Suck­ing up tal­ent out of No­var­tis, a boom­ing Ru­bius adds an­oth­er $100 mil­lion mega-round to the kit­ty

Just 8 months af­ter putting the fin­ish­ing touch­es to a $120 mil­lion round, Flag­ship start­up Ru­bius Ther­a­peu­tics is back at the mon­ey well, draw­ing up an­oth­er big mega-round of $100 mil­lion.

Tor­ben Straight Nis­sen

This time, with more than $220 mil­lion to the good since jump­ing off the start­ing line, Ru­bius de­scribes the raise as a “crossover round.” So does that mean that there’s an S-1 un­der con­struc­tion?

Not ex­act­ly.

“We’re con­sid­er­ing all op­tions,” says CEO Tor­ben Straight Nis­sen. As for an IPO, that’s one of sev­er­al routes that could be open to the com­pa­ny — when the time is right.

Un­usu­al­ly, the biotech is not spelling out where the cash is com­ing from. All that the CEO is will­ing to say is that the syn­di­cate in­cludes “some of the largest mu­tu­al funds…as well as oth­er ma­jor in­vestors.”

A few years ago it would have been a vir­tu­al mis­sion im­pos­si­ble to gath­er more than $200 mil­lion for a biotech that has yet to file its first IND. But Flag­ship chief Noubar Afeyan has been one of the lead­ing pro­po­nents of a move to find new plat­form com­pa­nies with big po­ten­tial for some game-chang­ing tech­nol­o­gy and then com­ing up with the big mon­ey need­ed to build a full pipeline of ther­a­pies, rather than one or two pi­lot projects to demon­strate their po­ten­tial.

Noubar Afeyan

It’s a high risk, high re­ward strat­e­gy that has been pur­sued ag­gres­sive­ly by Mod­er­na, an­oth­er Flag­ship com­pa­ny which just added $500 mil­lion on a $7 bil­lion val­u­a­tion — well ahead of piv­otal da­ta.

What­ev­er lim­it there may be to in­vestor ap­petite for biotech risk, we aren’t see­ing it yet. In the past 72 hours we’ve tracked more than $650 mil­lion in new in­vest­ments in the field, with the mon­ey scat­tered in Cam­bridge/Boston, the Bay Area, Mary­land and New York. The $250 mil­lion raised for a new As­traZeneca spin­out came from three new Chi­nese in­vestors, who are burst­ing on the scene with more cash for qual­i­fied syn­di­cates. And this is the sec­ond $100 mil­lion raise this week.

The R&D plan at Ru­bius is to push ahead with some lead en­zyme re­place­ment ther­a­pies be­ing spawned on a plat­form that seeks to de­vel­op a brand new class of cell ther­a­pies.

The big idea at Ru­bius is that re­searchers can take red blood cells — de­signed by na­ture to trans­port oxy­gen — hi­jack them through ge­net­ic en­gi­neer­ing tech and get them to car­ry pro­teins need­ed to fight var­i­ous dis­eases. It’s an off-the-shelf ap­proach, rather than one per­son­al­ized for each pa­tient.

De­vel­op­ing a new class of med­i­cine, though, calls ear­ly on for some pricey man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ty. And af­ter es­tab­lish­ing a sup­ply line with CMOs, Ru­bius is do­ing some cal­cu­la­tions on how it should con­struct its own in-house process.

“Clear­ly,” says the CEO, “one of the ex­plo­rations is build or buy.” And they don’t have to stay too close to home in Cam­bridge, MA. Oth­er lo­ca­tions in or around Boston and the rest of Mass­a­chu­setts could serve.

The staff, mean­while, has al­ready grown to 67, which in­cludes adding a man­u­fac­tur­ing chief. Spencer Fisk jumped to Ru­bius just a few days ago, join­ing what seems to be a steady mi­gra­tion out of No­var­tis’ cell and gene ther­a­py op­er­a­tion. He was the glob­al head of Cell and Gene Tech­ni­cal De­vel­op­ment and Man­u­fac­tur­ing. Fisk took the place of Karen Walk­er, who left for Seat­tle Ge­net­ics last spring. Walk­er had, in turn, be­come one of three key man­agers in the cell unit at No­var­tis, which was thor­ough­ly re­or­ga­nized about two years ago, when Us­man “Oz” Azam left the helm to run a cell ther­a­py start­up.

It’s a small world in the cell ther­a­py field. Now Fisk is work­ing at a biotech where for­mer No­var­tis can­cer chief David Ep­stein is ex­ec­u­tive chair­man.

Burst­ing at the seams, Ru­bius is al­so now mov­ing in­to 45,000 square feet in new digs at 399 Bin­ney. By this sum­mer, he adds, the staff should be up to around 100 — no small af­fair.

Im­age: 399 Bin­ney Street (Alexan­dria Re­al Es­tate Eq­ui­ties)

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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UP­DAT­ED #ES­MO20: Trodelvy da­ta show that Gilead­'s $21B buy­out may have been worth the big pre­mi­um

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has been on a shopping spree. And while some analysts gawked at the biotech’s recent $21 billion Immunomedics buyout, new data released at virtual ESMO 2020 suggest the acquisition may have been worth the hefty price.

The deal, announced last weekend, will give California-based Gilead $GILD Trodelvy, which was recently approved for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (mTNBC).

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#ES­MO20: As­traZeneca bur­nish­es Tagris­so's ad­ju­vant NSCLC pro­file with 'un­prece­dent­ed' re­duc­tion in brain mets. Can they win over skep­tics?

When AstraZeneca trumpeted “momentous” and “transformative” results for Tagrisso earlier this year at ASCO, some practitioners threw cold water on the ADAURA fervor. Sure, the disease-free survival data look good, but overall survival is the endpoint that matters when it comes to choosing adjuvant therapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients, the experts said.

The OS data still aren’t here, but AstraZeneca is back at ESMO to bolster their case with a look at brain metastasis data.

Exelixis CEO Michael Morrissey (file photo)

#ES­MO20: Look out Mer­ck. Bris­tol My­ers and Ex­elix­is stake out their com­bo’s claim to best-in-class sta­tus for front­line kid­ney can­cer

Now that the PD-(L)1 checkpoints are deeply entrenched in the oncology market, it’s time to welcome a wave of combination therapies — beyond chemo — looking to extend their benefit to larger numbers of patients. Bristol Myers Squibb ($BMY} and Exelixis {EXEL} are close to the front of that line.

Today at ESMO the collaborators pulled the curtain back on some stellar data for their combination of Opdivo (the PD-1) and Cabometyx (the TKI), marking a significant advance for the blockbuster Bristol Myers franchise while offering a big leg up for the team at Exelixis.

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Donald Trump and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, before boarding Marine One (Getty Images)

Pric­ing deal col­laps­es over Big Phar­ma's re­fusal to is­sue $100 'cash card­s' be­fore the elec­tion — re­port

Late in August, as negotiations on a pricing deal with President Trump reached a boiling point, PhRMA president Stephen Ubl sent an email update to the 34 biopharma chiefs that sit on his board. He wrote that if the industry did not agree to pay for a $100 “cash card” sent to seniors before November, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was going to tell the news media Big Pharma was refusing to “share the savings” with the elderly — and that all of the blame for failed drug pricing negotiations would lie squarely on the industry.

#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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