Some of the best con­nect­ed play­ers in the San Diego hub or­ga­nize launch round for an­oth­er biotech with an eye on tri­al da­ta

Mike Grey and his net­work of San Diego-based biotech ex­ecs are for­mal­ly notch­ing a new start­up de­but to­day.

Mike Grey

The com­pa­ny is Re­neo Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, which drew a syn­di­cate to­geth­er around CEO Niall O’Don­nell with $50 mil­lion to sup­port their on­go­ing work on new treat­ments for ge­net­ic mi­to­chon­dr­i­al dis­eases.

To­day marks their com­ing out par­ty for the com­pa­ny, but the 12-mem­ber team at Re­neo — 7 in the UK and 5 in San Diego — have been hard at it for more than 2 years. They’ve al­ready steered their way to 2 clin­i­cal tri­als, fo­cus­ing on REN001, a PPAR-delta ag­o­nist be­ing used to treat ge­net­i­cal­ly de­fined rare mi­to­chon­dr­i­al dis­eases such as fat­ty acid ox­i­da­tion dis­or­ders — FAOD — and pri­ma­ry mi­to­chon­dr­i­al my­opathies.

Niall O’Don­nell

O’Don­nell is a for­mer Lu­me­na ex­ec who’s worked with ex-Lu­me­na CEO Mike Grey for years. Shire stepped in to buy the com­pa­ny — where O’Don­nell was in­ter­im CMO — and their lead drug back in 2014. But af­ter the first round of tri­als at Shire failed, Grey formed a new com­pa­ny called Mirum Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to get back the rights and re­vive work on the drug.

And that’s not all Grey, the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Re­neo, has done. He al­so helped launch Am­plyx, where he was the found­ing CEO be­fore hand­ing the reins to long­time col­league Cia­ra Kennedy, an­oth­er Lu­me­na alum. Now he’s ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Am­plyx as well.

Cia­ra Kennedy

To­geth­er, the group in­volves some of the best-con­nect­ed sci­en­tists and en­tre­pre­neurs in the San Diego hub, with fin­gers in many start­up pies. O’Don­nell is on the board at Am­plyx and is man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at River­Vest Ven­ture Part­ners. And the well-knit bunch of ex-Lu­me­na ex­ecs con­tin­ue to work on a va­ri­ety of projects to­geth­er with fund­ing from some ven­ture al­lies.

New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates is back as the lead in­vestor for Re­neo, along­side Lund­beck­fonden Ven­tures, Pap­pas Cap­i­tal — where Grey is a ven­ture part­ner — and not sur­pris­ing­ly River­Vest Ven­ture Part­ners.

They’re giv­ing O’Don­nell enough mon­ey to see through his proof-of-con­cept work in the clin­ic and the end of next year, set­ting up a fol­low-up shot at piv­otal rare dis­ease work if every­thing pans out. 

That will de­pend large­ly on whether they chose the right PPAR ag­o­nist, which the CEO notes came from vTv Ther­a­peu­tics. Mi­to­chon­dria are of­ten re­ferred to as the body’s pow­er­hous­es, which store and re­lease the en­er­gy need­ed to func­tion. When it goes awry, the con­se­quences can be dev­as­tat­ing.

Their drug is de­signed to in­crease “fat­ty acid me­tab­o­lism,” says the CEO, “which has di­rect im­pli­ca­tions for fat­ty acid ox­i­da­tion dis­or­ders. In ad­di­tion, an in­crease in fat­ty acid me­tab­o­lism has the po­ten­tial to in­crease the amount of ATP with­in cells, which could, in turn, im­prove symp­toms for pa­tients af­flict­ed with mi­to­chon­dr­i­al my­opathies.” 

O’Don­nell tells me he’s hap­py to re­tain all the op­tion­al­i­ty you’d ex­pect in a ven­ture-backed com­pa­ny. There are re­sources to go it alone, rais­ing more mon­ey, maybe go pub­lic or work a deal with the as­set. And with his con­nec­tions, these are all re­al pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.