Tony Kulesa, Brian Baynes. Petri

Star founders, in­ves­ti­ga­tors hud­dle around new Boston ac­cel­er­a­tor spot­light­ing young en­tre­pre­neurs

As a widely recognized biotech hub, Boston is undoubtedly one of the best places to start a new company at the frontier of biology and engineering. With a dense network of incubators, venture capitalists and talent, seasoned company founders can have their pick of partners and models launching their latest startups.

But for young, aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s a very different scene.

Big VC firms might hire you to work on their ideas instead of yours, and accelerators may not offer the kind of deep technical expertise and guidance needed to make it in the field.

“There was no formal path, and really, there was no ecosystem,” Brian Baynes recalled about joining Flagship Pioneering 15 years ago, fresh out of his PhD program, after finding “that tiny little crack in the wall” from academia.

While most of his brightest classmates back then would have been set on becoming professors, today MIT and Harvard are full of students who are keen to translate what they do in their labs into the real world. That’s why Baynes is teaming up with Tony Kulesa — who’s just finished a PhD in biological engineering — and longtime investor Jamie Goldstein to launch Petri, an accelerator built to support a broad swath of biological innovation.

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Jude Samulski, Marianne De Backer

Bay­er buys a biotech ‘race horse’ with a $4B deal — $2B in cash — aimed at go­ing big in­to gene ther­a­py

In the latest sign that Big Pharma wants a leading place in the push to develop a new generation of cell and gene therapies, Bayer is stepping up today with a $2 billion cash deal to buy out one of the fast-moving pioneers in the field, while adding up to $2 billion more in milestones if the new pharma subsidiary can deliver the goods.

As part of a continuing series of deals engineered by Bayer BD chief Marianne De Backer, the pharma player has snapped up Asklepios, more commonly referred to in more casual fashion as AskBio. And they are paying top dollar for a Research Triangle Park-based company that raised $225 million a little more than a year ago to back the brainchild of Jude Samulski, the gene therapy pioneer out of the University of North Carolina Gene Therapy Center.

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Patrick Soon-Shiong at the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference, Jan. 13, 2020 (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter falling be­hind the lead­ers, dissed by some ex­perts, biotech show­man Patrick Soon-Sh­iong fi­nal­ly gets his Covid-19 vac­cine ready for a tri­al. But can it live up to the hype?

In January, when dozens of scientists rushed to start making a vaccine for the then-novel coronavirus, they were joined by an unlikely compatriot: Patrick Soon-Shiong, the billionaire doctor most famous for making big, controversial promises on cancer research.

Soon-Shiong had spent the last 4 years on his “Cancer Moonshot,” but part of his project meant buying a small Seattle biotech that specialized in making common-cold vectors, called adenoviruses, to train the immune system. The billionaire had been using those vectors for oncology, but the company had also developed vaccine candidates for H1N1, Lassa fever and other viruses. When the outbreak began, he pivoted.

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Yung Chyung, Scholar Rock CMO (Business Wire)

A dark horse en­trant in­to the spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy field dou­bles its val­ue on some PhII da­ta

The last four years have seen a sudden explosion in treatments for spinal muscular atrophy, a neurodegenerative condition that once led patients — often young ones — with a grim prognosis and no options. The prognosis still isn’t rosy, but now there are three FDA-approved options, enough to make the choice of one difficult.

Now a fourth potential option has entered the mix. Today, Scholar Rock announced the results from a proof-of-concept testing their SMA drug by itself and in combination with Ionis’ Spinraza, showing that all patient cohorts improved on standard scales used for measuring motor function in people with SMA.

Cedric Francois, Apellis CEO (Optum via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: So­bi bets $250M cash, about $1B in mile­stones for rights to a C3 ther­a­py be­ing pushed through 5 piv­otal tri­als

A couple years after licensing Novimmune’s emapalumab and turning around a quick FDA OK, Stockholm-based Sobi is betting up to $1.2 billion for rights to another rare disease drug.

The company is shelling out $250 million upfront and adding up to $915 million in milestones for rights to develop and commercialize Apellis Pharmaceuticals’ drug pegcetacoplan outside the US. Together, the companies will see the systemic C3 therapy through five registrational trials in hematology, nephrology and neurology.

Christian Rommel (via Roche)

Bay­er fol­lows R&D deal spree by raid­ing Roche's can­cer group for its new re­search chief

The day after Bayer signed off on a $4 billion deal designed to put the company among the leaders in gene therapy development, the pharma giant has recruited a new chief for its R&D division. And they opted for an expert in the cancer field.

Christian Rommel, Roche’s head of discovery and early-stage oncology development, has been tapped to take over the job. Joerg Moeller, who got the top research post after early and late-stage development roles were combined 2 years ago, is hitting the exit “to pursue other career opportunities.”

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Albert Bourla, AP

UP­DAT­ED: Where's the Pfiz­er ef­fi­ca­cy read­out? CEO Bourla says 'soon,' but you're go­ing to have to wait for it

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla had promised repeatedly that the pharma giant would know if its leading Covid-19 vaccine is effective by the end of this month — now just a few days away.

Instead, the company reported early Tuesday that it has yet to conduct any interim efficacy analyses. And it won’t now until sometime next month.

The news was included in a slide for their Q3 report.

In the morning Q3 call with analysts, Bourla says that they expect efficacy data “soon,” but noted that they wouldn’t be able to say anything until all the administrative work was done on the interim, which would take about a week. And he added that Pfizer isn’t going to say anything else about that hot topic until they have the data in hand.

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UP­DAT­ED: Re­searchers shut­ter 2 Covid-19 stud­ies as mon­i­tors flag Eli Lil­ly an­ti­bod­ies as a flop for pneu­mo­nia, hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients — but EUA hunt con­tin­ues

Two weeks after the safety data monitoring group advised researchers to hit the hold button on a clinical trial of Eli Lilly’s antibody bamlanivimab (LYCoV55) for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, the trial overseers are back with fresh directions to shutter the study after losing faith that the drug could help this group of patients.

The monitors concluded, however, that there were no safety issues involved, which will likely encourage continued belief that Lilly can still nail down an emergency marketing application for less-sick patients.

Charles Baum, Mirati CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Mi­rati plots a march to the FDA for its KRAS G12C drug, breath­ing down Am­gen’s neck with bet­ter da­ta

Mirati Therapeutics $MRTX took another closely-watched step toward a now clearly defined goal to file for an approval for its KRAS G12C cancer drug adagrasib (MRTX849), scoring a higher response rate than the last readout from the class-leading rival at Amgen but still leaving open a raft of important questions about its future.

Following a snapshot of the first handful of responses, where the drug scored a tumor response in 3 of 5 patients with non-small cell lung cancer, the response rate has now slid to 45% among a pooled group of 51 early-stage and Phase II patients, 43% — 6 of 14 — when looking solely at the Phase I/Ib. Those 14 patients had a median treatment duration of 8.2 months, with half still on therapy and 5 of 6 responders still in response.

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News brief­ing: No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma hits block­buster sta­tus, trig­ger­ing $80M mile­stone; Caris rais­es $310M for ge­nom­ic pro­fil­ing ex­pan­sion

Novartis reported that Zolgensma earned $291 million in Q3, which puts the SMA gene therapy squarely in the blockbuster category. That, in turn, is paying benefits to Regenxbio, which provided the NAV AAV9 vector used by Zolgensma.

The biotech $RGNX reported Tuesday morning that it is getting an $80 million milestone payment from Novartis, which now has earned more than $1 billion cumulatively from the new gene therapy franchise. And with large percentages of newborns now being screened for the rare, lethal ailment, the franchise can continue to grow.