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. 

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Pfiz­er’s Doug Gior­dano has $500M — and some ad­vice — to of­fer a cer­tain breed of 'break­through' biotech

So let’s say you’re running a cutting-edge, clinical-stage biotech, probably public, but not necessarily so, which could see some big advantages teaming up with some marquee researchers, picking up say $50 million to $75 million dollars in a non-threatening minority equity investment that could take you to the next level.

Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Gilead re­leas­es an­oth­er round of murky remde­sivir re­sults

A month after the NIH declared the first trial on remdesivir in Covid-19 a success, Gilead is out with new results on their antiviral. But although the study met one of its primary endpoints, the data are likely to only add to a growing debate over how effective the drug actually is.

In a Phase III trial, patients given a 5-day dose of remdesivir were 65% more likely to show “clinical improvement” compared to an arm given standard-of-care. The trial, though, gave little indication for whether the drug had an impact on key endpoints such as survival or time-to-recovery. And in a surprising twist, a 10-day dosing arm of remdesivir didn’t lead to a statistically significant improvement over standard of care.

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Ken Frazier, AP Images

Why Mer­ck wait­ed, and what they now bring to the Covid-19 fight

Nicholas Kartsonis had been running clinical infectious disease research at Merck for almost 2 years when, in mid-January, he got a new assignment: searching the pharma giant’s vast libraries for something that could treat the novel coronavirus.

The outbreak was barely two weeks old when Kartsonis and a few dozen others got to work, first in small teams and then in a larger task force that sucked in more and more parts of the sprawling company as Covid-19 infected more and more of the globe. By late February, the group began formally searching for vaccine and antiviral candidates to license. Still, while other companies jumped out to announce their programs and, eventually and sometimes controversially, early glimpses at human data, Merck remained silent. They made only a brief announcement about a data collection partnership in April and mentioned vaguely a vaccine and antiviral search in their April 28 earnings call.

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Mark Genovese (Stanford via Twitter)

Gilead woos fil­go­tinib clin­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tor from Stan­ford to lead the charge on NASH, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases

With an FDA OK for the use of filgotinib in rheumatoid arthritis expected to drop any day now, Gilead has recruited a new leader from academia to lead its foray into inflammatory diseases.

Mark Genovese — a longtime Stanford professor and most recently the clinical chief in the division of immunology and rheumatology — was the principal investigator in FINCH 2, one of three studies that supported Gilead’s NDA filing. In his new role as SVP, inflammation, he will oversee the clinical development of the entire portfolio.

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Stephen Isaacs, Aduro president and CEO (Aduro)

Once a high fly­er, a stag­ger­ing Aduro is auc­tion­ing off most of the pipeline as CEO Stephen Isaacs hands off the shell to new own­ers

After a drumbeat of failure, setbacks and reorganizations over the last few years, Aduro CEO Stephen Isaacs is handing over his largely gutted-out shell of a public company to another biotech company and putting up some questionable assets in a going-out-of-business sale.

Isaacs —who forged a string of high-profile Big Pharma deals along the way — has wrapped a 13-year run at the biotech with one program for kidney disease going to the new owners at Chinook Therapeutics. A host of once-heralded assets like their STING agonist program partnered with Novartis (which dumped their work on ADU-S100 after looking over weak clinical results), the Lilly-allied cGAS-STING inhibitor program and the anti-CD27 program out-licensed to Merck will all be posted for auction under a strategic review process.

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Federico Mingozzi (Spark)

Spark touts an­i­mal da­ta for a so­lu­tion to AAV gene ther­a­py's an­ti­body prob­lem

Among all the limitations of using an adeno-associated virus as a vector to deliver a gene — still the most established modality in gene therapy given years of trial and error and finally success — the presence of neutralizing antibodies, whether pre-existing or induced, looms large.

“When I think about the immune responses in AAV, I try to sort of layer them,” Federico Mingozzi, the CSO at Spark Therapeutics, told Endpoints News. “The antibody is the first layer. It’s the first block that you find when you’re trying to do gene transfer.”

Hill­house re­casts spot­light on Chi­na's biotech scene with $160M round for Shang­hai-based an­ti­body mak­er

Almost two years after first buying into Genor Biopharma’s pipeline of cancer and autoimmune therapies, Hillhouse Capital has led a $160 million cash injection to push the late-stage assets over the finish line while continuing to fund both internal R&D and dealmaking.

The Series B has landed right around the time Genor would have listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, according to plans reported by Bloomberg late last year. Insiders had said that the company was looking to raise about $200 million.

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Fangliang Zhang (Imaginechina via AP Images)

The big mon­ey: Poised to make drug R&D his­to­ry, a Chi­na biotech un­veils uni­corn rac­ing am­bi­tions in a bid to raise $350M-plus on Nas­daq

Almost exactly three years after Shanghai-based Legend came out of nowhere to steal the show at ASCO with jaw-dropping data on their BCMA-targeted CAR-T for multiple myeloma, the little player with Big Pharma connections is taking a giant step toward making it big on Wall Street. And this time they want to seal the deal on a global rep after staking out a unicorn valuation in what’s turned out to be a bull market for biotech IPOs — in the middle of a pandemic.

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