Howard Liang, Tessera CFO

Tessera Ther­a­peu­tics taps for­mer BeiGene CFO Howard Liang to join race to CRISPR 3.0

A day af­ter Prime Med­i­cines emerged from se­mi-stealth with new CRISPR tech that made even ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Bob Nelsen say “holy crap,” a Cam­bridge, MA-based com­pa­ny with sim­i­lar am­bi­tions in the works is beef­ing up its ex­ec­u­tive suite — start­ing with for­mer BeiGene CFO Howard Liang.

Tessera Ther­a­peu­tics has tapped Liang as its first CFO, in ad­di­tion to sev­er­al oth­er new hires in­clud­ing Mana Ther­a­peu­tics vet Mad­husu­dan Pesh­wa as CTO for cell ther­a­py; Avro­bio alum Bill Querbes as se­nior VP of ther­a­peu­tic dis­cov­ery and trans­la­tion­al sci­ences; and in­sitro’s for­mer head of func­tion­al ge­nomics Ce­cil­ia Cot­ta-Ra­musi­no as se­nior VP of plat­form de­vel­op­ment.

“This is an area in ge­net­ic med­i­cine which ob­vi­ous­ly is very, very ex­cit­ing,” Liang told End­points News. “There are many, many things that can be done that are not en­abled by the cur­rent tools with CRISPR.”

Like Prime, Tessera CEO Ge­of­frey von Maltzahn claims Tessera’s gene writ­ing tech­nol­o­gy can make sub­sti­tu­tions, ad­di­tions and dele­tions to DNA — es­sen­tial­ly turn­ing the hu­man genome in­to a word proces­sor.

Ge­of­frey von Maltzahn

“In par­tic­u­lar, we have been fo­cused on en­gi­neer­ing retro­trans­posons, which write DNA in­to the genome via a process called tar­get primed re­verse tran­scrip­tion,” von Maltzahn said via email.  “This tech­nol­o­gy in­volves RNA-on­ly de­liv­ery and en­ables Tessera to both add new func­tions to the genome and fix dis­ease-caus­ing mu­ta­tions.”

This ap­proach is much dif­fer­ent from CRISPR 1.0, which the CEO com­pared to scis­sors that de­stroy in­va­sive DNA.

Af­ter spend­ing six years at BeiGene, Liang said he was ready for some­thing dif­fer­ent. The CFO got his start as a se­nior sci­en­tist at Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries, then spent a good por­tion of his ca­reer on Wall Street be­fore jump­ing back in­to the in­dus­try. Now he want­ed to do some­thing on the “cut­ting edge of sci­ence.” And he knew the Flag­ship team very well — af­ter all, they are just two floors away from his old of­fice at BeiGene.

“I would say that the team is one of the most im­por­tant at­trac­tions at Tessera,” he said. “This is not just a hot idea, but re­al­ly a lot of great work has been done.”

The team hasn’t yet an­nounced a time­line to the clin­ic (Prime says it’s still years away). But even so, it was able to se­cure a mas­sive $230 mil­lion Se­ries B round back in Jan­u­ary.

When asked if an IPO could be next, Liang re­spond­ed: “We’re for­mu­lat­ing a fi­nanc­ing plan for the com­pa­ny, but  I think we as a com­pa­ny are quite am­bi­tious, so I’m sure we’ll work with part­ners on the cap­i­tal mar­ket,” and added that he’s open to “oth­er means to help fi­nance the com­pa­ny.”

“This is an amaz­ing time for the field of ge­net­ic med­i­cine,” von Maltzahn said. “All of the work be­ing done by Tessera and across the field will re­sult in bet­ter health out­comes for pa­tients around the world.”

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross on Omi­cron: 'It is a grim sit­u­a­tion...we’re go­ing to see a sig­nif­i­cant drop in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy'

Tillman Gerngross, the rarely shy Dartmouth professor, biotech entrepreneur and antibody expert, has been warning for over a year that the virus behind Covid-19 would likely continue to mutate, potentially in ways that avoid immunity from infection and the best defenses scientists developed. He spun out a company, Adagio, to build a universal antibody, one that could snuff out any potential mutation.

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In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Like the flu vac­cine every year, the FDA could move quick­ly on a vari­ant-tar­get­ed Covid vac­cine

In the same way that the FDA signs off on flu vaccines every year without requiring large clinical trials to measure their efficacy, the FDA may employ a similar strategy in authorizing variant-focused versions of the mRNA vaccines.

As the world braces for more data on the latest variant Omicron, which may reduce vaccine efficacy, top vaccine developers like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have promised they can pull together a new vaccine targeted against a specific Covid variant in about 100 days. Since Omicron emerged last week, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J have all said they’ve begun work on Omicron-specific vaccines, if needed.

Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

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What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

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Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

Omi­cron: Re­searchers scram­ble as new coro­n­avirus mu­ta­tion takes flight around the globe — Pfiz­er/BioN­Tech, Mod­er­na vow swift re­sponse

As Americans were waking up for their Black Friday rituals, they were greeted with the news that a new mutation of the Covid-19 virus has appeared and been sequenced — after it caught an international flight to Hong Kong. And two of the leading Covid-19 vaccine developers promised delivery of a new vaccine “within 100 days” if necessary while a third spelled out its 3-prong strategy hours later.

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Nev­er too late: For­bion pitch­es $100M SPAC; Kro­nos Bio re­leas­es ear­ly in­ter­im da­ta on CDK9 in­hibitor

Dutch VC Forbion is hopping on the ever-lengthening SPAC train.

To be led by Jasper Bos, who joined Forbion Growth as a general partner back in May just after the fund closed at $428 million, Forbion European Acquisition will target late-stage opportunities in the life sciences industry in Europe to merge with and bring onto Nasdaq.

Cyril Lesser, senior controller at Forbion, will be the CFO while Bos serves as CEO.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint Medicines CEO

Look­ing past Big Phar­ma ri­vals, Blue­print buys a pre­clin­i­cal biotech for $250M+

J&J’s Rybrevant scored the first approval back in May for a small group of lung cancer patients with a rare EGFR mutation. Despite a swarm of other biopharma companies angling for a piece of that market, Blueprint Medicines is betting nearly $500 million on a candidate it thinks will stand out.

Blueprint is putting down $250 million in cash and another $215 million in biobucks for Lengo Therapeutics and its preclinical non-small cell lung cancer program LNG-451. Though it hasn’t been tested in humans, Blueprint says the candidate was “highly brain-penetrant” in preclinical trials, and has the potential to inhibit all common EGFR exon 20 insertion variants — which are found in just 2% to 3% of NSCLC patients.

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