Alpna Seth (Nura Bio)

Three years af­ter leav­ing Bio­gen, Alp­na Seth takes the spot­light with $73M for her neu­ro start­up

When Alp­na Seth re­turned to the US from Eu­rope in 2017 — where she was tasked with set­ting up Bio­gen’s biosim­i­lars busi­ness from the ground up — she knew she was ready to leave her 19-year tenure be­hind and lead her own start­up as CEO. Once she land­ed in the Bay Area, she called George Scan­gos, her just-re­tired boss.

“He said, ‘You know, I’m set­ting up Vir,’” she re­called. “We have a lot of mon­ey, you have ex­pe­ri­ence set­ting up new busi­ness­es — why don’t you come join me as chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer?”

By the time she left, Vir had grown to 200 staffers and ac­quired 3 com­pa­nies to con­struct a pipeline months be­fore a pan­dem­ic would strike. De­spite the lit­tle de­tour in in­fec­tious dis­ease, though, neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases still oc­cu­pied a spe­cial place in her mind as she be­gan search­ing for a biotech to lead. Hav­ing spear­head­ed the de­vel­op­ment and com­mer­cial­iza­tion of the top-sell­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis drug Tec­fidera, Seth took the “mas­sive” need for new treat­ments to heart.

Nu­ra Bio, as it turned out, was the one.

Near her 1-year an­niver­sary with the com­pa­ny, Seth is pulling the cur­tain on the sci­ence that at­tract­ed her — plus $73 mil­lion in Se­ries A cash to ad­vance it in pre­clin­i­cal work.

Con­ceived by The Col­umn Group in 2018, Nu­ra Bio was found­ed on break­throughs in ax­on­al de­gen­er­a­tion by Marc Free­man of Ore­gon Health & Sci­ence Uni­ver­si­ty and Steven McK­night of UT South­west­ern.

“Neur­al cells are so in­ter­est­ing,” she said. Ax­ons or nerve fibers, in par­tic­u­lar, can be as long as a me­ter in some cas­es. “Can you imag­ine like one cell that long? It’s like an elec­tric wire, so it has high ac­tion po­ten­tial, and very vul­ner­a­ble to dam­age. Ax­on de­gen­er­a­tion and neu­ronal loss con­nect­ed with that are re­al­ly the ear­ly hall­marks of many pe­riph­er­al, cen­tral, oc­u­lar ner­vous sys­tem dis­eases.”

So how do you halt ax­on­al de­gen­er­a­tion ear­ly? Free­man’s lab found the NAD hy­dro­lase SARM1 was a ax­on-death fac­tor, and knock­ing it out con­fers both struc­tur­al and func­tion­al preser­va­tion.

Drug­gable with small mol­e­cules, the tar­get lends it­self to a “tru­ly di­rect­ly act­ing neu­ro­pro­tec­tive” ther­a­py, Seth said. In a sense it’s al­so a teas­er for the pipeline of new tar­gets that they haven’t dis­closed.

But go­ing ear­ly in a dis­ease — Nu­ra hasn’t elab­o­rat­ed on which ones it’s go­ing af­ter — al­so means find­ing and con­vinc­ing reg­u­la­tors of bio­mark­ers that can mea­sure the ef­fec­tive­ness of its drugs. That would be a key part of the work for the team of around 30 lead­ing in­to the clin­ic, some­thing that still lies in a some­what dis­tant fu­ture.

At the same time, it’s cru­cial ground­work for the com­pa­ny that Seth is look­ing to build: a leader an­swer­ing the call to a field lit­tered with fail­ures and the ghosts of phar­ma com­pa­nies that have pulled out of neu­ro­science. And in ad­di­tion to The Col­umn Group, she has Sam­sara Cap­i­tal and Eu­clid­ean Cap­i­tal by her side to get there.

“Our hope is that tak­ing these nov­el ap­proach­es based on some re­cent break­throughs in our un­der­stand­ing that the time is now,” she said. “We are quite hope­ful, al­though one can nev­er be sure un­til it’s ful­ly test­ed.”

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; 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.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Eef Schimmelpennink, Lenz CEO (Business Wire)

A re­place­ment for read­ing glass­es? An RA, Ver­sant-backed start­up thinks its eye­drops could solve far­sight­ed­ness

The brain trusts at RA Capital and Versant Ventures have developed an eye for winners in the red-hot biotech space, but every once in a while a candidate comes along with so much potential it makes for an obvious investment. That’s what the partners think they’ve found in San Diego biotech looking to challenge reading glasses for farsightedness.

Lenz Therapeutics launched its rebrand from Presbyopia Therapies with a $47 million Series A and backing from RA and Versant to advance its late-stage-ready small molecule for farsightedness, a market where the biotech thinks it could have a shot at 120 million US patients and 2 billion around the world, the company said.