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.”

Adap­tive De­sign Meth­ods Of­fer Rapid, Seam­less Tran­si­tion Be­tween Study Phas­es in Rare Can­cer Tri­als

Rare cancers account for 22 percent of cancer diagnoses worldwide, yet there is no universally accepted definition for a “rare” cancer. Moreover, with the evolution of genomics and associated changes in categorizing tumors, some common cancers are now characterized into groups of rare cancers, each with a unique implication for patient management and therapy.

Adaptive designs, which allow for prospectively planned modifications to study design based on accumulating data from subjects in the trial, can be used to optimize rare oncology trials (see Figure 1). Adaptive design studies may include multiple cohorts and multiple tumor types. In addition, numerous adaptation methods may be used in a single trial and may facilitate a more rapid, seamless transition between study phases.

Matt Gline (L) and Pete Salzmann

UP­DAT­ED: Roivant bumps stake in Im­muno­vant with a $200M deal. But with M&A off the ta­ble, shares crater

Roivant has worked out a deal to pick up a chunk of stock in its majority-owned sub Immunovant $IMVT, but the stock buy falls far short of its much-discussed thoughts about buying out all of the 43% of shares it doesn’t already own.

Roivant, which recently inked a SPAC move to the market at a $7 billion-plus valuation, has forged a deal to boost its ownership in Immunovant by 6.3 points, ending with 63.8% of the biotech’s stock following a $200 million injection. That cash will bolster Immunovant’s cash reserves, giving it a $600 million war chest to fund a slate of late-stage studies for its big drug: the anti-FcRn antibody IMVT-1401.

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Sanofi preps a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar buy­out of an mR­NA pi­o­neer af­ter falling be­hind in the race for a Covid-19 jab — re­port

It looks like Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson is dead serious about his intention to vault directly into contention for the future of mRNA vaccines.

A year after paying Translate Bio a whopping $425 million in an upfront and equity payment to help guide the pharma giant to the promised land of mRNA vaccines for Covid-19, Sanofi is reportedly ready to close the deal with a buyout.

Translate’s stock $TBIO soared 78% after the market closed Monday. A spokesperson for Sanofi declined to comment on the report, telling Endpoints News that the company doesn’t comment on market rumors.

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UP­DAT­ED: Watch out Glax­o­SmithK­line: As­traZeneca's once-failed lu­pus drug is now ap­proved

Capping a roller coaster journey, AstraZeneca has steered its lupus drug anifrolumab across the finish line.

Saphnelo, as the antibody will be marketed, is the only treatment that’s been approved for systemic lupus erythematosus since GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta clinched an OK in 2011. The British drugmaker notes it’s also the first to target the type I interferon receptor.

Mirroring the population that the drug was tested on in late-stage trials, regulators sanctioned it for patients with moderate to severe cases who are already receiving standard therapy — setting up a launch planned for the end of August, according to Ruud Dobber, who’s in charge of AstraZeneca’s biopharmaceuticals business unit.

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Not all mR­NA vac­cines are cre­at­ed equal. Does it mat­ter?; Neu­ro is back; Pri­vate M&A af­fair; 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.

As part of our broader and deeper drive, Endpoints has been pairing webinars with our special reports to cover more angles on a given topic. In conjunction with Max Gelman’s neuroscience feature, Kyle Blankenship moderated an insightful panel to discuss where the field is headed. You can register to watch it on demand here.

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Bris­tol My­ers pulls lym­phoma in­di­ca­tion for Is­to­dax af­ter con­fir­ma­to­ry tri­al falls flat

Amid an industrywide review of cancer drugs with accelerated approval, Bristol Myers Squibb had to make the tough call last month to yank an approval for leading I/O drug Opdivo after flopping a confirmatory study. Now, a second Bristol Myers drug is on the chopping block.

Bristol Myers has pulled aging HDAC inhibitor Istodax’s indication in peripheral T cell lymphoma after a Phase III confirmatory study for the drug flopped on its progression-free survival endpoint, the drugmaker said Monday.

Rick Pazdur (via AACR)

FDA's on­col­o­gy head Rick Paz­dur de­fends the ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval path­way, claim­ing it is 'un­der at­tack'

The FDA is sounding the alarm over its accelerated approval pathway as backlash continues over the recent nod in favor of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm, and an ODAC meeting on six such approvals that could potentially be pulled from the market — two of which already have.

“Do you think accelerated approval is under attack? I do,” Rick Pazdur, head of FDA’s Oncology Center of Excellence, said at a Friends of Cancer Research webinar on Thursday.

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FTC pulls re­main­ing case against Ab­b­Vie; New EU clin­i­cal tri­als sys­tem com­ing in 2022; Abing­worth bets big on CymaBay

The Federal Trade Commission on Friday withdrew its remaining case against AbbVie after the Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s ruling.

The punt by SCOTUS means that while the Illinois pharma company illegally blocked patients’ access to lower-cost alternatives to its testosterone drug AndroGel, the FTC will no longer be able to return about $500 million directly to AndroGel consumers.

Alan Hirzel, Abcam

Drug sup­pli­er Ab­cam brings a long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor in house as part of $340M buy­out pact

BioVision has supplied Abcam with research tools since 1999, and now the two are making it official as part of a merger unveiled Monday.

Abcam will buyout BioVision as part of a $340 million acquisition deal to bring aboard the supplier’s biochemical and cell-based assays for biological research, as well as recombinant proteins, antibodies and enzymes.

The deal will give Abcam control of BioVision’s portfolio and allow for both the expansion of research existing areas of focus such as oncology, neuroscience and epigenetics and preparation to expand into new products. As a part of the deal, Abcam will develop and supply products and services to NKY, the previous owner of BioVision and receive support for ongoing development and commercialization of in vitro diagnostic products.