Torque takes tu­mor tech out of stealth with $25M back­ing, new CEO

Torque Ther­a­peu­tics and its high-pro­file C-suite is step­ping out of stealth to an­nounce a $25 mil­lion round, bankrolled by biotech start­up crew Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing.

Re­porters scooped the news back in Au­gust when Torque filed reg­u­la­to­ry pa­per­work sig­nal­ing fundrais­ing ef­forts. The pa­per­work caught the eye of biotech writ­ers due to the star-stud­ded ex­ec­u­tive staff.

Bart Hen­der­son

The co-founders in­clude Bart Hen­der­son, the for­mer pres­i­dent of Rhythm Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals (which just snagged $120 mil­lion by go­ing pub­lic); Ul­rik Nielsen, the founder and for­mer CSO of Mer­ri­mack; and Thomas Lars An­dresen, head of mi­cro- and nan­otech­nol­o­gy at Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Den­mark.

The com­pa­ny’s top ex­ec­u­tives ap­pear to be play­ing a round of mu­si­cal chairs. Nielsen, who joined Torque as its CEO back in 2015, is leav­ing that post to serve in­stead as pres­i­dent. And Hen­der­son, who joined Torque as pres­i­dent ear­li­er this year, is tak­ing the reins as CEO. It’s like­ly that Hen­der­son is ready to take a more ac­tive role now that Rhythm’s IPO is all wrapped up.

Back when news broke of Torque’s stealthy ac­tiv­i­ties, End­points News re­port­ed the com­pa­ny had raised the first $21 mil­lion of a $35 mil­lion round. Now, the com­pa­ny said it’s de­cid­ed to wrap up that round right at $25 mil­lion to get to work on its pipeline.

Ul­rik Nielsen

To put it mild­ly, the team has some lofty am­bi­tions to rev­o­lu­tion­ize cell ther­a­pies as we know it. The game now is to make bet­ter cell ther­a­pies, ca­pa­ble of mount­ing a fierce at­tack on can­cer cells with a plat­form tech that has im­pli­ca­tions for CAR-T, TCRs, NK cells and anti­gen spe­cif­ic T cells.

Un­til now, Torque has been pret­ty tight-lipped on how their next-gen cell ther­a­py works. But as part of Torque’s com­ing out par­ty, Nielsen and Hen­der­son gave me a peek at the sci­ence dri­ving the com­pa­ny’s pipeline.

Torque’s tu­mor-fight­ing tech

Let’s start with the end goal: ramp­ing up the body’s im­mune sys­tem to fight can­cer di­rect­ly at the site of a sol­id tu­mor.

“We’ve seen spec­tac­u­lar re­sults in on­col­o­gy with CAR-T, and now every­one is won­der­ing how to take that suc­cess to the next lev­el with sol­id tu­mors,” Nielsen said.

Torque’s plan is to stick bio­ther­a­peu­tics to T cells, which are then de­liv­ered di­rect­ly to the tu­mor site. The com­pa­ny’s lead pro­gram, called Deep IL-15, an­chors a growth fac­tor to the T cell, which ac­ti­vates a tiny army of T cells to take down the tu­mor.

At­tempt­ing to boost pop­u­la­tions of T cells with growth fac­tors isn’t a nov­el idea, but so far com­pa­nies have been ad­min­is­ter­ing the growth fac­tors sys­tem­i­cal­ly. That can be a prob­lem, Nielsen said, as “the im­mune sys­tem is ac­ti­vat­ed where it shouldn’t be ac­ti­vat­ed,” pro­mot­ing tox­i­c­i­ty.

Torque’s re­al val­ue is in its abil­i­ty to an­chor these bio­ther­a­peu­tics to T cells, Hen­der­son said. The com­pa­ny is call­ing this tech­nol­o­gy “Deep-Prim­ing,” and the man­u­fac­tur­ing process seems pret­ty straight­for­ward.

“Whether the cells are au­tol­o­gous or al­lo­gene­ic, you take out a vial of Deep IL-15, mix it with the cells, and freeze it,” Nielsen said.

Part­ner­ing prospects and the pipeline

Torque al­ready has three pro­grams in the pipeline that mod­u­late the im­mune sys­tem, tar­get­ing both blood and sol­id tu­mors. Hen­der­son said the com­pa­ny could part­ner that tech­nol­o­gy with an ex­ist­ing im­muno-on­col­o­gy drug, or pair the tech with its own ear­ly-stage check­point in­hibitor.

“Our pro­grams are meant to be syn­er­gis­tic, but the ul­ti­mate vi­sion is that each one will have a dra­mat­ic ther­a­peu­tic ben­e­fit,” Hen­der­son said.

The com­pa­ny is cur­rent­ly pur­su­ing part­ner­ships with play­ers in the im­muno-on­col­o­gy space. In the mean­time, Torque will use its lat­est round of cap­i­tal to ad­vance pro­grams along.

Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing, which has be­come one of the most promi­nent blank-slate ven­ture funds in biotech, chipped in the full $25 mil­lion for Torque’s Se­ries A. Al­though Flag­ship is well known for its start­up in­cu­ba­tor Ven­ture­Labs, Torque was not hatched there, Hen­der­son said.

De­vel­op­ment of the Next Gen­er­a­tion NKG2D CAR T-cell Man­u­fac­tur­ing Process

Celyad’s view on developing and delivering a CAR T-cell therapy with multi-tumor specificity combined with cell manufacturing success
Overview
Transitioning potential therapeutic assets from academia into the commercial environment is an exercise that is largely underappreciated by stakeholders, except for drug developers themselves. The promise of preclinical or early clinical results drives enthusiasm, but the pragmatic delivery of a therapy outside of small, local testing is most often a major challenge for drug developers especially, including among other things, the manufacturing challenges that surround the production of just-in-time and personalized autologous cell therapy products.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

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Large advertisements for the drug Vivitrol decorate the walls of Grand Central Station on June 15, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein via Getty)

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi

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Paul Hudson was on a mission Tuesday morning as he stood up to address Sanofi’s new R&D and business strategy.

Still fresh into the job, the new CEO set out to convince his audience — including the legions of nervous staffers inevitably devoting much of their day to listening in — that the pharma giant is shedding the layers of bureaucracy that had held them back from making progress in the past, dropping the duds in the pipeline and reprioritizing a more narrow set of experimental drugs that were promised as first-in-class or best-in-class.  The company, he added, is now positioned to “go after other opportunities” that could offer a transformational approach to treating its core diseases.

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Novartis said thanks, but no thanks.

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