Trans-At­lantic VC banks $126M to scout start­up ideas out of 'un­der­ven­tured' ar­eas in the UK

The glob­al glut in biotech ven­ture dol­lars is fat­ten­ing more than just the tra­di­tion­al hubs — at least Ep­i­darex Cap­i­tal hopes. The trans-At­lantic fund al­so has $126 mil­lion (£102.1 mil­lion) to prove it.

Sin­clair Dun­lop

Sin­clair Dun­lop and Kyp Siri­nakis, the co-man­ag­ing part­ners, plant­ed their US head­quar­ters just out­side of the NIH in Bethes­da, MD 10 years ago in a di­rect shoutout to the fo­cus on “un­der­ven­tured” ar­eas. For this third, UK-fo­cused fund, the the­sis re­mains the same: to bring scal­able spe­cial­ist life sci­ences cap­i­tal to re­gions where not that many VCs are will­ing to go, at least for seed or Se­ries A deals.

Penn­syl­va­nia, the Car­oli­nas, Flori­da and even Texas are “great ex­am­ples of where you have mul­ti­ple world-class in­sti­tu­tions but ac­tu­al­ly a low­er num­ber of spe­cial­ist VCs tar­get­ing the sec­tor than you had in those lo­ca­tions 10 years ago,” Dun­lop told End­points News. “So the al­most over­con­sol­i­da­tion in­to Boston has opened up op­por­tu­ni­ties in many of these places.”

The same is true for the UK, where the spot­light on the Lon­don-Cam­bridge-Ox­ford Gold­en Tri­an­gle is blind­ing out bright re­searchers in cities like Man­ches­ter, Glas­gow and Leeds. Or Ep­i­darex’s British home of Ed­in­burgh.

World-class sci­ence, af­ter all, comes be­fore every­thing. But find­ing the ideas re­quires dig­ging in, walk­ing the halls of schools and get­ting to know the PIs as well as their young pro­tégés and ris­ing stars to gauge what’s cook­ing.

“It might be rough, it might be raw, but it’s shape­able,” Dun­lop said. “If the sci­ence is fun­da­men­tal­ly sound enough, that’s what we do. We don’t mind rolling up our sleeves and get­ting very in­volved with these aca­d­e­m­ic founders even if there’s not a busi­ness plan in place. We start from scratch, and we’re OK with that.”

Kyp Siri­nakis

He cites two main in­gre­di­ents that are equal­ly cru­cial to mak­ing a re­gion fer­tile soil for star­tups: ac­cess to spe­cial­ist cap­i­tal and ex­pe­ri­enced C-lev­el tal­ent. In many ways, the for­mer can in­flu­ence the lat­ter, both by tap­ping in­to their net­work and by of­fer­ing the as­sur­ance of suf­fi­cient mon­ey to get through the ini­tial work.

With­out them, aca­d­e­m­ic in­ves­ti­ga­tors may find in­dus­try part­ner­ships their best op­tions. An ex­am­ple is the deal Carl June, with whom Ep­i­darex had worked to­geth­er on an ear­li­er com­pa­ny dubbed Max­Cyte, did with No­var­tis, which ul­ti­mate­ly gave birth to the world’s first CAR-T ther­a­py.

“The ques­tion is,” he said, “were there as many com­pa­ny cre­ation op­por­tu­ni­ties com­ing out of that as there could be?”

That could mean more jobs lo­cal­ly, as well as wealth that can be fed back to the re­search work.

Of course, there’s a rea­son why Boston/Cam­bridge and the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area are still un­ri­valed in pop­u­lar­i­ty among the biotech and medtech cir­cles Ep­i­darex trav­els in. There are mer­its in clus­ters, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing a work­force. Avail­abil­i­ty of re­al es­tate al­so varies wide­ly, and some re­gions are short of crit­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture need­ed to grow.

The firm wants to play a role in cre­at­ing that, Dun­lop said, get­ting in­volved in brain­storm­ing for the bioparks in the Man­ches­ter area.

Bot­tom line: “It’s not a fun­da­men­tal gat­ing fac­tor. Ar­guably if there were half a dozen funds like us, even two or three mod­els like us in a lot of these lo­ca­tions, the re­al es­tate will fol­low.”

Hav­ing al­most dou­bled its size from $70 mil­lion in the sec­ond fund, Ep­i­darex wants to cut big­ger checks (to the tune of £2 to £5 mil­lion). It’s al­so cre­at­ed a new in­cu­ba­tor to nur­ture ideas that might grad­u­ate in­to the main port­fo­lio. All told, 12 to 15 deals should come out of the cur­rent fund — the first be­ing a £2.65 mil­lion Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing for Lunac Ther­a­peu­tics, a spin­out from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds.

“One of the rea­sons we are con­ser­v­a­tive is that we want to make sure we have suf­fi­cient re­serves to dou­ble down on the win­ners go­ing for­ward,” he said, hold­ing as much as 200% of the ini­tial bet for fol­low-on rounds when larg­er VCs would chime in.

