Tun­ing in: In­ten­si­ty's im­mune-based chemo de­liv­ery tech at­tracts back­ing of British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon

In can­cer treat­ment, chemother­a­py and im­munother­a­py are of­ten seen as com­plete­ly sep­a­rate, if com­ple­men­tary, cat­e­gories of treat­ments. A tiny biotech out of West­port, CT now wants to shake up that par­a­digm — and has just raised $6.5 mil­lion to do so with back­ing from British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon, crowd­fund­ing in­vestor V Cap­i­tal, Bat­ter­son Ven­ture Cap­i­tal and sev­er­al fam­i­ly of­fices.

Lew Ben­der

What In­ten­si­ty Ther­a­peu­tics’ drug de­liv­ery tech al­lows them to do, CEO Lew Ben­der tells me, is to in­ject po­tent drugs di­rect­ly in­to the tu­mor, where they dif­fuse and dis­perse, es­sen­tial­ly at­ten­u­at­ing the can­cer with­out de­stroy­ing the cell sur­face. That makes the can­cer cells “much more rec­og­niz­able and there­fore more anti­genic for recog­ni­tion by the im­mune sys­tem,” un­leash­ing an at­tack not just on the in­ject­ed tu­mor but al­so on non-in­ject­ed ones, he says.

It’s a “physics ap­proach” that can the­o­ret­i­cal­ly tar­get all sorts of sol­id tu­mors, ac­cord­ing to Ben­der, a chem­i­cal en­gi­neer by train­ing who spent the bet­ter part of the last two decades at a drug de­liv­ery com­pa­ny. But it was while he was at the helm of In­ter­leukin Ge­net­ics that he came up with the idea to start his own biotech ven­ture in 2012.

“If you go to ge­nomics con­fer­ences, it’s all about try­ing to get a ge­nom­ic pro­file so you can match a drug, so that you can get a bet­ter re­cep­tor up­take for that drug in­to the tu­mors,” he says, “and I thought, well, if get­ting drugs in­to tu­mors or get­ting drugs in­to can­cer cells is re­al­ly the prob­lem, I know how to do that.”

In­ten­si­ty is start­ing out with INT230-6, a for­mu­la­tion com­bin­ing its “cell pen­e­tra­tion en­hancer mol­e­cule” with the chemo drugs cis­platin and vin­blas­tine.

While Ben­der ini­tial­ly thought his tech could on­ly be used in com­bi­na­tion with check­point in­hibitors, mice ex­per­i­ments sug­gest­ed that the drug alone pro­vid­ed enough stim­u­la­tion to trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse. The monother­a­py is now in Phase I/II; if all goes well with ear­ly read­outs on some of the more re­frac­to­ry tu­mors like pan­cre­at­ic, liv­er and breast can­cer, In­ten­si­ty ex­pects to launch a Phase II with­in a year.

The biotech is still keen to get its hands on a PD-1 — some­thing that Ben­der an­tic­i­pates in the next six to nine months.

“PD-1 is ba­si­cal­ly like a vol­ume di­al on a ra­dio,” he says. “Turn­ing up the di­al, which is what I/O does, doesn’t solve the prob­lem of tun­ing in. We are the tuner of the ra­dio to al­low the im­mune sys­tem to rec­og­nize the can­cer and go af­ter it in a much more ef­fi­cient way with­out as much tox­i­c­i­ty.”

With a “tiny burn rate” — around $3 mil­lion last year — and just three full time em­ploy­ees in­clud­ing him­self, Ben­der says the Se­ries B he’s just raised will fund all that, and then some, all the way through to 2020.

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Tom Barnes (Orna)

The mR­NA era is here. MPM be­lieves the fu­ture be­longs to oR­NA — and Big Phar­ma wants a seat at the ta­ble

If the ultra-fast clinical development of Covid-19 vaccines opened the world’s eyes to the promises of messenger RNA, the subsequent delays in supply offered a crash course on the ultra-complex process of producing them. Even before the formulation and fill-finish steps, mRNA is the precious end product from an arduous journey involving enzyme-aided transcription, modification and purification.

For Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, Gilead’s Kite and Astellas, it’s time to rethink the way therapeutic RNA is engineered.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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Michael Rome (Foresite)

In search of 'house­hold health­care brands of the fu­ture,' Fore­site Cap­i­tal rais­es $969M to sa­ti­ate a tech-heavy ap­petite

Back in April 2018, just before Foresite Capital unveiled its $668 million Fund IV and a strategy to focus on tech-driven life science bets, one of its portfolio companies quietly made an announcement.

Fount Therapeutics, a drug discovery outfit backed by Foresite and Eshelman Ventures, had raised $22 million in Series A cash to hatch several fledgling spinouts. “The first ‘NewCo,’ Kinnate, will be focused on developing precision oncology treatments,” read a press release.

CEO Fabrice Chouraqui (Cellarity)

Flag­ship up­start Cel­lar­i­ty gath­ers $123M to fi­nance its ex­plo­ration of cell be­hav­ior, blaz­ing a new path to build­ing a broad pipeline

Right from the start, the discovery plan at Flagship-spawned Cellarity was to take their cues from cell biology and follow them to new drugs. Rather than start with a target and develop a drug to hit it, they’d use new technology to digitally map cell behavior and then develop new drugs from what they learned.

“Over the past decades it has always been about finding a target, about reducing a disease to a single molecular target,” says Fabrice Chouraqui, the Novartis vet who was recruited to run the operation about 9 months ago. “And that approach has produced thousands of life-saving medicines. Yet, this approach has limitations. A molecular target approach is fine when you talk about a simple disease, but for very complex diseases like neurodegeneration, like metabolic disease, like cancer, you hope to really harness the complexity of human biology.

Masayoshi Son, SoftBank CEO (glen photo/Shutterstock)

Japan's Soft­Bank plots bil­lions in biotech in­vest­ments in move that could keep the val­u­a­tion flood ris­ing — re­port

The valuation crazy train in biotech continues to roll into the new year with more than a dozen companies taking a chance on Nasdaq and money flowing in from all sides. Now, a Japanese institutional investor is reportedly weighing an entry into the market in a big way — will it keep the bitcoin-esque flood rising?

Already a part-time investor in biotech, SoftBank could drop billions of dollars into the industry as part of helmsman Masayoshi Son’s plan to spend around $80 billion of the firm’s own assets, according to a report from Bloomberg citing people familiar with the plan.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

Tal Zaks, Moderna CMO (AP Photo/Rodrique Ngowi, via still image from video)

CMO Tal Zaks bids Mod­er­na a sur­prise adieu as biotech projects $18.4B in rev­enue, plots post-Covid ex­pan­sion

How do you exit a company after six years in style? Developing one of the most lucrative and life-saving products in pharma history is probably not the worst way to go.

Tal Zaks, Moderna’s CMO since 2015, will leave the mRNA biotech in September, the biotech disclosed in their annual report this morning. The company has already retained the recruitment firm Russell Reynolds to find a replacement.

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