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.

In his­toric Covid-19 ad­comm, vac­cine ex­perts de­bate a sea of ques­tions — but of­fer no clear an­swers

The most widely anticipated and perhaps most widely watched meeting in the FDA’s 113-year history ended late Thursday night with a score of questions and very few answers.

For nearly 9 hours, 18 different outside experts listened to public health agencies and foundations present how the United States’ Covid-19 vaccine program developed through October, and they debated where it should go from there: Were companies testing the right metrics in their massive trials? How long should they track patients before declaring a vaccine safe or effective? Should a vaccine, once authorized, be given to the volunteers in the placebo arm of a trial?

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Bo Cumbo, AavantiBio CEO (file photo)

Bo Cum­bo jumps from the top com­mer­cial post at Sarep­ta to the helm of a gene ther­a­py start­up with some in­flu­en­tial back­ers, big plans and $107M

After a 7-year stretch building the commercial team at Sarepta, longtime drug salesman Bo Cumbo is jumping to the entrepreneurial side of the business, taking the helm of a startup that’s got several deep-pocket investors. And he’s not just bringing his experience in selling drugs.

He tells me that when he told Sarepta CEO Doug Ingram about it, his boss got excited about the venture and opted to jump in with a $15 million investment from Sarepta to add to the launch money, alongside 3 of the busiest investors in biotech.

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA gives As­traZeneca the thumbs-up to restart PhI­II Covid-19 vac­cine tri­als, and J&J is prepar­ing to re­sume its study

Several countries had restarted their portions of AstraZeneca’s global Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial after the study was paused worldwide in early September, but the US notably stayed on the sidelines — until now. Friday afternoon the pharma giant announced the all clear from US regulators. And on top of that, J&J announced Friday evening that it’s preparing to resume its own Phase III vaccine trial.

Ul­tragenyx in­jects $40M to grab Solid's mi­crody­s­trophin trans­gene — while side­step­ping the AAV9 vec­tor that stirred up safe­ty fears

Since before Ilan Ganot started Solid Bio to develop a gene therapy for kids like his son, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ultragenyx CEO Emil Kakkis has been watching and advising the former investment banker as he navigated the deep waters of drug development.

Just as Solid is getting back up on its feet after a yearlong clinical hold, Kakkis has decided to jump in for a formal alliance.

With a $40 million upfront, Ultragenyx is grabbing 14.45% of Solid’s shares $SLDB and the rights to its microdystrophin construct for use in combination with AAV8 vectors. Solid’s lead program, which utilizes AAV9, remains unaffected. The company also retains rights to other applications of its transgene.

A top drug pro­gram at Bay­er clears a high bar for CKD — open­ing the door to an FDA pitch

Over the past 4 years, Bayer has been steering a major trial through a pivotal program to see if their drug finerenone could slow down the pace of chronic kidney disease in patients suffering from both CKD as well as Type 2 diabetes.

Today, their team jumped on a virtual meeting hosted by the American Society of Nephrology to offer a solid set of pivotal data to demonstrate that the drug can delay dialysis or a kidney replacement as well as cardio disease, while also adding some worrying signs of hyperkalemia among the patients taking the drug. And they’re hustling it straight to regulators in search of an approval for kidney disease and cardio patients — one of the toughest challenges in the book, as demonstrated by repeated past failures.

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Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz, Bain

Bain ex­ecs Adam Kop­pel and Jef­frey Schwartz line up $125M for their first blank check deal as Wall Street con­tin­ues to em­brace biotech

Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz have jumped into the blank check game, raising $125 million for a stock listing in search of a company.

Their SPAC, BCLS Acquisition Corp, raised $125 million this week, with a line on $25 million more as it scouts for a biotech in search of money and a place on Wall Street.

The two principals at Bain Life Sciences have been on a romp since they set up the Bain operation 4 years ago. Their S-1 spells out a track record of 22 deals totaling $650 million for the life sciences group, which led to 9 IPOs.

Covid-19 roundup: An mR­NA play­er gets a boost out of the lat­est round of an­i­mal da­ta; Phase­Bio pulls the plug on treat­ment tri­al

The big tell for CureVac $CVAC is coming up with a looming early-stage readout on their mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in the clinic. But for now they’ll make do with an upbeat assessment on the preclinical animal data they used to get into the clinic.

Researchers for the German biotech say they got the high antibody titers and T cell activation they were looking for, lining up a hamster challenge to demonstrate — in a simple model — that the vaccine could protect the furry creatures. Like the other mRNA vaccines, the drug sends instructions to spur cells to decorate themselves with the distinctive spike on the virus to elicit an immune response.

Chi­nese in­vestors wa­ger $105M on an IPO-bound biotech look­ing to push RNAi as main­stream can­cer ther­a­py

Shortly after Sirnaomics brought in a $47 million Series C for its small interfering RNA pipeline last year, Patrick Lu — the founder, president and CEO — was asked to outline the scientific advances that will be necessary to make better drugs out of RNA tech.

“The next step in the evolution of RNAi as a leading therapeutic will be the ability to safely target organs outside the liver such as lung, brain, etc,” he had offered. “This will revolutionize disease treatments if the industry can demonstrate similar data sets for non-liver targets as we have seen in liver-based diseases.”

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

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