The British Busi­ness Bank pro­vid­ed a cor­ner­stone in­vest­ment of £50 mil­lion for the fund, while the Uni­ver­si­ties of Ed­in­burgh, Man­ches­ter, Glas­gow and Ab­erdeen, along­side Strath­clyde Pen­sion Fund, have al­so bought in. Sev­er­al un­named glob­al in­vestors are tag­ging along.

Donald and Melania Trump watch the smoke of fireworks from the South Lawn of the White House on July 4, 2020 (via Getty)

Which drug de­vel­op­ers of­fer Trump a quick, game-chang­ing ‘so­lu­tion’ as the pan­dem­ic roars back? Eli Lil­ly and Ab­Cellera look to break out of the pack

We are unleashing our nation’s scientific brilliance and will likely have a therapeutic and/or vaccine solution long before the end of the year.

— Donald Trump, July 4

Next week administration officials plan to promote a new study they say shows promising results on therapeutics, the officials said. They wouldn’t describe the study in any further detail because, they said, its disclosure would be “market-moving.”

— NBC News, July 3

Something’s cooking. And it’s not just July 4 leftovers involving stale buns and uneaten hot dogs.

Over the long weekend observers picked up signs that the focus in the Trump administration may swiftly shift from the bright spotlight on vaccines being promised this fall, around the time of the election, to include drugs that could possibly keep patients out of the hospital and take the political sting out of the soaring Covid-19 numbers causing embarrassment in states that swiftly reopened — as Trump cheered along.

So far, Gilead has been the chief beneficiary of the drive on drugs, swiftly offering enough early data to get remdesivir an emergency authorization and into the hands of the US government. But their drug, while helpful in cutting stays, is known for a limited, modest effect. And that won’t tamp down on the hurricane of criticism that’s been tearing at the White House, and buffeting the president’s most stalwart core defenders as the economy suffers.

We’ve had positive early-stage vaccine data, most recently from Pfizer and BioNTech, playing catchup on an mRNA race led by Moderna — where every little sign of potential trouble is magnified into a lethal threat, just as every advance excites a frenzy of support. But that race still has months to play out, with more Phase I data due ahead of the mid-stage numbers looming ahead. A vaccine may not be available in large enough quantities until well into 2021, which is still wildly ambitious.

So what about a drug solution?

Trump’s initial support for a panacea focused on hydroxychloroquine. But that fizzled in the face of data underscoring its ineffectiveness — killing trials that aren’t likely to be restarted because of a recent population-based study offering some support. And there are a number of existing drugs being repurposed to see how they help hospitalized patients.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

UP­DAT­ED: Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Pfiz­er shares surge on pos­i­tive im­pact of their mR­NA Covid-19 vac­cine — part­nered with BioN­Tech — in an ear­ly-stage study

Pfizer and their partners at the mRNA specialist BioNTech have published the first glimpse of biomarker data from an early-stage study spotlighting the “robust immunogenicity” triggered by their Covid-19 vaccine, which is one of the leaders in the race to vanquish the global pandemic.

Researchers selected 45 healthy volunteers 18-55 years of age for the study. They were randomized to receive 2 doses, separated by 21 days, of 10 µg, 30 µg, or 100 µg of BNT162b1, “a lipid nanoparticle-formulated, nucleoside-modified, mRNA vaccine that encodes trimerized SARS-CoV-2 spike glycoprotein RBD.” Their responses were compared against the effect of a natural, presumably protective defense offered by a regular infection.

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Randy Schatzman, Bolt CEO (Bolt Biotherapeutics)

Bolt Bio­ther­a­peu­tics nabs $93.5M to push Provenge in­ven­tor's new idea deep­er in the clin­ic

A cancer-fighting concept from the inventor of the first cancer vaccine is nearing prime time, and its biotech developer has received a significant new infusion of cash to get it there.

Bolt Biotherapeutics announced a $93.5 million Series C round led by Sofinnova Investments and joined by more than 9 others, including Pfizer Ventures and RA Capital Management. That money will go toward pushing the San Francisco biotech’s platform of innate immune-boosting warheads through its first trial on metastatic solid tumors and into several more.

Josh Cohen, Justin Klee

Armed with pos­i­tive ALS da­ta, Amy­lyx scores $30M in fresh fund­ing to com­plete Alzheimer's PhII

Four years after announcing themselves to the biotech world with a new idea for drugging neurodegeneration, backing by the late Henri Termeer and $5 million from Morningside Venture, the young entrepreneurs at Amylyx are back for round 2.

Morningside continued to lead the $30 million Series B, with participation from Termeer’s widow, Belinda, and other unnamed investors. Having celebrated a topline Phase II win for its lead program in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Amylyx expects the cash to fund talks with regulators as well as a separate trial for the same drug in Alzheimer’s — for which they had just finished enrolling.