Top JP­Mor­gan in­vest­ment banker brings his tal­ents — and con­nec­tions — to the biotech start­up crew on board Flag­ship

Stephen Beren­son had a 33-year run at JP­Mor­gan be­fore he stepped out as vice chair­man of in­vest­ment bank­ing at the be­gin­ning of the year. By his own ac­count, the 57-year-old had tak­en any num­ber of com­pa­nies pub­lic, worked any num­ber of M&A deals.

But he want­ed to do “some­thing com­plete­ly new and com­plete­ly trans­for­ma­tive.”

So to­day you can wel­come him to the biotech world.

Beren­son is Noubar Afeyan’s lat­est top re­cruit at Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing, the start­up ven­ture group that likes to launch 7 or 8 or 9 new plat­form com­pa­nies a year, all of which are look­ing to do some­thing new and com­plete­ly trans­for­ma­tive in biotech.

Flag­ship founder and CEO Noubar Afeyan

The new ex­ec­u­tive part­ner at Flag­ship joins a list of re­cent se­nior part­ner picks with decades of ex­pe­ri­ence: David Ep­stein, the se­nior No­var­tis phar­ma ex­ec who took the first ex­ec­u­tive part­ner po­si­tion at Flag­ship in Jan­u­ary; se­nior part­ner Jim Gilbert joined last year af­ter stints at Bain and Boston Sci­en­tif­ic; and Michael Rosen­blatt, Mer­ck’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer, joined up a year ago as CMO.

“There’s a the­o­ry out there,” says Beren­son, “that biotech­nol­o­gy will be to this cen­tu­ry what in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy was to the last cen­tu­ry. Flag­ship is at the epi­cen­ter of so many fas­ci­nat­ing things.”

These things in­clude mes­sen­ger RNA at biotech uni­corn Mod­er­na and new can­cer meds at Agios.

And that all sounds like “tremen­dous fun” to Beren­son, who as the new ex­ec­u­tive part­ner will now start tak­ing a lead role in the art of cap­i­tal for­ma­tion, biotech style — for Flag­ship as well as its grow­ing list of port­fo­lio biotechs, where you can ex­pect him to start tak­ing board roles and men­tor­ing start­up CEOs.

“What’s in­trigu­ing is how do we take this ecosys­tem with 7 to 9 projects a year and have it be a 10-, 20-, 30-year in­sti­tu­tion,” Afeyan tells me. Get­ting some­one with Beren­son’s ex­pe­ri­ence in the tech in­dus­try fits right in­to that, giv­en the way Flag­ship op­er­ates.

In 80% of the com­pa­nies spawned by Flag­ship, in­clud­ing 35 they’re work­ing with now, adds Afeyan, “we are founders or co-founders and we are de­ploy­ing the first $40 to $50 mil­lion of cap­i­tal. Our role is not buy­ing and sell­ing shares. We own the shares, large­ly cap­i­tal­iz­ing these com­pa­nies like J&J cap­i­tal­izes di­vi­sions, or Mer­ck cap­i­tal­izes a new pro­gram. The re­la­tion­ship doesn’t stay at a board­room lev­el. It fits a long-term part­ner­ship, to help them grow and reach their po­ten­tial.”

That’s why he’s been adding these vet­er­ans from fi­nance and Big Phar­ma, with a dif­fer­ent set of skills and a long-term view of things. When I first queried Afeyan, I not­ed that this didn’t look like your typ­i­cal new ven­ture part­ner hire. His re­sponse:

“Very lit­tle of what we do is what any VC would do or does.”

Afeyan isn’t just pi­o­neer­ing. He’s al­so set­tling new ter­ri­to­ry for what he al­ways hopes will be the long haul. He wants Flag­ship to be a play­er for decades to come, fos­tered by pro­fes­sion­als who have spent decades to get to the top of their pro­fes­sions.

Alice Shaw, Lung Cancer Foundation of America

Top ALK ex­pert and can­cer drug re­searcher Al­ice Shaw bids adieu to acad­e­mia, hel­lo to No­var­tis

Jay Bradner has recruited a marquee oncology drug researcher into the ranks of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research. Alice Shaw is jumping from prestigious posts intertwined through Mass General, Harvard and Dana-Farber to take the lead of NIBR’s translational clinical oncology group.

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Hal Barron, GSK's president of R&D and CSO, speaks to Endpoints News founder and editor John Carroll in London at Endpoints' #UKBIO19 summit on October 8, 2019

[Video] Cel­e­brat­ing tri­al fail­ures, chang­ing the cul­ture and al­ly­ing with Cal­i­for­nia dream­ers: R&D chief Hal Bar­ron talks about a new era at GSK

Last week I had a chance to sit down with Hal Barron at Endpoints’ #UKBIO19 summit to discuss his views on R&D at GSK, a topic that has been central to his life since he took the top research post close to 2 years ago. During the conversation, Barron talked about changing the culture at GSK, a move that involves several new approaches — one of which involves celebrating their setbacks as they shift resources to the most promising programs in the pipeline. Barron also discussed his new alliances in the Bay Area — including his collaboration pact with Lyell, which we covered here — frankly assesses the pluses and minuses of the UK drug development scene, and talks about his plans for making GSK a much more effective drug developer.

