Ver­sant-backed Tem­pest grabs a $70M round with plans to dri­ve a slate of I/O drugs in­to the clin­ic

The boom­ing can­cer drug R&D field can count one more play­er with some big dreams to pur­sue in im­muno-on­col­o­gy.

San Fran­cis­co-based Tem­pest Ther­a­peu­tics is mak­ing its de­but to­day af­ter land­ing a $70 mil­lion B round, fu­el­ing the work of the start­up team as­sem­bled at Ver­sant Ven­tures — which pro­vid­ed a pre­clin­i­cal pipeline that fea­tures some new con­tenders in some fast-grow­ing nich­es.

At the front of the queue is TPST‐8844, an IDO in­hibitor which will look to make a rep for it­self as In­cyte and Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb push more ad­vanced pro­grams. Then there’s TPST-1120, a PPARα block­er de­signed to in­flame the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment and ac­ti­vates im­por­tant tu­mor‐killing im­mune cells. And they are al­so en­gaged on E‐prostanoid (EP) re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nists, look­ing to in­ter­rupt the im­muno‐sup­pres­sive ef­fects of prostaglandin.

Pep­pi Pr­a­sit

By last count at the Can­cer Re­search In­sti­tute, there were 18 IDO in­hibitors in the clin­ic. To­day’s an­nounce­ment brings the tal­ly to at least 19. But the folks be­hind Tem­pest be­lieve that Pep­pi Pr­a­sit’s dis­cov­ery group at Ver­sant’s In­cep­tion Sci­ences has as­sem­bled a first-class on­col­o­gy pipeline that can still make a splash in crowd­ed fields.

“To be com­pet­i­tive here you had to be a lot bet­ter, it had to be a su­pe­ri­or mol­e­cule,” says Brad Bol­zon, the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at Ver­sant. “We wouldn’t have brought for­ward a pro­gram un­less it could re­al­ly com­pete.”

As for the IDO drug, he says: “We feel pret­ty con­fi­dent that this is go­ing to be a game-chang­ing as­set.”

Tom Duben­sky

Tem­pest turned to Tom Duben­sky — up un­til last Au­gust the chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer at Aduro Biotech— to take the wheel. Duben­sky tells me he’s known the Ver­sant team for years, oc­ca­sion­al­ly help­ing out ad­vis­ing on deals. And he sounds primed and ready to roll as the new CEO.

“I would have been a fool not to jump at the chance,” Duben­sky tells me. The field may be crowd­ed, he says, but the right IDO pro­gram can at­tract plen­ty of pos­i­tive at­ten­tion.

“For those com­pa­nies with­out an IDO,” he says, “there will be a re­al land rush to­ward IDO in­hibitors.”

Duben­sky al­so counts him­self as a big fan of Pr­a­sit’s work at In­cep­tion. “It’s a col­lec­tion of med­i­c­i­nal chemists,” he says, “and they know how to de­vel­op small mol­e­cules.”

The syn­di­cate Ver­sant Ven­tures as­sem­bled in­cludes some big play­ers out of Asia, an in­creas­ing­ly com­mon fea­ture in US rounds — par­tic­u­lar­ly in San Fran­cis­co. The round in­volved F‐Prime Cap­i­tal and Quan Cap­i­tal, with ad­di­tion­al funds com­ing from Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, Fore­site Cap­i­tal and Eight Roads Ven­tures.

Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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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UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.