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. 

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

Am­gen chops 172 more staffers in R&D, op­er­a­tions and sales amid neu­ro­science ex­it, rev­enue down­turn

Neuroscience wasn’t the only unit that’s being hit by a reorganization underway at Amgen. As well as axing 149 employees in its Cambridge office, the company has disclosed that 172 others nationwide, including some from its Thousand Oaks, CA headquarters, are being let go.

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Ahead of strate­gic up­date, new Sanofi CEO mulls op­tions for con­sumer health­care arm — re­ports

Big pharma has made moves to sharpen its focus on developing new medicines, while slow-growing consumer health divisions fall by the wayside. Looks like another large drugmaker is considering a similar move. On Thursday, reports citing sources indicated that Sanofi is reportedly mulling a joint venture, sale, or a public listing of its consumer health arm.

The French group is in discussions for options that could value the division at $30 billion, Bloomberg and Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the matter.

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The triple crown in biotech: An all-or-noth­ing bet on an FDA ap­proval of 3 drugs over 16 months starts to­day

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene deal closed as expected Wednesday evening. And now a new clock has begun to tick down for Celgene shareholders who came away from the deal with CVRs — contingent value rights — worth $9 or nothing. Those CVRs start trading today as $BMYRT.

The new deadline they have is the end of March 2021, a little more than 16 months from now, when Bristol-Myers will need to gain approvals on 3 late-stage drugs it’s picking up in the buyout: Ozanimod and liso-cel (JCAR017) are due up at the end of 2020, with bb2121 deadlined at the end of Q1 in 2021.

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Genap­sys fi­nal­ly un­veils vaunt­ed se­quencer, but can it dent Il­lu­mi­na?

Hesaam Esfandyarpour holds what looks like a mini-cooler up to the computer screen in his California office.

Esfandyarpour is in his late-30s, with crows feet creeping up against a youthful face. He wears a gray polo and the device in his hand — with its hard plastic-looking shell, blue-and-white pattern, and a white plastic paddle resembling a handle jutting out the front — might contain diced strawberries and peanut-butter sandwiches to meet mom and the kids at a SoCal park. Instead, Esfandyarpour tells me it’s going to change medicine and biopharma research.

UP­DAT­ED: Make that 2 ap­proved RNAi drugs at Al­ny­lam af­ter the FDA of­fers a speedy OK on ul­tra-rare dis­ease drug

Seventeen years into the game, Alnylam’s pivot into commercial operations is picking up speed.
The bellwether biotech $ALNY has nabbed their second FDA OK for an RNAi drug, this time for givosiran, the only therapy now approved for acute hepatic porphyria. This second approval came months ahead of the February deadline — even after winning priority review following their ‘breakthrough’ title earlier.
AHP is an extremely rare disease, with some 3,000 patients in Europe and the US, not all diagnosed, and analysts have projected peak revenue of $600 million to $700 million a year. The drug will be sold as Givlaari.

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David Ricks. Eli Lilly

Eli Lil­ly touts $400M man­u­fac­tur­ing ex­pan­sion, 100 new jobs to much fan­fare in In­di­anapo­lis — even though it's been chop­ping staff

Eli Lilly is pouring in $400 million to beef up manufacturing facilities at its home base of Indianapolis. The investment, which was lauded by the city’s mayor, is expected to create 100 new jobs.

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Brii Bio backs in­fec­tious dis­ease start­up while ink­ing deal for its lead TB drug, dou­bling down on an­tibi­otics

Almost two years after leaving GSK to launch Brii Bio with a whopping $260 million in funding, Zhi Hong is seeing the trans-Pacific infectious disease specialist he set out to build take shape.

“Our pipeline is coming together,” he told Endpoints News, with 12 partnered assets plus some internal programs.

As its latest partner, AN2 Therapeutics, comes into the limelight for the first time with a $12 million seed round, so is Brii’s plans in the antibiotics space. Brii has obtained China rights to AN2’s antibacterial targeting mycobacterium tuberculosis for multi-drug resistant TB, which it says is in the clinical stage.

No­var­tis, Bay­er, Long­wood back ge­nomics start­up to speed search for im­munother­a­py tar­gets

Nearly a century passed between the first proto-immunotherapy attempts in cancer — crude and obscure but nonetheless with some scientific basis — and Jim Allison’s first T cell paper. Thirty-plus years flipped between the discovery of CTLA-4 as an off-switch and the approval of Yervoy. Twenty-two rolled between PD-1’s isolation and Opdiva and Keytruda. 

Longwood co-founder Lea Hachigian is betting she can hasten that. It’s a bet on newly established single-cell genomic analysis tech and the ability to crunch endless troves of data at a rate few others can, and investors including Leaps by Bayer and Novartis Venture Fund just put $39 million behind it. They call it Immunitas.