Take­da part­ners with an up­start drugs-from-bugs mi­cro­bio­me play­er in­spired by a fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion biz


Back when Mark Smith was work­ing on his PhD at MIT about 6 years ago, his girl­friend’s cousin was in­fect­ed with C.diff. Af­ter 7 re­oc­cur­rences fol­low­ing treat­ment with van­comycin, though, the cousin fi­nal­ly beat it by get­ting a fe­cal trans­plant, with his room­mate as the donor.

That in­ci­dent both in­trigued him and in­spired Smith’s first jump in­to a start­up, Open­Bio­me, which us­es screened fe­cal sam­ples for a more sys­tem­at­ic ap­proach in cre­at­ing a safe, re­li­able sup­ply of trans­plants to a grow­ing mar­ket.

Smith’s sec­ond start­up was a nat­ur­al ex­ten­sion of the first ven­ture: Finch Ther­a­peu­tics, a mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­ny which is de­vel­op­ing new drugs-from-bugs — an ap­proach which has helped in­spire a ros­ter of star­tups over the last two years. And to­day, the low-pro­file biotech — which has mush­roomed overnight in Somerville, MA in­to a 65-em­ploy­ee com­pa­ny that’s deeply en­gaged in man­u­fac­tur­ing work and fo­cus­ing on two de­vel­op­ment pro­grams – is un­veil­ing its first in­dus­try part­ner­ship.

Take­da, the Japan­ese phar­ma com­pa­ny with a grow­ing Boston R&D op­er­a­tion, is pay­ing $10 mil­lion up front on a very ear­ly-stage deal to part­ner on FIN-524, a pre­clin­i­cal pro­gram for IBD.

Work­ing with col­leagues at MIT, Smith has been work­ing on a “suite of al­go­rithms to ap­ply to da­ta on fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion, to re­verse en­gi­neer ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies, then iden­ti­fy with com­pu­ta­tion­al ap­proach­es which bugs dri­ve clin­i­cal re­spons­es.”

“The core of our com­pa­ny is built around hu­man-first dis­cov­ery,” says Smith. While ri­vals look to an­i­mal mod­els to val­i­date their ideas, Finch li­censed a data­base de­rived from 22,000 pa­tients at Open­Bio­me dosed with fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion. If they see an in­ter­est­ing phe­no­type, they can “se­quence the sam­ple, look at the or­gan­isms gen­er­at­ing a re­sponse, and go back to the freez­er and pull the strain.”

You start with some­thing that works, like fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion, says Smith, and then work back­wards to get a drug. That is how they came up with the lead pro­gram for C.diff, now head­ed in­to a Phase II study.

Why 65 work­ers at this stage? Smith ex­plains that 40 staffers in­volved in man­u­fac­tur­ing at Open­Bio­me came over to the spin­out.

Ten mil­lion dol­lars isn’t a huge amount of cash in the biotech busi­ness. But Smith has man­aged to start a com­pa­ny and get in­to pipeline build­ing with­out hand­ing over a lot of eq­ui­ty to the VCs. He start­ed with an­gel mon­ey, then raised $5.5 mil­lion in an A round, and is now work­ing on a siz­able se­ries B. That $10 mil­lion from Take­da — along with an un­de­fined pack­age of mile­stones — goes a long way to fund their growth.

The Take­da pro­gram prob­a­bly has two-and-a-half to three years to go be­fore they hit the clin­ic, Smith adds, tar­get­ing ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Mar­ket­ingRx roundup: No­var­tis re­cruits NFL coach for Leqvio cam­paign; Pfiz­er pro­motes ‘Sci­ence’ merch on so­cial me­dia

Novartis is turning to a winning coach to talk about Leqvio and the struggles of high cholesterol — including his own. Bruce Arians, the retired NFL head coach of the Arizona Cardinals and Super Bowl-winning Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is partnering with the pharma for its “Coaching Cholesterol” digital, social and public relations effort.

In the campaign, Arians talks about the potential for “great comebacks” in football and heart health. Once nicknamed a “quarterback whisperer,” he is now retired from fulltime coaching (although still a front-office consultant for Tampa Bay), and did a round of media interviews for Novartis, including one with People and Forbes.

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Amy West, Novo Nordisk head of US digital innovation and transformation (Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News)

Q&A: No­vo Nordisk dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion chief Amy West dis­cuss­es phar­ma pain points and a health­care 'easy but­ton’

Amy West joined Novo Nordisk more than a decade ago to oversee marketing strategies and campaigns for its US diabetes portfolio. However, her career path shifted into digital, and she hasn’t looked back. West went from leading Novo’s first digital health strategy in the US to now heading up digital innovation and transformation.

She’s currently leading the charge at Novo Nordisk to not only go beyond the pill with digital marketing and health tech, but also test, pilot and develop groundbreaking new strategies needed in today’s consumerized healthcare world.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Christophe Bourdon, Leo Pharma CEO

Leo Phar­ma looks 'be­yond the skin' in atopic der­mati­tis aware­ness cam­paign

As Leo Pharma aims to take on heavyweight champ Dupixent in atopic dermatitis, the company is launching “AD Days Around the World,” an awareness campaign documenting real patient stories across Europe.

The project, unveiled on Monday, spotlights four patients: Marjolaine, Laura, Julia and África from France, Italy, Germany and Spain, respectively, in short video clips on the challenges of living with AD, the most common form of eczema.