Trou­bled poop-test­ing start­up uBio­me an­nounces plans for liq­ui­da­tion

Your fa­vorite, fun-lov­ing, poop-test­ing, bac­te­ria-div­ing, un­der fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion, bank­rupt start­up with the pos­si­bly fun­da­men­tal­ly flawed sci­ence is — alas — shut­ting down.

uBio­me has filed to con­vert its Chap­ter 11 bank­rupt­cy in­to a Chap­ter 7 liq­ui­da­tion, all but spelling the end for a once soar­ing com­pa­ny that part­nered with re­searchers at Har­vard and Stan­ford and wooed Sil­i­con Val­ley in­vestors, but ul­ti­mate­ly found it­self ow­ing po­ten­tial­ly hun­dreds of mil­lions to health­care com­pa­nies, lay­ing off half of its staff and un­der fed­er­al in­ves­ti­ga­tion for its billing prac­tices.

The news comes bare­ly a year af­ter the com­pa­ny an­nounced an $83 mil­lion fund­ing round and the hir­ing of for­mer No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez to head a new R&D arm in Cam­bridge, MA.

What went wrong?

From their 2012 crowd-sourced found­ing un­til the first lay­offs came this Jan­u­ary, it seemed Ubio­me could do no wrong. They were 23andMe for your gut, a young com­pa­ny with young, telegenic founders of­fer­ing a warm face to a hot new sci­ence. They promised to map your mi­cro­bio­me, the 3-pound bac­te­r­i­al ecosys­tem sci­en­tists on­ly re­cent­ly dis­cov­ered had wide im­pacts on your health, from di­ges­tion to men­tal health. Their web­site home page sent “A warm wel­come to you. And your 39 tril­lion bac­te­ria.”

Their pre­mier ser­vice was Ex­plor­er. Orig­i­nal­ly priced at $400, it of­fered to test your stool sam­ple and give back all sorts of health-re­lat­ed ad­vice. Since then, they’ve widened their fo­cus to in­clude vagi­nal health and STDs women face.

But while their blog of­fered fun tips about di­et, sleep and “could your sum­mer fling change your mi­cro­bio­me?” some re­searchers were sound­ing alarms. They of­fered the same warn­ing re­searchers gave about 23andMe’s first for­ays in­to health-re­lat­ed ad­vice: It’s too soon and the sci­ence isn’t there. (23andMe has since gained FDA ap­proval for sev­er­al health-re­lat­ed ser­vices).

Ian Lip­kin Co­lum­bia

“I don’t think we know enough yet about the mi­cro­bio­me to be able to ad­vice peo­ple as to how they should mod­i­fy their di­et or change their lifestyles based on a kit of this sort,” Co­lum­bia epi­demi­ol­o­gist Ian Lip­kin told The At­lantic’s James Ham­blin in a 2016 video, of­fer­ing a 10-year time­frame for when the sci­ence will be ready.

In that video, uBio­me told the quite svelte Ham­blin that based on his test that he had the mi­cro­bio­me of an over­weight, de­pressed man. He did not con­firm the de­pres­sion sug­ges­tion.

The first sign of trou­ble came in Jan­u­ary, when the start­up cut 55 jobs out of its 300-per­son work­force, re­port­ed­ly to fo­cus on drugs and part­ner­ships. In May, founders Jes­si­ca Rich­man and Zac Apte were placed on leave as the FBI be­gan an in­quiry in­to the com­pa­ny’s billing process. This sum­mer, Busi­ness In­sid­er re­port­ed the com­pa­ny had laid off half its staff and that its sci­ence may have been flawed from the start.

They filled for Chap­ter 11 at the be­gin­ning of Sep­tem­ber. Court doc­u­ments re­vealed they may owe hun­dreds of mil­lions to health­care com­pa­nies, BI re­port­ed.

Jan Hatzius (Photographer: Christopher Goodney/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

When will it end? Gold­man econ­o­mist gives late-stage vac­cines a good shot at tar­get­ing 'large shares' of the US by mid-2021 — but the down­side is daunt­ing

It took decades for hepatitis B research to deliver a slate of late-stage candidates capable of reining the disease in.

With Covid-19, the same timeline has devoured all of 5 months. And the outcome will influence the lives of billions of people and a multitrillion-dollar world economy.

Count the economists at Goldman Sachs as optimistic that at least one of these leading vaccines will stay on this furiously accelerated pace and get over the regulatory goal line before the end of this year, with a shot at several more near-term OKs. That in turn should lead to the production of billions of doses of vaccines that can create herd immunity in the US by the middle of next year, with Europe following a few months later.

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UP­DAT­ED: No­vavax her­alds the lat­est pos­i­tive snap­shot of ear­ly-stage Covid-19 vac­cine — so why did its stock briefly crater?

High-flying Novavax $NVAX became the latest of the Covid-19 vaccine players to stake out a positive set of biomarker data from its early-stage look at its vaccine in humans.

