The End­points 11: Here are some of the most promis­ing star­tups in biotech. And Covid-19 is­n't go­ing to stop them

Quite often when I highlight a private, typically early-stage biotech company for these annual awards, I’m asked what I look for in a company. How do you define an Endpoints 11 company?

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There’s a simple enough answer. First, I look for big ideas among the private biotechs which qualify for review, a swing for the fences. I’m drawn to people who are willing to gamble a chunk of their lives on new drug ideas, and in that regard, the stakes here are huge. Drug development is long and hard, and you could easily be wagering 10 or more years of your life on something. So go big or go home if you aren’t planning to do something transformative.

I want a team directing these projects that have the talent, vigor and knowhow to make it happen. Track records are key and earlier failures can be a big plus — depending on how that played out.

People are always more important than money. That’s a mantra of mine that always earns quick nods in any biotech group. But making sure that a company has enough lucre to make it through to proof of concept, and beyond, is also key to the selection process.

Still, you’ll find companies below that raised a few million to get started, and biotechs that appear to have found the key to Fort Knox. So it’s variable.

And then there’s the noise factor. I want to choose companies that can earn widespread recognition for success — or make a hell of a noise if they fail. None of these companies below will slink off to an anonymous midnight burial if they fall short of victory. They’ll make a noise heard throughout the global industry, and we can all learn from it.

This year, with a pandemic raging around the world, I wanted to focus more on culture than particular assets. Each of these biotechs is sorting out the R&D work, but I want to let the execs reflect more on the most important points of starting a company than the specific program goals in mind. Building companies these days takes some newfound ingenuity, and it’s important to share these points with everyone.

There are some other trends you’ll see reflected in the stories below. The intersection of biotech and Big Pharma is taking on a different tone at times, with an eye to assembling large networks of experts to tackle complex problems. And the inflow of billions of dollars of fresh investment capital allows for a new breed of startup conspiring to sire transformative therapies. That’s not cheap, and success is not guaranteed. But it is always fascinating.

Let me sum up here by noting that the biggest healthcare crisis in 100 years has helped make biotech the place to be, fortunately for all of us. These companies aren’t squandering the opportunity. And that deserves a special shout out all on its own.

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Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

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A new chap­ter in the de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal tri­al ap­proach

Despite the promised decentralized trial revolution, we haven’t yet moved the needle in a significant way, although we are seeing far bolder commitments to this as we continue to experience the pandemic restrictions for some time to come. The vision of grandeur is one thing, but operationalizing and execution are another and recognising that change, particularly mid-flight on studies, is worthy of thorough evaluation and consideration in order to achieve success. Here we will discuss one of the critical building blocks of a Decentralized and Remote Trial strategy: TeleConsent; more than paper under glass, it is a paradigm change and key digital enabler.

CRISPR Ther­a­peu­tics gets a snap­shot of off-the-shelf CAR-T suc­cess in B-cell ma­lig­nan­cies — marred by the death of a pa­tient

Just days after scientific founder Emmanuelle Charpentier shared the Nobel prize for her work on CRISPR/Cas9, CRISPR Therapeutics $CRSP is showing off a snapshot of success in their early-stage study for an off-the-shelf CAR-T approach to CD19+ B cell malignancies — a snapshot marred by the death of a patient who had been given a high dose of the treatment.

Using their gene editing tech, researchers for CRISPR engineered cells from healthy donors into an attack vehicle aimed at cancer, something that has been achieved with great success using patients’ own cells — the autologous approach. But autologous CAR-T is hampered by the more complex vein-to-vein requirement that delays treatment, and now CRISPR Therapeutics along with other players like Allogene are determined to replace the pioneers with CAR-T 2.0.

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Steve Chen, Cellis Therapeutics president and CMO (Cellics)

UC San Diego spin­out award­ed up to $15M for nanosponge de­signed to soak up sep­sis-caus­ing tox­ins

CARB-X, a global partnership looking to spur the development of new antibacterial drugs, is awarding Cellics Therapeutics $3.94 million to do what president and CMO Steve Chen calls “looking at traditional drug development upside down.”

