Steve Kaf­ka joins Sec­tion 32 as man­ag­ing part­ner; Take­da auc­tions off $660M drug port­fo­lio in bid to re­duce post-Shire M&A debt load

Steven Kaf­ka

→ For­mer Thrive CEO and part­ner at Third Rock Ven­tures, Steve Kaf­ka, has hopped aboard Sec­tion 32 as a man­ag­ing part­ner. With­in his new role, Kaf­ka “will fo­cus on sup­port­ing and ex­pand­ing the firm’s in­vest­ment port­fo­lio and pres­ence in Boston.” Cur­rent­ly, Kaf­ka serves as the ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at Thrive and at ArcherDX and he will con­tin­ue to serve with­in these roles. Kaf­ka’s pre­vi­ous stints in­clude roles as pres­i­dent and COO at Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine and serv­ing in po­si­tions at Aileron Ther­a­peu­tics, In­fin­i­ty Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Mil­len­ni­um Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Strate­gic De­ci­sions Group and For­rester Re­search.

Take­da has grabbed $660 mil­lion to help pay down the big debt it took on to buy Shire. Ger­many’s Sta­da is pick­ing up the port­fo­lio of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals— in­clud­ing OTC prod­ucts —in the deal, which marks Take­da’s 4th auc­tion since clos­ing the Shire buy­out. Take­da has gar­nered $6.5 bil­lion of the $10 bil­lion it’s set its sights on for debt re­duc­tion.

→ High-fly­ing Chi­nese biotech BeiGene $BGNE has li­censed Asian rights to a pre­clin­i­cal can­cer drug out of Seat­tle Ge­net­ics. There are no specifics on what this drug is, but Seat­tle Ge­net­ics stands to earn up to $160 mil­lion from BeiGene if it pans out. They didn’t break out the up­front. Seat­tle Ge­net­ics $SGEN is hang­ing on to US rights for this ther­a­py.

En­gi­tix, Inc has been award­ed with a gold­en tick­et —pro­vid­ing one year of lab bench space and shared lab­o­ra­to­ry and of­fice space — to Lab­Cen­tral by Take­da Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal. The com­pa­ny says that the gold­en tick­et will help fur­ther ad­vance its “hu­man ex­tra­cel­lu­lar ma­trix (ECM) re­search in fi­bro­sis and sol­id tu­mors dis­ease pro­gres­sion.”

CO­DA Bio­ther­a­peu­tics — de­vel­op­ing a chemo­ge­net­ic gene ther­a­py plat­form to treat in­tractable neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases — has closed its Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing round, bag­ging a to­tal raised amount of $34 mil­lion. The com­pa­ny’s ex­ist­ing in­vestor, Ver­sant Ven­tures, led the round and was joined by ex­ist­ing in­vestors MPM Cap­i­tal and Astel­las Ven­ture Man­age­ment.

→ Al­lo­gene and im­mune cell ther­a­py com­pa­ny, Notch Ther­a­peu­tics, have en­tered in­to an ex­clu­sive world­wide col­lab­o­ra­tion and li­cense agree­ment to re­search and de­vel­op in­duced pluripo­tent stem cell (iP­SC) Al­lo­CAR ther­a­py prod­ucts for ini­tial ap­pli­ca­tion in non-Hodgkin lym­phoma, leukemia and mul­ti­ple myelo­ma. Un­der the part­ner­ship, the com­pa­nies “will cre­ate al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­py can­di­dates from T cells or nat­ur­al killer (NK) cells us­ing Notch’s En­gi­neered Thymic Niche (ETN) plat­form.” The col­lab­o­ra­tion comes two months af­ter Al­lo­gene teamed up with re­searchers from Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty to in­ves­ti­gate a nu­cle­ic acid de­liv­ery sys­tem that more ef­fec­tive­ly, safe­ly and flex­i­bly de­liv­ers in­tra­cel­lu­lar RNA or DNA in­to lym­pho­cytes, in­clud­ing T cells.

Black Belt TX and Prax­is Biotech are team­ing up in a strate­gic part­ner­ship to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op new small mol­e­cule ther­a­peu­tics to undis­closed tar­gets which are aimed at mod­u­lat­ing key con­trol mech­a­nisms in the stress re­sponse path­ways in can­cer.

→ As re­port­ed by Busi­ness Quar­ter (BQ), Ox­ford Drug De­sign has bagged £2.2 mil­lion in a fi­nanc­ing round. The round was led by new and ex­ist­ing in­vestors — the An­gel Co­Fund and o2h Ven­tures — along with grant fund­ing from the UK De­part­ment of Health and So­cial Care’s UK-Chi­na re­search com­pe­ti­tion. This brings the com­pa­ny’s to­tal 2019 fund­ing to over £9m.


Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Xen­cor, UCLA to part­ner for new ther­a­peu­tic an­ti­bod­ies; Schrödinger ex­pands part­ner­ship with Google Cloud

Seeking to build on the 20 clinical-stage drug candidates already in its pipeline, California oncology and autoimmune disease-focused biotech Xencor announced on Thursday a partnership with nearby UCLA and the university’s Technology Development Group.

The two will collaborate to develop novel therapeutic antibodies, pairing novel targets proposed by scientists at UCLA with Xencor’s XmAb technology platforms that engineer monoclonal antibodies to create new protein structures. No financial terms of the agreement were disclosed, but any selected drug candidates resulting from the partnership will use a framework of “predefined terms to enter sponsored research agreements and potential license agreements,” the organizations said.

S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Glax­o­SmithK­line re­thinks strat­e­gy for Covid-19 an­ti­body — not the Vir ones — af­ter tri­al flop. Is there hope in high-risk pa­tients?

In the search for a better Covid-19 therapeutic, GlaxoSmithKline and Vir have partnered up on two antibodies they hope have a chance. GSK is also testing its own in-house antibody, and early results may have shut the door on its widespread use.

A combination of GSK’s monoclonal antibody otilimab plus standard of care couldn’t best standard of care alone in preventing death and respiratory failure in hospitalized Covid-19 patients after 28 days, according to data from the Phase IIa OSCAR study unveiled Thursday.