Their adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine was “well-tolerated and elicited robust antibody responses numerically superior to that seen in human convalescent sera,” the company noted. According to the biotech:

All subjects developed anti-spike IgG antibodies after a single dose of vaccine, many of them also developing wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses, and after Dose 2, 100% of participants developed wild-type virus neutralizing antibody responses. Both anti-spike IgG and viral neutralization responses compared favorably to responses from patients with clinically significant COVID‑19 disease. Importantly, the IgG antibody response was highly correlated with neutralization titers, demonstrating that a significant proportion of antibodies were functional.

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Sean Nolan and RA Session II

Less than 3 months af­ter launch, the AveX­is crew’s Taysha rais­es $95M Se­ries B. Is an IPO next?

The old AveXis team is moving quickly in Dallas.

Three months ago, they launched Taysha with $30 million in Series A funding and a pipeline of gene therapies out of UT Southwestern. Now, they’ve announced an oversubscribed $95 million Series B. And the biotech is declining all interview requests on the news, the kind of broad silence that can indicate an IPO is in the pipeline.

Biotechs, including those relatively fresh off launch, have been going public at a frenzy since the pandemic began. Investors have showed a willingness to put upwards of $200 million to companies that have yet to bring a drug into the clinic. Still, if Taysha were to go public in the near future, it would be perhaps the shortest path from launch to IPO in recent biotech memory.

RA, No­var­tis back Gen­tiBio's seed round, plans to launch de­vel­op­ment of En­gTreg ther­a­pies

Boston, MA-based startup GentiBio landed a $20 million seed fund from three investors to dive into engineered regulatory T cell (EngTreg) development.

Marquee investors OrbiMed, Novartis Venture Fund and RA Capital Management have backed GentiBio’s mission to develop EngTregs for the treatment of autoimmune, alloimmune, autoinflammatory, and allergic diseases. Unlike other companies studying treatments using a patient’s own Tregs, GentiBio plans to make use of CD4+ immune cells, found in the blood.

J&J gets a fresh OK for es­ke­t­a­mine, but is it re­al­ly the game-chang­er for de­pres­sion Trump keeps tweet­ing about?

Backed by an enthusiastic set of tweets from President Trump and a landmark OK for depression, J&J scooped up a new approval from the FDA for Spravato today. But this latest advance will likely bring fresh scrutiny to a drug that’s spurred some serious questions about the data, as well as the price.

First, the approval.

Regulators stamped their OK on the use of Spravato — developed as esketamine, a nasal spray version of the party drug Special K or ketamine — for patients suffering from major depressive disorder with acute suicidal ideation or behavior.

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Paul Laikind, ViaCyte CEO

Stem cell play­er Vi­a­Cyte ex­pands col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gore to de­vel­op sub­cu­ta­neous di­a­betes treat­ment

Longtime stem cell player ViaCyte has teamed up with a materials science company in an effort to solve immunosuppression challenges and advance its type 1 diabetes treatments.

Expanding on an existing collaboration, ViaCyte and W.L. Gore have agreed to combine the biotech’s PEC-Encap candidate with a Gore-produced membrane in what they hope will eliminate the need for immunosuppressive drugs. Such treatments have created foreign body responses in the past, and stamping these reactions out is the main goal, ViaCyte CEO Paul Laikind said.

My­ovant lands a fresh $200M loan as FDA mar­ket­ing de­ci­sion looms; Amarin goes it alone in Eu­rope

Myovant is getting ready to roll out its commercial operations to back relugolix, now under FDA review for prostate cancer.

The startup has added a fresh $200 million in support from Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma, which controls a majority of the stock $MYOV. Sumitomo is handing the cash over as a loan, bringing its total to $600 million. Myovant — which is gearing up for a showdown with AbbVie — has also filed an NDA to sell relugolix for uterine fibroids and recently posted positive late-stage data for endometriosis.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a prospec­tive moth­er­lode of Covid-19 vac­cine rev­enue — will a back­lash fol­low?

Moderna shows no sign of slowing down, or turning charitable when it comes to pricing supplies of its Covid-19 vaccine.

One of the leaders in the Phase III race to get a Covid-19 vaccine across the finish line in record time, Moderna says it’s on track to complete enrollment in one of the most avidly watched studies in the world next month. And the biotech has already banked some $400 million in deposits for vaccine supply as it works through negotiations with countries around the world — as CEO Stéphane Bancel sets out to hire a commercial team.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J and BAR­DA agree to $1 bil­lion for 100 mil­lion dos­es; Plas­ma re­duces mor­tal­i­ty by 50% — re­ports

J&J has become the latest vaccine developer to agree to supply BARDA with doses of their Covid-19 vaccine, signing an agreement that will give the government 100 million doses in exchange for $1 billion in funding.

The agreement, similar to those signed by Novavax, Sanofi and AstraZeneca-Oxford, provides funding not only for individual doses but to help J&J ramp up manufacturing. Pfizer, by contrast, received $1.95 billion for the doses alone. Still, if one looked at each agreement as purchase amounts, J&J’s deal would be $10 per dose, slotting in between Novavax’s $16 per dose and AstraZeneca’s $4 per dose.

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