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)

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.