Laurie Glimcher and Ansbert Gadicke (Justin Knight, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute)

Ty­ing ba­sic sci­ence to spin­outs, Dana-Far­ber de­buts sis­ter funds to­tal­ing $126M with MPM Cap­i­tal

As one of the most pres­ti­gious can­cer in­sti­tutes in the US, Dana-Far­ber has en­joyed con­sid­er­able sup­port for its en­tre­pre­neur­ial pur­suits, spin­ning out about 30 com­pa­nies in the past 12 years.

Bar­rett Rollins

“Now where we’ve al­ways strug­gled — where every can­cer cen­ter strug­gled — is sup­port of ba­sic sci­ence,” Bar­rett Rollins, chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer emer­i­tus, told End­points News.

And then two of its trustees had an idea. What if they tied phil­an­thropy to in­vest­ment in Dana-Far­ber star­tups, re­quir­ing a do­na­tion to ba­sic sci­ence as a con­di­tion for ac­cess­ing its bright­est biotech ven­ture ideas?

Eight years of in­vestor-vet­ting and mod­el-re­fin­ing lat­er, it’s raised $26 mil­lion for the phil­an­thropic fund and set­tled on a gen­er­al part­ner to man­age the “sis­ter” ven­ture fund: MPM Cap­i­tal.

The $100 mil­lion On­col­o­gy In­no­va­tion Fund will com­ple­ment the $1 bil­lion MPM has re­served for on­col­o­gy in­vest­ing, Ans­bert Gadicke, co-founder and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, said. It in­cludes a $400 mil­lion ven­ture cap­i­tal fund and $700 mil­lion crossover fund — with on­col­o­gy sit­ting as the num­ber 1 fo­cus at the firm.

Around half of the fund will go to­ward new spin­outs from Dana-Far­ber that MPM will help launch, he added. All told, he ex­pects to back 15 star­tups with this fund, some of which could be fledg­lings from oth­er aca­d­e­m­ic in­sti­tu­tions or start­ed by fel­low VCs. Six in­vest­ments are al­ready un­der­way.

“We like to have that lev­el of di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion but what still al­lows us to be con­cen­trat­ed and make mean­ing­ful in­vest­ments in each com­pa­ny,” Gadicke said.

MPM has full con­trol over the fund, while Dana-Far­ber — led by Lau­rie Glim­ch­er — is whol­ly re­spon­si­ble for how to spend their phil­an­thropic mon­ey.

Much re­mains to be ex­plored in both ge­net­ic con­trol of can­cer and ear­ly de­tec­tion/pre­ven­tion work, ac­cord­ing to Rollins. And then there’s the re­lent­less tide of im­muno-on­col­o­gy — a field that he said Dana-Far­ber pi­o­neered 40 years ago. In fact, the in­sti­tute has pre­vi­ous­ly worked with MPM to pour Ar­lene Sharpe, Gor­don Free­man and Vi­jay Kuchroo’s find­ings in­to CoS­tim Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, lat­er ac­quired by No­var­tis. Tizona Ther­a­peu­tics, the Ab­b­Vie-part­nered biotech that Gadicke de­scribed as the star of the port­fo­lio, is al­so fo­cused on im­munother­a­py.

“The rea­son why that’s such a great ex­am­ple is be­cause the dis­cov­ery of PD-L1 and PD-1 ef­fect by Gor­don were the re­sult of this undi­rect­ed cu­rios­i­ty-dri­ven ba­sic sci­ence which is the tar­get of the phil­an­thropic fund,” Rollins said.

The plan is to of­fer $1 mil­lion grants to two to four such projects each year over the next four to five years, hire a new ju­nior fac­ul­ty mem­ber and pur­chase some ex­pen­sive equip­ment with the rest of the fund.

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

No­var­tis' sec­ond at­tempt to repli­cate a stun­ning can­cer re­sult falls flat

Novartis’ hopes of turning one of the most surprising trial data points of the last decade into a lung cancer drug has taken another setback.

The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Robert Califf (Pablo Martinez Monsivais, AP Images, File)

As buzz on Califf FDA nom heats up, in­dus­try and agency in­sid­ers of­fer a strong nod for the ‘per­fect’ choice

For once in this long, dramatic road to finding a new FDA commissioner, there’s been some continuity. Both CNN and Politico reported this weekend that Rob Califf met with President Biden to discuss the permanent commish role, following earlier news broken by the Washington Post that all signs point to Califf.

