Sammy Farah, Turnstone Biologics CEO

The piv­ot: Turn­stone Bi­o­log­ics opens a new chap­ter with a switch to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment and a new ven­ture round to pay for it

In biotech, most star­tups get about 5 years to get their pre­clin­i­cal act in or­der and jump in­to hu­man stud­ies be­fore the back­ers get restive and start look­ing for the ex­its. At the 2015-found­ed Turn­stone Bi­o­log­ics, they hit that line. But in­stead of los­ing its in­vestors’ in­ter­est, it’s been pick­ing up speed and back­ers.

Now, with a lead on­colyt­ic virus in an ear­ly-stage study and a sec­ond ther­a­py from the TIL side poised for an IND, the team un­der CEO Sam­my Farah has changed the sto­ry to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. And they scored an $80 mil­lion Se­ries D from a broad syn­di­cate to get this new chap­ter un­der way in style.

“Turn­stone evolved, I think, in a more tra­di­tion­al way than the com­pa­nies be­ing de­vel­oped to­day are,” says Farah. “We raised, be­fore this Se­ries D, 3 ven­ture cap­i­tal rounds. And they’ve all been pret­ty mod­est.”

The to­tal was $90 mil­lion for the first 3 years, and they added busi­ness deals — an al­liance with Take­da, which took an eq­ui­ty stake, stands out — for non-di­lu­tive cash.

Now he sees Turn­stone as more of a mo­men­tum sto­ry com­ing out of the rel­a­tive­ly slow ini­tial buildup.

Jer­el Davis

“I think in many ways this was the tra­di­tion­al mod­el,” agrees Ver­sant’s Jer­el Davis, who jumped in­to the game here with the A round in 2015. “Their A, B and C are what you typ­i­cal­ly see in the A to­day. But I think the re­al­i­ty is that the com­pa­ny piv­ot­ed.”

And the busi­ness deals al­lowed the biotech to wait to ad­vance the more promis­ing pro­grams for­ward.

That piv­ot was away from on­colyt­ic virus­es sim­ply as a can­cer vac­cine — a “bru­tal­ly tough” propo­si­tion, in Farah’s words, which af­flict­ed oth­ers in the field — to a new on­colyt­ic virus tech with more of a cut­ting-edge ap­proach that could al­so de­liv­er oth­er ther­a­peu­tics.

The pay­load in­cludes CT­LA-4, FLT3 lig­and and IL-12, on top of the vi­ral ap­proach of in­fect­ing can­cer cells, blow­ing them up and re­cruit­ing im­mune cells to the tu­mor.

Turn­stone looped in the TIL work at the be­gin­ning of the year with the ac­qui­si­tion of Myst Ther­a­peu­tics, which added San Diego to its list of work sites. It didn’t say how much it paid for the com­pa­ny, but it wasn’t like­ly a big sum — at least not up­front. And now Farah and the team see sig­nif­i­cant up­side not just as a sep­a­rate, in­di­vid­ual ap­proach, but al­so com­bined with their on­colyt­ic virus ther­a­py.

Farah al­so be­lieves that they have a bet­ter ap­proach to tu­mor in­fil­trat­ing lym­pho­cytes, mov­ing away from “bulk TILs” to ex­pand­ing larg­er sets of lym­pho­cytes bet­ter suit­ed to the task of at­tack­ing a tu­mor. That’s what they have to prove as clin­i­cal work launch­es be­fore the end of this year.

There have been some changes in the C-suite. CMO Mike Burgess left for Spring­Works — though he re­mains on the board — and the com­pa­ny re­cruit­ed Stew­art Ab­bot from Adicet as CSO.

PFM Health Sci­ences and Point72 led this last round. Ad­di­tion­al new in­vestors Even­tide As­set Man­age­ment, Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal (a Citadel com­pa­ny), Ridge­back Cap­i­tal In­vest­ments, Take­da Ven­tures Inc., CaaS Cap­i­tal, JM Fam­i­ly En­ter­pris­es, Inc., North­leaf Cap­i­tal Part­ners, 404 Bio and an undis­closed in­vestor were joined by ex­ist­ing in­vestors Ver­sant Ven­tures, Or­biMed, F-Prime Cap­i­tal, Sec­toral As­set Man­age­ment, Six­ty De­gree Cap­i­tal, Brace Phar­ma Cap­i­tal and Teralys Cap­i­tal.

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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Anthony Sun, Zentalis and Zentera CEO (Zentalis)

With clin­i­cal tri­als lined up for Zen­tal­is drugs, Chi­na's Zen­tera sets its sights on more deal­mak­ing and an IPO

As Zentalis geared up for an AACR presentation of early data on its WEE1 inhibitor earlier this year, its Chinese joint venture Zentera wasn’t idle, either.

Zentera, which has headquarters in Shanghai, had already nabbed clearance to start clinical trials in China for three of the parent company’s drugs. In May — just a month after Zentalis touted three “exceptional responses” out of 55 patients for their shared lead drug, ZN-c3 — it got a fourth CTA approval.

Thomas Soloway, T-knife CEO

What hap­pens when you give a mouse a hu­man self-anti­gen? In­vestors bet $110M to find out

T-knife Therapeutics launched last August on a mission to isolate T cell receptors not from human donors, but from mice. Now, with a new CEO and a candidate bound for the clinic, the Versant-backed company is reloading with a fresh $110 million.

“What we are trying to do for the field of TCR therapy and solid tumor therapy is very analogous to what the murine platforms have done in antibody development,” CEO Thomas Soloway told Endpoints News. 

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Stéphane Bancel, AP Images

Mod­er­na takes on a low-risk pact with CAR-T play­er Au­to­lus for mR­NA-based can­cer drugs

Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine has transformed the once-backwater biotech into one of the most highly valued drugmakers in the world in the span of a year. But what does the future hold for Moderna’s star turn? A small-scale discovery pact could offer a clue.

Moderna will hold exclusive rights to four mRNA-based immuno-oncology candidates using proprietary binding tech from Autolus, a biotech best known for its work on “off-the-shelf” CAR-T therapies, the partners said Monday.

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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Ipsen con­tin­ues its shop­ping spree with a $1B-plus deal for Ex­i­cure's next-gen oligonu­cleotides

Ipsen has been on a deal-making spree the last few weeks, shelling out more than a billion dollars in two separate deals to work on a mid-stage levodopa-induced dyskinesia (LID) candidate and a preclinical BAX inhibitor in several cancers. But on Monday, the company inked its largest collaboration deal yet.

Ipsen is putting down $20 million upfront and up to $1 billion in biobucks for exclusive options to two of Exicure’s discovery-stage spherical nucleic acid (SNA) treatments for Huntington’s disease and Angelman syndrome.

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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