Thiel-backed Az­i­tra rais­es $3M for skin mi­cro­bio­me R&D; Crushed by clin­i­cal fail­ure, Avi­ra­gen launch­es strate­gic re­view

Travis Whit­fill

→  Farm­ing­ton, CT-based Az­i­tra has raised close to $3 mil­lion in a Se­ries A de­signed to fu­el its re­search on mi­cro­bio­me ther­a­pies for the skin. Seed­ed by Pe­ter Thiel’s Break­out Labs, the com­pa­ny iden­ti­fied a strain of bac­te­ria that can be used in lo­tions to treat con­di­tions like eczema and staph in­fec­tions. Bios Part­ners led the round. “The cur­rent ap­proach of on­ly ad­dress­ing a dis­ease’s symp­toms alone is in­ef­fec­tive, and the mi­cro­bio­me is a nascent area of ground­break­ing sci­ence that has enor­mous po­ten­tial,” said Az­i­tra co-founder Travis Whit­fill. “That’s why we were pas­sion­ate about launch­ing a com­mer­cial or­ga­ni­za­tion that har­ness­es the pow­er of the skin’s own mi­cro­bio­me to de­vel­op a new kind of der­ma­tol­ogy treat­ment. Such treat­ments are po­ten­tial­ly safer, more high­ly tar­get­ed, and work bet­ter with few­er side ef­fects than what’s cur­rent­ly avail­able for of­ten in­tractable con­di­tions.”

→ Cam­bridge, MA-based Sen­tien Biotech­nolo­gies closed a $12 mil­lion Se­ries A in­vest­ment round. The fi­nanc­ing was co-led by Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund USA and BioIn­no­va­tion Cap­i­tal, and joined by Chiesi Ven­tures, MBL Ven­ture Cap­i­tal and Mass Med­ical An­gels. The Se­ries A round will be used to fund ini­tial clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of Sen­tien’s SBI-101 for the treat­ment of acute kid­ney in­jury.

→ At­lanta-based Avi­ra­gen has be­gun a strate­gic re­view af­ter a clin­i­cal fail­ure left the biotech mired in pen­ny stock ter­ri­to­ry. In back-to-back set­backs, Avi­ra­gen Ther­a­peu­tics $AVIR said that its lead drug vapen­davir flunked a Phase IIb in mod­er­ate to se­vere asth­mat­ics with a rhi­novirus in­fec­tion. Every­thing is on the ta­ble, in­clud­ing a merg­er, in-li­cens­ing and an ac­qui­si­tion.

→ A new bill pro­vid­ing tax cred­its for con­tract re­search has been filed in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The leg­is­la­tion, if ever passed, would ben­e­fit CROs.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.

FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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