100% response rate among patients getting the therapy. Investors jumped at the dual announcements, sending Arcellx shares $ACLX up more than 25% in Friday’s morning session.

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WIB22: Lead­ing NK cell re­searcher re­flects on roots in Iran, the UK and Texas

This profile is part of Endpoints News’ 2022 special report about Women in Biopharma R&D. You can read the full report here.

In a small but widely-cited 11-person study published in NEJM in 2020, seven patients saw signs of their cancer completely go away after getting a new therapy made from natural killer cells. The study was one of the earliest to provide clinical proof that the experimental treatment method had promise.

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Philip Astley-Sparke, Replimune CEO

Replimune looks to rope in $225M on the back of melanoma da­ta

The Massachusetts-based, oncolytic virus biotech Replimune is feeling bullish now that it has lifted the cover on data for its lead product.

Replimune said Thursday it looks to nab about $225 million from a public offering after giving a snapshot of some initial data from its IGNYTE clinical study earlier this week. The trial is investigating RP1 in combination with Opdivo, for patients with melanoma and who did not have a response when being treated with a PD-1.