This is one discussion you won’t want to miss. Insider and Enterprise subscribers can log-in to watch the video.

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Med­ical an­i­ma­tion: Mak­ing it eas­i­er for the site and the pa­tient to un­der­stand

Medical animation has in recent years become an increasingly important tool for conveying niche information to a varied audience, particularly to those audiences without expertise in the specialist area. Science programmes today, for example, have moved from the piece-to-camera of the university professor explaining how a complex disease mechanism works, to actually showing the viewer first-hand what it might look like to shrink ourselves down to the size of an ant’s foot, and travel inside the human body to witness these processes in action. Effectively communicating a complex disease pathophysiology, or the novel mechanism of action of a new drug, can be complex. This is especially difficult when the audience domain knowledge is limited or non-existent. Medical animation can help with this communication challenge in several ways.
Improved accessibility to visualisation
Visualisation is a core component of our ability to understand a concept. Ask 10 people to visualise an apple, and each will come up with a slightly different image, some apples smaller than others, some more round, some with bites taken. Acceptable, you say, we can move on to the next part of the story. Now ask 10 people to visualise how HIV’s capsid protein gets arranged into the hexamers and pentamers that form the viral capsid that holds HIV’s genetic material. This request may pose a challenge even to someone with some virology knowledge, and it is that inability to effectively visualise what is going on that holds us back from fully understanding the rest of the story. So how does medical animation help us to overcome this visualisation challenge?

Flu Virus (Source: CDC)

FDA ex­pands Xofluza ap­proval as Roche strug­gles to catch loom­ing flu mar­ket

As a potentially powerful flu season looms, so does a big test for Roche and its new flu drug, Xofluza. The Swiss giant just got a small boost in advance of that test as the FDA expanded Xofluza’s indication to include patients at high risk of developing flu-related complications.

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved last October in the US, the first landmark flu drug approval in 20 years and a much-needed green light for a company that had watched its leading flu drug Tamiflu get eaten alive by generics. Like its predecessor, the pill offered a reduction in flu symptoms but not a cure.

EMA backs sev­en ther­a­pies, in­clud­ing Mer­ck­'s Ebo­la vac­cine

The first-ever Ebola vaccine is on the precipice of approval after the European Medicine’s Agency (EMA) backed the Merck product in this week’s roster of recommendations.

The drugmaker $MRK began developing the vaccine, christened Ervebo, during the West African outbreak that occurred between 2014 and 2016, killing more than 11,000.

The current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has shown case fatality rates of approximately 67%, the agency estimated. Earlier this year, the WHO declared the outbreak — which so far has infected more than 3,000 people — a public health emergency of international concern.

Ronald Herb­st fol­lows Med­Im­mune ex­o­dus to Pyx­is CSO post; Jeff God­dard to suc­ceed CEO of AIT Bio­science

→ The outflow of top execs from MedImmune continues to fill the leadership ranks of smaller biotechs. The latest to take off is Ronald Herbst, the head of oncology research, who’s assuming the CSO post at Pyxis Oncology.  

Herbst was part of the old MedImmune organization AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot restructured earlier this year, reorganizing the company and eliminating the storied subsidiary as a separate organization.

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Mi­rati preps its first look at their KRAS G12C con­tender, and they have to clear a high bar for suc­cess

If you’re a big KRAS G12C fan, mark your calendars for October 28 at 4:20 pm EDT.

That’s when Mirati $MRTX will unveil its first peek at the early clinical data available on MRTX849 in presentations at the AACR-NCI-EORTC International Conference on Molecular Targets and Cancer Therapeutics in Boston.

Mirati has been experiencing the full effect of a rival’s initial success at targeting the G12C pocket found on KRAS, offering the biotech some support on the concept they’re after — and biotech fans a race to the top. Amgen made a big splash with its first positive snapshot on lung cancer, but deflated sky-high expectations as it proved harder to find similar benefits in other types of cancers.

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The FDA will hus­tle up an ex­pe­dit­ed re­view for As­traZeneca’s next shot at a block­buster can­cer drug fran­chise

AstraZeneca paid a hefty price to partner with Daiichi Sankyo on their experimental antibody drug conjugate for HER2 positive breast cancer. And they’ve been rewarded with a fast ride through the FDA, with a straight shot at creating another blockbuster oncology franchise.

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Sean Parker, AP

Sean Park­er helps cre­ate a CRISPRed cell ther­a­py 2.0 play — and he’s got a high-pro­file set of lead­ers on the team

You can rack up one more high-profile debut effort in the wave of activity forming around cell therapy 2.0. It’s another appealing Bay Area group that’s attracted some of the top hands in the business to a multi-year effort to create a breakthrough. And they have $85 million in hand to make that first big step to the clinic.

Today it’s Ken Drazan and the team at South San Francisco-based ArsenalBio that are coming from behind the curtain for a public bow, backed by billionaire Sean Parker and a collection of investors that includes Beth Seidenberg’s new venture investment operation based in LA.
Drazan — a J&J Innovation vet with a long record of entrepreneurial endeavors — exited the stage in 2018 when his last mission ended as he stepped aside as president of Grail. It wasn’t long, though, before he was helping out with a business plan for ArsenalBio that revolved around the work of a large group of interconnected scientists supported by the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunology.

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