Top sci­en­tists and BD ex­ecs craft Cul­li­nan, a $150 mil­lion R&D port­fo­lio shop fo­cused on can­cer

Close to six years ago, then Am­gen R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter told me he had been “car­ry­ing a torch for (CSO) Patrick Baeuer­le at Mi­cromet for a long time.” That ad­mi­ra­tion ex­plains why Perl­mut­ter was will­ing to pay more than a bil­lion dol­lars to buy Mi­cromet — where Baeuer­le was R&D chief — which even­tu­al­ly de­liv­ered the pi­o­neer­ing Blin­cy­to to the mar­ket.

Af­ter a stint at Am­gen, biotech be­ing the kind of project-fo­cused in­dus­try it’s be­come, Baeuer­le be­came a VC at MPM and a start­up mae­stro. And to­day he’s hav­ing a com­ing out par­ty for Cul­li­nan On­col­o­gy, an in­tense­ly project-ori­ent­ed biotech bankrolled with $150 mil­lion to set up a port­fo­lio of can­cer drugs to de­vel­op.

Owen Hugh­es

“It’s a hy­brid; a fund and an op­er­at­ing com­pa­ny,” says Owen Hugh­es, the CEO of Cul­li­nan and a man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of MPM Cap­i­tal, which set the com­pa­ny up. The $150 mil­lion round was co-led by UBS On­col­o­gy Im­pact Fund (OIF) man­aged by MPM and F2 Ven­tures.

Hugh­es knows a thing or two about rais­ing mon­ey. He jumped to this new ven­ture from the biotech uni­corn Intar­cia, where he was un­til re­cent­ly head of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment dur­ing a stretch in which the com­pa­ny raised $1.8 bil­lion. That gave him time to re­fine a “the­o­ry of mod­ern port­fo­lio the­o­ry rel­a­tive to any sci­en­tif­ic plat­form.”

Cul­li­nan’s strat­e­gy is to gath­er to­geth­er large­ly ear­ly-stage can­cer drug as­sets — ei­ther from Baeuer­le’s mind or oth­er sources, such as acad­e­mia or plat­form com­pa­nies — and build up a set of 8 to 10 pro­grams that will be held un­der the um­brel­la group. The team will be charged with the re­search work, de­vel­op­ing these drugs through proof-of-con­cept or in­to Phase II, at which time they can start do­ing some deals and gen­er­at­ing re­turns for the lim­it­ed part­ners.

There are no wet labs at the Cam­bridge, MA-based biotech. Much of the de­vel­op­ment work is be­ing out­sourced. Costs con­tained. Re­turns max­i­mized and risk dis­trib­uted.

“We have no in­ten­tions to com­mer­cial­ize any of the as­sets,” says Hugh­es.

“We’ve looked at every biotech com­pa­ny in the last 15 years,” he adds. “There’s a huge chasm (un­der the Gilead lev­el) be­tween the haves and have nots.” Mar­gins are typ­i­cal­ly low, he says, with com­pa­nies in­vest­ing back in­to R&D.

Hugh­es thinks he and the small, 10-mem­ber team at Cul­li­nan can change those dy­nam­ics.

He and Baeuer­le have some well known tal­ent in their cor­ner.

Corinne Sav­ill

Brig­gs Mor­ri­son, the for­mer CMO at As­traZeneca and cur­rent CEO at Syn­dax, is a clin­i­cal ad­vis­er. Leigh Za­wel, yet an­oth­er se­nior re­searcher to come out of Big Phar­ma af­ter his most re­cent stint run­ning Cen­ters for Ther­a­peu­tic In­no­va­tion for Pfiz­er, is on board. Corinne Sav­ill jumped in from her job as head of BD and li­cens­ing for No­var­tis.

And Hugh­es plans to re­cruit one per­son to run each of the in-house pro­grams.

Cul­li­nan al­ready has three pro­grams, two from Baeuer­le and one from acad­e­mia, which he isn’t quite ready to dis­cuss in any de­tail. Each of these drugs they take on could cost $25 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion to get ready for the next deal.

Norbert Bischofberger. Kronos

Backed by some of the biggest names in biotech, Nor­bert Bischof­berg­er gets his megaround for plat­form tech out of MIT

A little over a year ago when I reported on Norbert Bischofberger’s jump from the CSO job at giant Gilead to a tiny upstart called Kronos, I noted that with his connections in biotech finance, that $18 million launch round he was starting off with could just as easily have been $100 million or more.

With his first anniversary now behind him, Bischofberger has that mega-round in the bank.

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Chas­ing Roche's ag­ing block­buster fran­chise, Am­gen/Al­ler­gan roll out Avastin, Her­ceptin knock­offs at dis­count

Let the long battle for biosimilars in the cancer space begin.

