Sri Kosuri, Octant CEO

Syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy biotech nets three-hit com­bo in new fi­nanc­ing, Bris­tol My­ers deal and first CSO

A Bay Area biotech an­nounced three new de­vel­op­ments that have been in the works in re­cent months, hop­ing that all have a strong chance at pro­pelling the com­pa­ny for­ward.

The first and newest de­vel­op­ment is the fi­nanc­ing, as Oc­tant — head­ed up by for­mer UCLA pro­fes­sor Sri Ko­suri and found­ed in 2017 — raised $80 mil­lion in a Se­ries B round. It’s the biotech’s largest round to date, and more than dou­bles all its past fundrais­ing com­bined, bring­ing its to­tal fi­nanc­ing so far to $115 mil­lion. Ko­suri told End­points News that the fund­ing gives Oc­tant, which cur­rent­ly has around 50 em­ploy­ees, a cash run­way of two to three years.

While the round was led by biotech VC Catalio Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, pre­vi­ous and new in­vestors hopped on­to the round, in­clud­ing Bris­tol My­ers Squibb, Allen & Co., 50 Years VC and An­dreessen Horowitz Bio Fund.

Ram­sey Hom­sany

As for what the com­pa­ny plans to do with that mon­ey, co-founders Ko­suri and Ram­sey Hom­sany said that their goal is three-pronged over the next few years: push their two lead­ing drug can­di­dates in­to the clin­ic, scale the size and ca­pa­bil­i­ty of their plat­form any­where from five- to ten­fold and start de­vel­op­ing an­oth­er five to 10 new drug can­di­dates.

So far, Oc­tant’s two lead can­di­dates, still in pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, go af­ter au­to­so­mal dom­i­nant re­tini­tis pig­men­tosa — a rare form of blind­ness marked by dam­age to the reti­na — and re­cep­tors linked to me­tab­o­lism and obe­si­ty, re­spec­tive­ly. Ko­suri said that Oc­tant has no de­fin­i­tive time­frame for when it ex­pects to have the drugs in clin­i­cal tri­als.

Oc­tant’s plat­form fo­cus­es on syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy, en­gi­neer­ing small mol­e­cules and test­ing them through hu­man cell lines, bi­o­log­i­cal as­says and ma­chine learn­ing soft­ware.

Sec­ond­ly, Bris­tol My­ers de­cid­ed to team up with Oc­tant in a mul­ti-year col­lab­o­ra­tion deal. While Ko­suri de­clined to give fi­nan­cial specifics, it had been in the works for close to a year and was fi­nal­ized in De­cem­ber. Ko­suri added that the deal was un­re­lat­ed to Bris­tol My­ers’ in­vest­ment in the afore­men­tioned Se­ries B.

The part­ner­ship with Bris­tol My­ers is us­ing Oc­tant’s tech­nol­o­gy to, as Ko­suri put it, sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly test thou­sands of amino acids in hu­man cell lines, go­ing through as many mu­ta­tions as pos­si­ble. Oc­tant and Bris­tol My­ers will ap­ply the tech­nol­o­gy to a set of un­spec­i­fied im­munol­o­gy tar­gets.

Rick Ar­tis

And the fi­nal change for the biotech is on the per­son­nel side. Oc­tant brought on its first chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, Rick Ar­tis, and added bio­chemist Feng Zhang to its sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board. Ar­tis, who orig­i­nal­ly start­ed out as a re­searcher at Syn­tex and Genen­tech, worked at Elan, Cho­rum and An­nex­on be­fore com­ing to Oc­tant Bio. Ko­suri told End­points that Oc­tant want­ed Ar­tis’s ex­per­tise in com­pu­ta­tion­al chem­istry.

“We def­i­nite­ly want­ed more drug de­vel­op­ment ex­per­tise in the com­pa­ny. You know, we clear­ly need­ed it, es­pe­cial­ly as the mol­e­cules that we were run­ning in ear­ly dis­cov­ery days are kind of mov­ing to­wards larg­er an­i­mal stud­ies and mov­ing to­wards the clin­ic. But we al­so want­ed some­one with ex­per­tise in this new kind of small mol­e­cule and drug dis­cov­ery plat­form,” Ko­suri said.

The CEO added that Ar­tis got con­nect­ed with Oc­tant through Mark Mur­cko, the found­ing CSO at Dew­point Ther­a­peu­tics. Mur­cko al­so hap­pens to be on the board at Oc­tant, and knew Ar­tis through grad school, with both of them get­ting their PhDs at Yale in or­gan­ic chem­istry.

