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.

Has the mo­ment fi­nal­ly ar­rived for val­ue-based health­care?

RBC Capital Markets’ Healthcare Technology Analyst, Sean Dodge, spotlights a new breed of tech-enabled providers who are rapidly transforming the way clinicians deliver healthcare, and explores the key question: can this accelerating revolution overturn the US healthcare system?

Key points

Tech-enabled healthcare providers are poised to help the US transition to value, not volume, as the basis for reward.
The move to value-based care has policy momentum, but is risky and complex for clinicians.
Outsourced tech specialists are emerging to provide the required expertise, while healthcare and tech are also converging through M&A.
Value-based care remains in its early stages, but the transition is accelerating and represents a huge addressable market.

FDA ad­vi­sors unan­i­mous­ly rec­om­mend ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for Bio­gen's ALS drug

A panel of outside advisors to the FDA unanimously recommended that the agency grant accelerated approval to Biogen’s ALS drug tofersen despite the drug failing the primary goal of its Phase III study, an endorsement that could pave a path forward for the treatment.

By a 9-0 vote, members of the Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee said there was sufficient evidence that tofersen’s effect on a certain protein associated with ALS is reasonably likely to predict a benefit for patients. But panelists stopped short of advocating for a full approval, voting 3-5 against (with one abstention) and largely citing the failed pivotal study.

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Alaa Halawa, executive director at Mubadala’s US venture group

The ven­ture crew at Mubadala are up­ping their biotech cre­ation game, tak­ing care­ful aim at a new fron­tier in drug de­vel­op­ment

It started with a cup of coffee and a slow burning desire to go early and long in the biotech creation business.

Wrapping up a 15-year discovery stint at Genentech back in the summer of 2021, Rami Hannoush was treated to a caffeine-fueled review of the latest work UCSF’s Jim Wells had been doing on protein degradation — one of the hottest fields in drug development.

“Jim and I have known each other for the past 15 years through Genentech collaborations. We met over coffee, and he was telling me about this concept of the company that he was thinking of,” says Hannoush. “And I got immediately intrigued by it because I knew that this could open up a big space in terms of adding a new modality in drug discovery that is desperately needed in pharma.”

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Chat­G­PT with phar­ma da­ta de­buts for med­ical meet­ings, be­gin­ning with AACR

What do you get when you combine ChatGPT generative AI technology with specific pharma and clinical datasets? A time-saving tool that can answer questions about medical conference abstracts and clinical findings in seconds in one new application from ZoomRx called FermaGPT.

ZoomRx is debuting a public version of its generative AI product specifically for medical conferences beginning this week for the upcoming American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting that runs April 14-19.

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Quince Ther­a­peu­tics faces takeover bid from share­hold­er Echo Lake Cap­i­tal

A bid to take over the biotech Quince Therapeutics has been put forward by one of its shareholders.

On Tuesday, Echo Lake Capital sent a letter to Quince’s board of directors putting forth a proposal to acquire all the biotech’s stock for $1.60 per share, which would value a takeover at around $58 million.

In the letter, Echo Lake said that it believes Quince’s stock is severely undervalued and that no drugs are being actively marketed or developed that require cash expenditures. It’s trading below the value of its assets, Echo Lake said.

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Flare Therapeutics biochemists Yong Li (L) and Valerie Vivat

A $123M Flare will get Third Rock on­col­o­gy biotech in­to the clin­ic this year

Flare Therapeutics will start its first human trial this year with an investigational urothelial cancer drug after pulling together a $123 million Series B from Big Pharmas, VCs and its incubator, Third Rock Ventures.

Launched in 2021 on the idea that a biotech could finally succeed at drugging the much-sought-after but stubborn transcription factor, Flare Therapeutics said Wednesday it is now primed for the clinic after closing its large financing haul earlier this year. The raise is a relatively stark figure in a tough startup financing environment but further buoys the upbeat signals coming out of other Third Rock biotechs in recent weeks, including the $200 million CARGO Therapeutics and $100 million Rapport Therapeutics rounds.

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Sanofi, Re­gen­eron boast PhI­II win with Dupix­ent in COPD, clear­ing first bar for ex­pan­sion

Dupixent, the blockbuster anti-inflammatory drug from Sanofi and Regeneron, has cleared a high-stakes Phase III study in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the companies announced Thursday morning.

If they hold up in a second, identical trial, the data pave the way for Dupixent to become the first biologic to treat patients whose COPD remains uncontrolled despite being on maximal standard-of-care inhaled therapy — the patient population studied in the pivotal program. The companies had spotlighted this as a key readout as they look to expand the Dupixent franchise and explore its full potential.

Genen­tech to stop com­mer­cial man­u­fac­tur­ing at Cal­i­for­nia head­quar­ters

Genentech is halting commercial manufacturing at its California headquarters — and laying off several hundred employees.

The move is the result of a decision Genentech made in 2007 to relocate manufacturing operations from its South San Francisco headquarters location to other facilities or move the work to CDMOs, said Andi Goddard, Genentech’s SVP of quality and compliance for pharmaceutical technical operations, in an interview with Endpoints News. Genentech has made changes in capabilities and invested more in technology, so it doesn’t need as many large-scale manufacturing facilities as it did in the past, she said.

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In­cyte wins ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for PD-1 in rare skin can­cer

Incyte touted an accelerated approval for its PD-1 retifanlimab in a rare skin cancer on Wednesday, roughly a year and a half after the drug suffered a rejection in squamous cell carcinoma of the anal canal (SCAC).

Retifanlimab, marketed as Zynyz, was approved for metastatic or recurrent locally advanced Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a fast-growing skin cancer typically characterized by a single, painless nodule. It’s roughly 40 times rarer than melanoma, according to the nonprofit Skin Cancer Foundation — but incidence is growing, particularly among older adults, Incyte said in its announcement.