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.

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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