Ko­suri al­so said he and Zhang have known each oth­er for a few years — and Ko­suri thought that Zhang would be a great ad­di­tion to Oc­tant’s syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy work and help guide the com­pa­ny for­ward in that space.

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (ROMUALD MEIGNEUX/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi's Paul Hud­son is bring­ing cash to cov­er the ta­ble stakes for the Hori­zon M&A game

With the market cap on Horizon Therapeutics $HZNP pushed up to the $23 billion mark today, one of the Big Pharmas in the hunt for a major league buyout deal signaled it’s playing the M&A game with cash.

Paris-based Sanofi, where CEO Paul Hudson has been largely focused on some risky biotech acquisitions to win some respect for its future pipeline prospects, issued a statement early Friday — complying with rule 2.12 of the Irish takeover rules — making clear that while the certainty or size of an offer can’t be determined, any offer “will be solely in cash.”

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls

Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (ddp images/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech bets on dif­fi­cult STING field via small mol­e­cule pact with a Pol­ish biotech

BioNTech is beefing up its relatively thin small molecule pipeline by adding weight to a clinically difficult corner of oncology R&D: STING agonists. To do so, BioNTech is teaming up with a 15-year-old Polish biotech and doling out €40 million, about $41.5 million, to start.

The deal is broken into two parts: First, BioNTech obtains an exclusive global license to develop and market Ryvu Therapeutics’ STING agonist portfolio as small molecules, whether alone or in combination with other agents.

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Lynn Baxter, Viiv Healthcare's head of North America

Vi­iV dri­ves new cor­po­rate coali­tion in­clud­ing Uber, Tin­der and Wal­mart, aimed at end­ing HIV

ViiV Healthcare is pulling together an eclectic coalition of consumer businesses in a new White House-endorsed effort to end HIV by the end of the decade.

The new US Business Action to End HIV includes pharma and health companies — Gilead Sciences, CVS Health and Walgreens — but extends to a wide range of consumer companies that includes Tinder, Uber and Walmart.

ViiV is the catalyst for the group, plunking down more than half a million dollars in seed money and taking on ringmaster duties for launch today on World AIDS Day, but co-creator Health Action Alliance will organize joint activities going forward. ViiV and the alliance want and expect more companies to not only join the effort, but also pitch in funding.

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Pfiz­er will in­vest $1.2B+ in Irish man­u­fac­tur­ing site, adding 500 em­ploy­ees

Covid-19 trailblazer Pfizer has confirmed its commitment to a large expansion project on the Emerald Isle.

The New York-based company announced on Thursday that it will make a €1.2 billion ($1.26 billion) capital investment into its manufacturing site at Grange Castle in Dublin.

The expansion of the site marks Pfizer’s largest expansion investment in Ireland to date. The expansion includes the construction of a new facility on the premises as well as adding in more laboratory space and will ultimately double the capacity for “biological drug substance manufacturing” in the oncology and rare disease space as well as inflammation, immunology and internal medicines.

In­tel­lia and Iver­ic sell stocks to raise mon­ey, each net­ting $300M

Wednesday afternoon, Gene editing company Intellia and eye disease company Iveric Bio announced that they had each raised $300 million by selling off some of their stocks. The two biotechs are the latest to raise money via public stock offerings, an increasingly popular tactic used by public companies as the industry falls back from its pandemic boom.

Intellia’s raise comes a few weeks after it posted an update on its hereditary angioedema program that uses CRISPR/Cas9 to directly edit the gene that makes the protein responsible for the attacks that occur with the disease. In that interim cut, Intellia showed that patients dosed with its one-time therapy became attack free (at least thus far) after an observation period of 16 weeks, with the longest patient remaining attack free for 10 months.

Matt Gline, Roivant Sciences CEO (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for GLG)

Pfiz­er and Roivant team up again for an­oth­er 'Van­t', set­ting up an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry show­down with Prometheus

Pfizer and Roivant are teaming up to launch a new ‘Vant’ aimed at bringing a mid-stage anti-inflammatory drug to market, the pair announced Thursday.

There’s no name for the startup yet, nor are there any employees. Thus far, the new company and Roivant can be considered “one and the same,” Roivant CEO Matt Gline tells Endpoints News. But Pfizer is so enthusiastic about the target that it elected to keep 25% of equity in the drug rather than take upfront cash from Roivant, Gline said.

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