Although there may be a few Democrats who continue to grandstand about the dangers of COI (Califf has worked for Verily, sits on the board of Centessa Pharmaceuticals, and has other ties to industry research), with the pandemic ongoing and the need for some kind of continuity at FDA mounting, Califf is likely to meet the same fate as when he first won Senate confirmation in 2016, by a vote of 89-4 — Bernie Sanders and 6 others didn’t vote.

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa USA)

A com­bo of As­traZeneca's Imfinzi and chemo wins where oth­ers have failed in piv­otal bil­iary tract test

Looking to run with the big dogs in the PD-(L)1 class, AstraZeneca’s Imfinzi has a tall hill to climb to compete in an increasingly bustling market. An aggressive combo strategy for the drug has paid off so far, and now AstraZeneca is adding another notch to its belt.

A combo of Imfinzi (durvalumab) and chemotherapy significantly extended the lives of first-line patients with advanced biliary tract cancer over chemo alone, according to topline results from the Phase III TOPAZ-1 study revealed Monday.

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Sean Ianchulev, Eyenovia CEO and CMO

Re­cent court de­ci­sion push­es FDA to re­ject and re­clas­si­fy drug-de­vice com­bo, crush­ing shares

Back in April, the FDA lost a crucial court case in which its broad discretion of regulating medical products that might satisfy the legal definitions of either “drug” and/or “medical device” was sharply curtailed.

In addition to the appeals court ruling that Genus Medical Technologies’ contrast agent barium sulfate (aka Vanilla SilQ) should not be considered a drug, as the FDA had initially ruled, but as a medical device, the agency also was forced to spell out which drugs would transition to devices as a result of the ruling.

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Peter Greenleaf, Aurinia CEO

Af­ter pass­ing on Ac­celeron, Bris­tol My­ers eyes bolt-on ac­qui­si­tion of au­toim­mune spe­cial­ist — re­port

Bristol Myers Squibb is looking to beef up its autoimmune portfolio by scooping up Aurinia Pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg reported.

The recent overtures to Aurinia, relayed by anonymous insiders, came just as Bristol Myers turned down buyout talks with partners at Acceleron — which Merck ultimately struck a deal to acquire for $11.5 billion. Bristol Myers has reportedly decided to cash out on its minority stake, likely bagging $1.3 billion in the process, while keeping the royalty deals on two of Acceleron’s blood disorder drugs.

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So — that pig-to-hu­man trans­plant; Po­ten­tial di­a­betes cure reach­es pa­tient; Ac­cused MIT sci­en­tist lash­es back; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

We’re incredibly excited to welcome Beth Bulik, seasoned pharma marketing reporter, to the team. You can find much of her work in our new Marketing channel — and in her weekly newsletter, Endpoints PharmaRx, which will launch in early November. Add it to your subscriptions here.

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NYU surgeon transplants an engineered pig kidney into the outside of a brain-dead patient (Joe Carrotta/NYU Langone Health)

No, sci­en­tists are not any clos­er to pig-to-hu­man trans­plants than they were last week

Steve Holtzman was awoken by a 1 a.m. call from a doctor at Duke University asking if he could put some pigs on a plane and fly them from Ohio to North Carolina that day. A motorcyclist had gotten into a horrific crash, the doctor explained. He believed the pigs’ livers, sutured onto the patient’s skin like an external filter, might be able to tide the young man over until a donor liver became available.

UP­DAT­ED: Agenus calls out FDA for play­ing fa­vorites with Mer­ck, pulls cer­vi­cal can­cer BLA at agen­cy's re­quest

While criticizing the FDA for what may be some favoritism towards Merck, Agenus on Friday officially pulled its accelerated BLA for its anti-PD-1 inhibitor balstilimab as a potential second-line treatment for cervical cancer because of the recent full approval for Merck’s Keytruda in the same indication.

The company said the BLA, which was due for an FDA decision by Dec. 16, was withdrawn “when the window for accelerated approval of balstilimab closed,” thanks to the conversion of Keytruda’s accelerated approval to a full approval four months prior to its PDUFA date.

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