The new se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur in the biotech are­na launch­es an­oth­er up­start look­ing to drug RNA

Bill Haney

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Af­ter a life­time of en­tre­pre­neur­ship, Bill Haney has dis­cov­ered how much fun it can be to set up new biotechs.

A year af­ter launch­ing the can­cer start­up Drag­on­fly — al­ly­ing him­self with MIT’s Tyler Jacks and David Raulet out of Berke­ley — he’s now back with his sec­ond up­start called Sky­hawk Ther­a­peu­tics, which is jump­ing in­to the fast-grow­ing new com­pa­ny seg­ment fo­cused on drug­ging RNA with small mol­e­cules.

“Sky­hawk tech­nol­o­gy and in­sight of­fers an en­tire­ly nov­el way to treat a very broad class of dis­eases by en­abling them to tar­get mu­ta­tions in ex­on-splic­ing, (tar­get­ing) loss of func­tion dis­eases,” Haney tells me.

Their first project, which could be in the clin­ic in 2019, ze­roes in on what Haney de­scribes as a pre­vi­ous­ly un­drug­gable onco­gene.

Haney — who is al­so a doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er and chair­man of the green home builder Blu Homes — is tak­ing a leaf from the same play­book he used to launch Drag­on­fly, an­oth­er Boston-area launch that has been work­ing on new tech­nol­o­gy to leapfrog where check­point ther­a­pies are right now, link­ing on­to nat­ur­al killer cells and drag­ging them to a can­cer cell to tack­le a wide range of can­cers.

Like Drag­on­fly, Haney is once again work­ing with a tight-knit group of fam­i­ly of­fice in­vestors like his old friend Tim Dis­ney, who’s come back in on this lat­est ven­ture as well. The Duke of Bed­ford joined the back­ers club, along with Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments and oth­er undis­closed pri­vate in­vestors.

They’ve put up $8 mil­lion in seed cash to get things rolling at Sky­hawk, which has a staff of about 25 and is on its way to its first IND and the clin­ic in about a year.

Like his co-in­vestors, Haney works with peo­ple who are rec­og­nized ex­perts in their field, and whom he trusts im­plic­it­ly to do the right thing.

Kath­leen Mc­Carthy

He first met co-founder Kath­leen Mc­Carthy back when she was a col­lege stu­dent work­ing with AIDS pa­tients in a de­vel­op­ing coun­try. And he’s not in the least bit re­luc­tant to praise her as a “strong mind­ed, fe­ro­cious” young sci­en­tist out to do some­thing com­plete­ly new.

Says Haney: “I have a lot of con­fi­dence in Kath­leen. I would help her in any cir­cum­stance.”

That’s the key to back­ing any­one in biotech, he adds: Con­fi­dence and trust. Once you get that out of the way, he adds, every­one can fo­cus on the sci­ence.

This is the fourth biotech to come out of stealth mode with plans to drug RNA. Michael Gilman got the par­ty start­ed last Feb­ru­ary when he ush­ered Ar­rakis out af­ter more than a year of qui­et­ly set­ting up the plat­form. Then at the be­gin­ning of this month Ex­pan­sion Ther­a­peu­tics had its com­ing out par­ty, dis­play­ing a plat­form with R&D roots in the lab of Scripps’ Matthew Dis­ney (not re­lat­ed to Tim), who’s had a long­time in­ter­est ex­plor­ing the field. Ri­bometrix is al­so in­volved.

Sky­hawk’s work is in­spired by an ex­pe­ri­enced group led by Mc­Carthy, who worked at Roche on the SMA drug RG7916 — now in piv­otal tri­als — with a stint at the Spinal Mus­cu­lar At­ro­phy Foun­da­tion, where she had worked on a small mol­e­cule ther­a­peu­tic tar­get­ing mR­NA-pro­tein in­ter­ac­tions for SMA.

When I talked to Haney Wednes­day morn­ing, he was in Cal­i­for­nia af­ter spend­ing time with Jim Al­li­son in Texas, shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary on the leg­endary sci­en­tist and the I/O rev­o­lu­tion he helped spark.

With two biotechs, ad­di­tion­al ven­tures and a doc­u­men­tary se­ries on can­cer planned, you could say Haney is stay­ing busy. Does he have enough time to squeeze in a third start-up?

He won’t rule it out.

“It’s a maybe,” he says.


Im­age: Bill Haney. Drag­on­fly Ther­a­peu­tics

5AM Ven­tures: Fu­el­ing the Next Gen­er­a­tion of In­no­va­tors

By RBC Capital Markets
With Andy Schwab, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures

Key Points

Prescription Digital Therapeutics, cell therapy technologies, and in silico medicines will be a vital part of future treatment modalities.
Unlocking the potential of the microbiome could be the missing link to better disease diagnosis.
Growing links between academia, industry, and venture capital are spinning out more innovative biotech companies.
Biotech is now seen by investors as a growth space as well as a safe haven, fuelling the recent IPO boom.