Instead of going after a target directly — in this case bacterial toxins and inflammatory cytokines that cause sepsis — Cellics researchers “flip it around” to examine the host cells being attacked. The UC San Diego spinout then creates what it calls “nanosponges” — nanoparticles cloaked in the fragments of macrophage cell membranes. Chen says the “sponges” are designed to trap the sepsis-causing endotoxins and cytokines on their cell membranes, neutralizing them.

RBC's Bri­an Abra­hams holds a mock ad­comm on Bio­gen's iffy ad­u­canum­ab da­ta — and most of these ex­perts don't see a path to an ap­proval

As catalysts go, few loom larger than the aducanumab adcomm slated for Nov. 6.

With its big franchise under assault, Biogen is betting the ranch that its mixed late-stage Alzheimer’s data can squeak past the experts and regulators and get onto the market. And the topic — after a decade of Alzheimer’s R&D disasters in what still represents the El Dorado of drug markets — remains in the center ring of discussions around late-stage pipeline prospects.

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Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Here's how Bris­tol My­er­s' CEO Gio­van­ni Caforio com­plet­ed a $13B buy­out: He moved fast, upped the bid quick­ly and de­mand­ed every­one to keep up

Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio does not waste time. He also likes everyone around him to keep up.

Anyone reading over the insider account filed with the SEC of the back-and-forth over his $13 billion buyout of MyoKardia $MYOK could reach only one conclusion: The CEO who had willingly crafted a $74 billion Celgene acquisition had found something else he liked — and he was willing to pay a nice premium to get it.

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Roche finds a home for a new, $500M man­u­fac­tur­ing lo­gis­tics hub, promis­ing 500 jobs

Roche is pouring $500 million into its Canadian headquarters in Mississauga, Ontario to set up a new hub that will coordinate logistics for its global supply chain.

Over the 5-year investment, the Swiss pharma giant expects to add 200 jobs over next year and another 300 by the end of 2023.

Introduced as a $190 million global pharmaceutical development site in 2011, the campus currently houses Roche’s Canadian commercial unit as well as product development, global procurement and pharma informatics. The new expansion will see it organize manufacturing across 13 plants and 11 sites, according to FiercePharma.

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Derek Chalmers, Cara Therapeutics CEO

Cara lines up a $440M deal for US rights to its late-stage drug for se­vere itch, with $150M cash on the ta­ble

With plans afoot to file an NDA for what could be its first approved drug, Cara Therapeutics is pivoting its focus to commercialization. And Swiss company Vifor Pharma is willing to surrender up to $440 million to market the candidate in the US.

Cara $CARA CEO Derek Chalmers said an NDA submission is coming this quarter for their intravenous drug Korsuva in chronic kidney disease-associated pruritus (CKD-aP), a severe itching condition. The Stamford, CT-based biotech read out positive topline data from a Phase III pivotal study back in April, and announced plans to approach EMA regulators shortly after filing with the FDA.

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Su­per-se­cre­tive an­ti-ag­ing biotech Cal­i­co tees up the first vis­i­ble clin­i­cal tri­al of an ex­per­i­men­tal drug. And it’s for can­cer?

Over the past 7 years, Calico has been so much more than your average, run-of-the-mill secretive biotech players. It’s a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, to repurpose an old Winston Churchill line dating from the time he confronted the Iron Curtain surrounding Stalin’s thoughts.

Launched by industry legend Art Levinson of Genentech fame, with the infinitely deep pockets of Google for support, one of the few big headlines the anti-aging biotech has sparked focused on a major alliance with AbbVie — a giant outfit that conversely likes to show off its drug prospects whenever it can. Together, they’ve been focused on diseases that limit life span — quite an arc of ailments.

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