Amgen has launched its Avastin and Herceptin copycats — licensed from the predecessors of Allergan — almost two years after the FDA had stamped its approval on Mvasi (bevacizumab-awwb) and three months after the Kanjinti OK (trastuzumab-anns). While the biotech had been fielding biosimilars in Europe, this marks their first foray in the US — and the first oncology biosimilars in the country.

Seer adds ex-FDA chief Mark Mc­Clel­lan to the board; Her­cules Cap­i­tal makes it of­fi­cial for new CEO Scott Bluestein

→ On the same day it announced a $17.5 million Series C, life sciences and health data company Seer unveiled that it had lured former FDA commissioner and ex-CMS administrator Mark McClellan on to its board. “Mark’s deep understanding of the health care ecosystem and visionary insights on policy reform will be crucial in informing our thinking as we work to bring our liquid biopsy and life sciences products to market,” said Seer chief and founder Omid Farokhzad in a statement.

Daniel O'Day

No­var­tis hands off 3 pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to the an­tivi­ral R&D mas­ters at Gilead

Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day’s new task hunting up a CSO for the company isn’t stopping the industry’s dominant antiviral player from doing pipeline deals.

The big biotech today snapped up 3 preclinical antiviral programs from pharma giant Novartis, with drugs promising to treat human rhinovirus, influenza and herpes viruses. We don’t know what the upfront is, but the back end has $291 million in milestones baked in.

Vas Narasimhan, AP Images

On a hot streak, No­var­tis ex­ecs run the odds on their two most im­por­tant PhI­II read­outs. Which is 0.01% more like­ly to suc­ceed?

Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan is living in the sweet spot right now.

The numbers are running a bit better than expected, the pipeline — which he assembled as development chief — is performing and the stock popped more than 4% on Thursday as the executive team ran through their assessment of Q2 performance.

Year-to-date the stock is up 28%, so the investors will be beaming. Anyone looking for chinks in their armor — and there are plenty giving it a shot — right now focus on payer acceptance of their $2.1 million gene therapy Zolgensma, where it’s early days. And CAR-T continues to underperform, but Novartis doesn’t appear to be suffering from it.

So what could go wrong?

Actually, not much. But Tim Anderson at Wolfe pressed Narasimhan and his development chief John Tsai to pick which of two looming Phase III readouts with blockbuster implication had the better odds of success.

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Francesco De Rubertis

Medicxi is rolling out its biggest fund ever to back Eu­rope's top 'sci­en­tists with strange ideas'

Francesco De Rubertis built Medicxi to be the kind of biotech venture player he would have liked to have known back when he was a full time scientist.

“When I was a scientist 20 years ago I would have loved Medicxi,’ the co-founder tells me. It’s the kind of place run by and for investigators, what the Medicxi partner calls “scientists with strange ideas — a platform for the drug hunter and scientific entrepreneur. That’s what I wanted when I was a scientist.”

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Af­ter a decade, Vi­iV CSO John Pot­tage says it's time to step down — and he's hand­ing the job to long­time col­league Kim Smith

ViiV Healthcare has always been something unique in the global drug industry.

Owned by GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer — with GSK in the lead as majority owner — it was created 10 years ago in a time of deep turmoil for the field as something independent of the pharma giants, but with access to lots of infrastructural support on demand. While R&D at the mother ship inside GSK was souring, a razor-focused ViiV provided a rare bright spot, challenging Gilead on a lucrative front in delivering new combinations that require fewer therapies with a more easily tolerated regimen.

They kept a massive number of people alive who would otherwise have been facing a death sentence. And they made money.

And throughout, John Pottage has been the chief scientific and chief medical officer.

Until now.

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On a glob­al romp, Boehringer BD team picks up its third R&D al­liance for Ju­ly — this time fo­cused on IPF with $50M up­front

Boehringer Ingelheim’s BD team is on a global deal spree. The German pharma company just wrapped its third deal in 3 weeks, going back to Korea for its latest pipeline pact — this time focused on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

They’re handing over $50 million to get their hands on BBT-877, an ATX inhibitor from Korea’s Bridge Biotherapeutics that was on display at a science conference in Dallas recently. There’s not a whole lot of data to evaluate the prospects here.

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Servi­er scoots out of an­oth­er col­lab­o­ra­tion with Macro­Gen­ics, writ­ing off their $40M

Servier is walking out on a partnership with MacroGenics $MGNX — for the second time.

After the market closed on Wednesday MacroGenics put out word that Servier is severing a deal — inked close to 7 years ago — to collaborate on the development of flotetuzumab and other Dual-Affinity Re-Targeting (DART) drugs in its pipeline.

MacroGenics CEO Scott Koenig shrugged off the departure of Servier, which paid $20 million to kick off the alliance and $20 million to option flotetuzumab — putting a heavily back-ended $1 billion-plus in additional biobuck money on the table for the anti-CD123/CD3 bispecific and its companion therapies.