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.

Biogen CEO Michel Vounatsos (via Getty Images)

With ad­u­canum­ab caught on a cliff, Bio­gen’s Michel Vounatsos bets bil­lions on an­oth­er high-risk neu­ro play

With its FDA pitch on the Alzheimer’s drug aducanumab hanging perilously close to disaster, Biogen is rolling the dice on a $3.1 billion deal that brings in commercial rights to one of the other spotlight neuro drugs in late-stage development — after it already failed its first Phase III.

The big biotech has turned to Sage Therapeutics for its latest deal, close to a year after the crushing failure of Sage-217, now dubbed zuranolone, in the MOUNTAIN study.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO (Kyle Grillot/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Af­ter Ko­dak de­ba­cle, US lends $1.1B to a syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy com­pa­ny and their big Covid-19, mR­NA plans

In mid-August, as Kodak’s $765 million government-backed push into drug manufacturing slowly fell apart in national headlines, Ginkgo Bioworks CEO Jason Kelly got a message from his company’s government liaison: HHS wanted to know if they, too, might want a loan.

The government’s decision to lend Kodak three quarters of a billion dollars raised eyebrows because Kodak had never made drugs before. But Ginkgo, while not a manufacturing company, had spent the last decade refining new ways to produce materials inside cells and building automated facilities across Boston.

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Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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