Sur­rozen grabs $33M, joins star­tups look­ing to spark a come­back in re­gen­er­a­tive med

In an­oth­er sign that the long, cold win­ter for re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine may be com­ing to an end, The Col­umn Group led a $33 mil­lion start­up round for Sur­rozen, a new Bay Area biotech com­ing out of the labs at Stan­ford.

Christo­pher Gar­cia, Stan­ford

The key fig­ure in this start­up is Christo­pher Gar­cia, a Stan­ford in­ves­ti­ga­tor who’s been drawn in­to the world of Wnt. While much of his la­bor has cen­tered on can­cer re­search, he’s al­so spent time de­vel­op­ing Wnt sur­ro­gates that can play the same role as the nat­ur­al pro­teins in form­ing tis­sue and spurring re­pair, but hope­ful­ly with bet­ter drug-like prop­er­ties that will make them sim­pler to man­u­fac­ture and test in hu­mans.

If you get an ex­cess of Wnt ac­tiv­i­ty, says Tim Kutzkey, the man­ag­ing part­ner at The Col­umn Group who is shep­herd­ing the in­vest­ment in Sur­rozen, it’s easy to see how Wnt could play in role in can­cer. But Kutzkey been more at­tract­ed to the re­gen­er­a­tive side of that equa­tion.

As Kutzkey tells it, Wnt has been a frus­trat­ing field.

“They’re dif­fi­cult to han­dle, pro­duce, al­so dif­fi­cult to tune,” he says. “Wnt could be a very pow­er­ful tool; how to ad­vance them in drug de­vel­op­ment has stymied folks for some time.”

Tim Kutzkey, The Col­umn Group

Now Sur­rozen will see if the sur­ro­gates can over­come the ob­sta­cles.

The aca­d­e­m­ic founders al­so in­clude Roe­land Nusse, a Howard Hugh­es in­ves­ti­ga­tor at Stan­ford, along with Calvin Kuo and Clau­dia Jan­da. The board al­so tilts to high sci­ences, with Harold Var­mus, MD, co-re­cip­i­ent of the 1989 No­bel Prize in Phys­i­ol­o­gy or Med­i­cine and Lewis Thomas Uni­ver­si­ty Pro­fes­sor of Med­i­cine at Weill Cor­nell Med­i­cine and Wen-Chen Yeh, MD, PhD, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer of Sur­rozen.

Right now Sur­rozen has a staff of 18, says Kutzkey, with enough cash on hand to get through the next 2.5 to 3 years of re­search work, ad­vanc­ing pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to­ward hu­man stud­ies. But there’s no ques­tion this is an ear­ly play.

Re­gen­er­a­tive med­i­cine and stem cell re­search went through a pop­u­lar surge in Cal­i­for­nia, with lit­tle to show for it by way of us­able new ther­a­peu­tic tech­nolo­gies. Now, though, af­ter the first wave of hype has ebbed away, com­pa­nies like Fre­quen­cy Ther­a­peu­tics and a new $225 mil­lion joint ven­ture be­tween Ver­sant and Bay­er dubbed Blue­Rock have stepped up take a new, per­haps bet­ter in­formed shot at the field. Sur­rozen thinks it can be part of the re­nais­sance.

The com­pa­ny will set up at Oys­ter Point in South San Fran­cis­co, part of a bur­geon­ing Bay Area hub that has been at­tract­ing a range of biotechs and Big Phar­ma groups.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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Spring reg­u­la­to­ry agen­da: What’s com­ing soon-ish from the FDA

The FDA’s lack of a permanent commissioner does not seem to be halting its progress to propose and finalize dozens of new regulations, with the latest batch covering everything from adverse event reporting to supplemental application submissions to annual reports for INDs.

Overall, FDA expects to release more than 40 new proposed regulations and finalize another 24 in the coming months and years.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.