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.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, oncology R&D, at EUBIO22 (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

Up­dat­ed: As­traZeneca jumps deep­er in­to cell ther­a­py 2.0 space with $320M biotech M&A

Right from the start, the execs at Neogene had some lofty goals in mind when they decided to try their hand at a cell therapy that could tackle solid tumors.

Its founders have helped hone a new approach that would pack in multiple neoantigen targets to create a personalized TCR treatment that would not just make the leap from blood to solid tumors, but do it with durability. And they managed to make their way rapidly to the clinic, unveiling their first Phase I program for advanced tumors just last May.

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Catal­ent to cut about 200 jobs in Mary­land and Texas

Contract manufacturing company Catalent is cutting about 200 jobs in Maryland and Texas, according to WARN notices, trimming back some of its pandemic-era expansion.

The company will cut 77 jobs by Jan. 15 of next year at a cell therapy facility in Webster, TX, just outside of Houston. In Maryland, the company is reducing staff at two locations, with 82 jobs being eliminated at Catalent’s facility in Gaithersburg, and 53 in Rockville. The layoffs go into effect at those locations on Jan. 14.

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Ei­sai’s ex­pand­ed Alzheimer’s da­ta leave open ques­tions about safe­ty and clin­i­cal ben­e­fit

Researchers still have key questions about Eisai’s investigational Alzheimer’s drug lecanemab following the publication of more Phase III data in the New England Journal of Medicine Tuesday night.

In the paper, which was released in conjunction with presentations at an Alzheimer’s conference, trial investigators write that a definition of clinical meaningfulness “has not been established.” And the relative lack of new information, following topline data unveiled in September, left experts asking for more — setting up a potential showdown to precisely define how big a difference the drug makes in patients’ lives.

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Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

Twit­ter dis­ar­ray con­tin­ues as phar­ma ad­ver­tis­ers ex­tend paus­es and look around for op­tions, but keep tweet­ing

Pharma advertisers on Twitter are done — at least for now. Ad spending among the previous top spenders flattened even further last week, according to the latest data from ad tracker Pathmatics, amid ongoing turmoil after billionaire boss Elon Musk’s takeover now one month ago.

Among 18 top advertisers tracked for Endpoints News, only two are spending: GSK and Bayer. GSK spending for the full week through Sunday was minimal at just under $1,900. Meanwhile, German drugmaker Bayer remains the industry outlier upping its spending to $499,000 last week from $480,000 the previous week. Bayer’s spending also marks a big increase from a month ago and before the Musk takeover, when it spent $16,000 per week.

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Vi­a­tris with­draws ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for top­i­cal an­timi­cro­bial 24 years lat­er

After 24 years without confirming clinical benefit, the FDA announced Tuesday morning that Viatris (formed via Mylan and Pfizer’s Upjohn) has decided to withdraw a topical antimicrobial agent, Sulfamylon (mafenide acetate), after the company said conducting a confirmatory study was not feasible.

Sulfamylon first won FDA’s accelerated nod in 1998 as a topical burn treatment, with the FDA noting that last December, Mylan told the agency that it wasn’t running the trial.

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iECURE CEO Joe Truitt and founder Jim Wilson

Jim Wil­son biotech iECURE gets fresh $65M to push pe­di­atric liv­er dis­ease gene ther­a­py in­to the clin­ic

Jim Wilson-founded biotech iECURE has wrapped a $65M Series A extension round to get its lead candidate — a gene replacement therapy for a rare inherited liver disease known as ornithine transcarbamylase deficiency, or OTC — into the clinic.

This round was co-led by Novo Holdings and LYFE Capital, followed by initial investors Versant and OrbiMed as well. In September 2021, iECURE raised a $50 million Series A led by the latter two. The new cash infusion will get iECURE through an initial in-human trial, which CEO Joe Truitt told Endpoints News iECURE hopes to read out in 2024.

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Sana, Codex­is lay off staff, reshuf­fle pipeline in bid to fo­cus cell ther­a­py, en­zyme en­gi­neer­ing work

As its market cap shrinks to a fraction of its heyday, flashy cell therapy startup Sana Biotechnology is laying off 15% of its staffers in a move to rejig the pipeline and restructure the company.

Sana is among a growing group of biotechs that, feeling the weight of a broader market downturn and seeing their shares tumble steadily, are tightening the purse strings and adjusting their focus. Also on Tuesday, Codexis, an enzyme engineering company based in California and now helmed by former Sierra Oncology CEO Stephen Dilly, announced it will reduce the workforce by 18%.

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Tim Walbert, Horizon Therapeutics CEO (via YouTube)

Hori­zon Ther­a­peu­tics in takeover talks with Am­gen, J&J, Sanofi as po­ten­tial buy­ers

Amgen, J&J’s Janssen and Sanofi are all in talks to acquire Horizon Therapeutics, the rare disease biotech disclosed late Tuesday.

Horizon confirmed “highly preliminary discussions” with those companies regarding a potential buyout offer after the Wall Street Journal reported takeover interest.

Although the company — which commands a market cap of close to $18 billion — emphasized that “there can be no certainty that any offer will be made for the Company,” shares $HZNP still surged 31% in after-hours trading to near $103, bringing it to the point where it started the year.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (John Thys/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Pfiz­er CEO un­der fire from UK watch­dog over vac­cine com­ments — re­port

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told the BBC last December that he had “no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favor” of vaccinating 5- to 11-year-olds for Covid-19. Almost a year later, those comments have reportedly landed him in trouble with a UK pharma watchdog.

Children’s advocacy group UsForThem filed a complaint with the UK’s Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) last year accusing Bourla of making “disgracefully misleading” statements during the BBC interview, including one that “Covid in schools is thriving.” At the time, UK regulators had not yet cleared the vaccine for the 5 to 11 age group, though the vaccine did have a positive opinion from the EMA’s human medicines committee.