Hal Barron, GSK via YouTube

What does $29B buy you in Big Phar­ma? In Glax­o­SmithK­line’s case, a whole lot of un­com­fort­able ques­tions about the pipeline

Talk about your bad timing.

A little over a week ago, GSK R&D chief Hal Barron marked his third anniversary at the research helm by taking a turn at the virtual podium during JP Morgan to make the case that he and his team had built a valuable late-stage pipeline capable of churning out more than 10 blockbusters in the next 5 years.

And then, just days later, one of the cancer drugs he bet big on as a top prospect — bintrafusp, partnered with Merck KGaA — failed its first pivotal test in non-small cell lung cancer.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

End­points poll: Janet Wood­cock takes the (in­ter­im) helm at the FDA. And a large ma­jor­i­ty of our read­ers want her to stay there

It’s official: Janet Woodcock is now the acting chief of the FDA.

And — according to an Endpoints poll — most industry readers would like her to stay there, although a significant minority is strongly opposed.

To recap: Joe Biden is reportedly choosing between Woodcock and former deputy FDA commissioner Joshua Sharfstein as his nominee for the permanent position. Given their respective track records, the decision is set to determine the agency’s lodestar for years to come.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

An Endpoints Zoom meeting; and the email header employees will see if your company is a Premium subscriber

What’s next for End­points — and how to sup­port our in­de­pen­dent bio­phar­ma news mis­sion

The firehose of biopharma news is gushing these days.

That’s why broader and deeper is the theme for 2021 at Endpoints. You can expect new coverage outside our core R&D focus, with deeper reporting in some key areas. When John Carroll and I launched Endpoints nearly five years ago, we were wading in waist-high waters. Now we’re a team of 25 full-time staffers (and growing) with plans to cover the flood of biopharma news, Endpoints-style.

Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein (AP, Images)

Poll: Should Joshua Sharf­stein or Janet Wood­cock lead the FDA from here?

It’s time for a new FDA commissioner to come on board, a rite of passage for Joe Biden’s administration that should help seal the new president’s rep on seeking out the experts to lead the government over the next 4 years.

As of now, the competition for the top job appears to have narrowed down to 2 people: The longtime CDER chief Janet Woodcock and Joshua Sharfstein, the former principal deputy at the FDA under Peggy Hamburg. Both were appointed by Barack Obama.

Fast on Glax­o­SmithK­line's heels, Au­rinia wins OK to steer a sec­ond lu­pus nephri­tis drug straight to the mar­ket

GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta isn’t alone in the small circle of approved lupus nephritis drugs anymore.

Little Aurinia Pharmaceuticals has gotten the green light from the FDA to start marketing its first and only program, voclosporin, under the brand name Lupkynis — something CEO Peter Greenleaf says it’s been ready to do since December.

Regulators went right down to the wire on the decision, keeping the company and the entire salesforce it’s already assembled on its toes.

Charlie Fuchs, Roche and Genentech global head of product development for oncology and hematology (Yale Cancer Center)

Yale can­cer spe­cial­ist Char­lie Fuchs tapped as new glob­al de­vel­op­ment chief for Roche/Genen­tech

Roche and their big sub Genentech have just recruited a top cancer specialist at Yale to head up global product development in oncology and hematology.

I just got word that the pharma giant, which leads one of the most active cancer research operations in the world, recruited Charlie Fuchs, director of the Yale Cancer Center and physician-in-chief of Smilow Cancer Hospital. He’ll join the global operation March 1 and will be based in South San Francisco, where Genentech is based.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Neu­vo­gen un­cloaks with broad plan of at­tack for whole-cell can­cer vac­cines, clin­i­cal hopes with­in the year

After about four stealthy years in the development phase, San Diego-based Neuvogen is emerging with a new approach to whole-cell cancer vaccines and nine solid tumor programs bound for the clinic.

Whole-cell tumor vaccines are developed by taking cancer cells from patients and modifying them to make them immunogenic.

“What’s different from what we do, is most people use one cell line. We use six,” CEO Todd Binder said. From there, the company builds out six modifications to eliminate problematic immunosuppressive factors, and add what the executive called three “stimulatory factors” to generate a prime and overcome peripheral tolerance.

Jonathan Weissman (MIT)

Can a new CRISPR tech­nique un­lock the se­crets of how can­cer spreads?

Jonathan Weissman’s team watched the cancer cells spread across the doomed mouse. Engineered with a bioluminescent enzyme, they appeared in scans first as a small navy blue diamond lodged near the heart; a week later, as a triangle splayed across the mouse’s upper body, with streaks of green and two distinct bright red hubs of activity. By day 54, the mouse resembled a lava lamp.

The images would have been familiar to any cancer biologist, but they didn’t actually tell you much about what was going on: why the cancer was metastasizing or which cells were responsible. For that, Weissman’s team had designed a new tool. Inside the original navy blue diamond, they had engineered the microbiological equivalent of an airplane’s black box — a “molecular recorder” that, after the mouse’s death, could allow them to extract the cells and wind back intimate footage of a single cancer’s ascent.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 98,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.