Syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy pi­o­neer Syn­thorx re­cruits Cleave's Lau­ra Shawver for top po­si­tion

Promi­nent biotech ex­ec­u­tive Lau­ra Shawver is tak­ing the helm at Syn­thorx, a lit­tle-known start­up blaz­ing the trail for syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy — a field that promis­es to shake up drug de­vel­op­ment.

Lau­ra Shawver

In Shawver, Syn­thorx is get­ting an ex­pe­ri­enced leader who may be able to take the tiny biotech out of rel­a­tive ob­scu­ri­ty. Her ap­point­ment, which be­gins im­me­di­ate­ly, gives her the ti­tles of pres­i­dent, CEO and di­rec­tor. Shawver’s prob­a­bly best known for her role in snag­ging Cleave Bio­sciences a size­able in­fu­sion of cash with its re­cent $37 mil­lion Se­ries B. The com­pa­ny, found­ed in 2010, is de­vel­op­ing can­cer treat­ments via pro­tein degra­da­tion in­hibitors.

Syn­thorx will like­ly need some fresh cap­i­tal of its own. The com­pa­ny raised $10 mil­lion last Ju­ly to fund pre­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in ar­ti­fi­cial pro­teins. Syn­thorx has lofty am­bi­tions of cre­at­ing en­tire­ly new ther­a­peu­tic pro­teins and pep­tides by tin­ker­ing with the col­lec­tion of amino acids used by na­ture to build them. The com­pa­ny’s tech is based on land­mark re­search by Scripps’ Floyd Romes­berg, which Syn­thorx hopes to use to make im­proved pro­tein ther­a­peu­tic can­di­dates (which the com­pa­ny calls “Syn­thorins”).

“We are all stoked to now move to the next phase demon­strat­ing that Syn­thorins can help pa­tients in a way not pre­vi­ous­ly pos­si­ble,” Shawver said in a state­ment. “It is tru­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary tech­nol­o­gy that we in­tend to trans­form in­to break­through drugs, and I am look­ing for­ward to work­ing with the Syn­thorx team to do just that.”

Be­fore Cleave, Shawver was an en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence for 5AM Ven­tures, CEO and di­rec­tor of Phe­nomix Cor­po­ra­tion, and pres­i­dent of Sug­en (ac­quired by Phar­ma­cia). Shawver has been in­volved with a num­ber of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment pro­grams in­clud­ing two FDA-ap­proved ther­a­pies.

Jay Lichter

Syn­thorx has stayed most­ly qui­et since los­ing its last chief ex­ec­u­tive ear­li­er this year. Court Turn­er, a well-known ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist at Aval­on Ven­tures, held the CEO job from the com­pa­ny’s 2014 in­cep­tion un­til his de­par­ture in Au­gust.

Syn­thorx is a port­fo­lio com­pa­ny of Aval­on, where Turn­er was a long­time part­ner. Aval­on’s in­cu­ba­tor-like ven­ture stu­dio, COI Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, funds and man­ages sev­er­al biotech star­tups un­der its wing. But when he left Aval­on, Turn­er ab­di­cat­ed lead­er­ship po­si­tions at the com­pa­ny’s port­fo­lio firms as well.

Aval­on’s man­ag­ing part­ner Jay Lichter said the com­pa­ny was on the hunt for Turn­er’s re­place­ment back in Au­gust.

Shawver’s ap­point­ment is some­what un­usu­al for an Aval­on-backed start­up. Lichter’s hall­mark is to cre­ate small com­pa­nies based on promis­ing re­search, back them with Aval­on mon­ey, house them in COI, and lead the star­tups him­self. Some­times an­oth­er Aval­on part­ner will sit as CEO, split­ting time be­tween mul­ti­ple com­pa­nies.

But Lichter said Syn­thorx had out­grown the VC nurs­ery, and need­ed a full-time CEO to take the helm.

“You can’t do an IPO or a big ven­ture raise with a part-time CEO boot­strapped across three or four com­pa­nies,” Lichter tells me. “The tech has had a ma­jor in­flec­tion, and as a re­sult we need full-time A-team tal­ent to run the com­pa­ny.”

I asked Lichter how tiny Syn­thorx at­tract­ed “A-team” tal­ent. Af­ter all, Cleave was well-cap­i­tal­ized and ad­vanc­ing an ex­cit­ing pipeline.

“She fell in love with the tech­nol­o­gy,” Lichter said.


Am­ber Tong con­tributed to this re­port.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

David Meline (file photo)

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David Meline took a little off the top of his salary when he jumped from the CFO post at giant Amgen to become the numbers czar at the upstart vaccines revolutionary Moderna. But the SEC filing that goes with a major hire also illustrates how it puts him in line for a fortune — provided the biotech player makes good as a promising game changer.

To be sure, there’s nothing wrong with the base salary: $600,000. Or the up-to 50% annual cash bonus — an industry standard — that comes with it. True, the 62-year-old earned $999,000 at Amgen in 2019, but it’s the stock options that really count in the current market bliss for all things biopharma. And there Meline did well.

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Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

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Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

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Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

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David Meline, incoming Moderna CFO

Am­gen vet David Meline finds a new CFO roost at Mod­er­na, tak­ing a ride on the Covid-19 tiger as de­part­ing ex­ec cash­es out with $12M

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David Meline, who forged his rep during a 6-year run at Amgen, slipped out the exit right after his Q2 “retirement” party in California — presumably virtual — and started the next chapter of his career at a biotech company betting big on revolutionizing the vaccine R&D space.

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