Ver­sant-backed Chi­nook gets a $65M launch round for its dis­cov­ery quest in a resur­gent kid­ney field

Ver­sant is once again step­ping off the beat­en track in biotech to see if they can blaze a trail of their own in a field that has looked too thorny to many in­vestors for years.

The ven­ture group and their part­ners at Ap­ple Tree are bring­ing their lat­est cre­ation out of stealth mode to­day. Born in Ver­sant’s In­cep­tion Sci­ences’ Chi­nook Ther­a­peu­tics is bet­ting that its pre­clin­i­cal take on kid­ney dis­ease can get an ear­ly lead among the com­pa­nies start­ing up in the field.

Head­ed by Er­ic Dob­meier, who left his post as COO of Seat­tle Ge­net­ics to take up the life of a biotech en­tre­pre­neur, Chi­nook is pur­su­ing a pipeline of pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams born in the be­lief that a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of bi­ol­o­gy, new tech tools and a sup­port­ive FDA of­fer­ing ac­cel­er­at­ed path­ways is all a new recipe for suc­cess in the pur­suit of pre­ci­sion med­i­cines fo­cused on unique pa­tient pop­u­la­tions.

We don’t know what these drugs are, or specif­i­cal­ly what they are tar­get­ing, yet. But Ver­sant and the Chi­nook team be­lieve they will be in the clin­ic in 2021 when it can say a lot more.

For now, they’re hap­py to stay fo­cused on a resur­gent field lit­tered with the corpses of failed drugs.

Jer­el Davis Ver­sant

“It re­minds me of NASH and liv­er dis­ease 4-plus years ago,” says Ver­sant man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Jer­el Davis. Now phar­ma has be­gun set­ting up its own groups to tack­le the field, and he wants in on the ground floor.

Dob­meier has a $65 mil­lion A round and a team of 25 to lead for­ward. You may re­call that Dob­meier’s first biotech gig out of Seat­tle Ge­net­ics was with a com­pa­ny called Sil­ver­back. But they ex­pe­ri­enced an ear­ly set­back, says the biotech ex­ec, and he ex­it­ed the com­pa­ny — join­ing Chi­nook back in April.

Ver­sant and Ap­ple Tree were joined by Sam­sara Bio­Cap­i­tal on the launch round.

The Ver­sant team has made a habit of try­ing to get an ear­ly jump on emerg­ing R&D fields. That strat­e­gy, which in­volves cre­at­ing dis­cov­ery teams in some off-beat places like Van­cou­ver, in­clud­ed their re­gen­er­a­tive stem cell play Blue­Rock, which Bay­er just bought out at a uni­corn val­u­a­tion.

They’re fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of com­pa­nies like Goldfinch, a Third Rock start­up in the class of 2016 that re­cent­ly teamed with Gilead on its ap­proach to kid­ney dis­ease. That heav­i­ly back-end­ed deal helped in­spire Ver­sant to go deep­er. An­oth­er com­pa­ny in the field is Rea­ta, which was once al­lied with Ab­b­Vie — ahead of a clin­i­cal im­plo­sion that they’ve been work­ing to re­cov­er from. 

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

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UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Vas Narasimhan's 'Wild Card' drugs: No­var­tis CEO high­lights po­ten­tial jack­pots, as well as late-stage stars, in R&D pre­sen­ta­tion

Novartis is always one of the industry’s biggest R&D spenders. As they often do toward the end of each year, company execs are highlighting the drugs they expect will most likely be winners in 2021.

And they’re also dreaming about some potential big-time lottery tickets.

As part of its annual investor presentation Tuesday, where the company allows investors and analysts to virtually schmooze with the bigwigs, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan will outline what he thinks are the pharma’s “Wild Cards.” The slate of five experimental drugs are those that Novartis hopes can be high-risk, high-reward entrants into the market over the next half-decade or so, and cover a wide range of indications.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Feng Tian, Ambrx CEO (Ambrx)

Af­ter 5 qui­et years, a for­mer Scripps spin­out rais­es $200M and an­nounces plans to try again at an IPO

The first time San Diego biotech Ambrx tried to go public in 2014, they failed and the company’s board switched to a radically different strategy: They sold themselves for an undisclosed amount to a syndicate of Chinese investors and pharma companies.

Now, after 5 quiet years, that syndicate has raised a mountain of cash and indicated they’ll soon make another bid to go public.

Earlier this month, Ambrx raised $200 million in what they billed as a crossover round financed by Fidelity, BlackRock, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Invus, Adage Capital Partners and Suvretta Capital Management. It’s the largest amount they’ve ever raised and, according to Crunchbase figures, more than doubles the total amount of VC capital collected since their launch 17 years ago.

The ad­u­canum­ab co­nun­drum: The PhI­II failed a clear reg­u­la­to­ry stan­dard, but no one is cer­tain what that means any­more at the FDA

Eighteen days ago, virtually all of the outside experts on an FDA adcomm got together to mug the agency’s Billy Dunn and the Biogen team when they presented their upbeat assessment on aducanumab. But here we are, more than 2 weeks later, and the ongoing debate over that Alzheimer’s drug’s fate continues unabated.

Instead of simply ruling out any chance of an approval, the logical conclusion based on what we heard during that session, a series of questionable approvals that preceded the controversy over the agency’s recent EUA decisions has come back to haunt the FDA, where the power of precedent is leaving an opening some experts believe can still be exploited by the big biotech.

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Pur­due Phar­ma pleads guilty in fed­er­al Oxy­Con­tin probe, for­mal­ly rec­og­niz­ing it played a part in the opi­oid cri­sis

Purdue Pharma, the producer of the prescription painkiller OxyContin, admitted Tuesday that, yes, it did contribute to America’s opioid epidemic.

The drugmaker formally pleaded guilty to three criminal charges, the AP reported, including getting in the way of the DEA’s efforts to combat the crisis, failing to prevent the painkillers from ending up on the black market and encouraging doctors to write more painkiller prescriptions through two methods: paying them in a speakers program and directing a medical records company to send them certain patient information. Purdue’s plea deal calls for $8.3 billion in criminal fines and penalties, but the company is only liable for a fraction of that total — $225 million.

John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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