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.

On the heels of promis­ing MCL da­ta, Kite hus­tles its 2nd CAR-T to the FDA as the next big race in the field draws to the fin­ish line

Three days after Gilead’s Kite subsidiary showed off stellar data on their number 2 CAR-T KTE-X19 at ASH, the executive team has pivoted straight to the FDA with a BLA filing and a shot at a near-term approval.

In a small, 74-patient Phase II trial reported out at the beginning of the week, investigators tracked a 93% response rate with two out of three mantle cell lymphoma patients experiencing a complete response.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 67,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Paul Hudson, Getty Images

UP­DAT­ED: Sanofi CEO Hud­son lays out new R&D fo­cus — chop­ping di­a­betes, car­dio and slash­ing $2B-plus costs in sur­gi­cal dis­sec­tion

Earlier on Monday, new Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson baited the hook on his upcoming strategy presentation Tuesday with a tell-tale deal to buy Synthorx for $2.5 billion. That fits squarely with hints that he’s pointing the company to a bigger future in oncology, which also squares with a major industry tilt.

In a big reveal later in the day, though, Hudson offered a slate of stunners on his plans to surgically dissect and reassemble the portfoloio, saying that the company is dropping cardio and diabetes research — which covers two of its biggest franchise arenas. Sanofi missed the boat on developing new diabetes drugs, and now it’s pulling out entirely. As part of the pullback, it’s dropping efpeglenatide, their once-weekly GLP-1 injection for diabetes.

“To be out of cardiovascular and diabetes is not easy for a company like ours with an incredibly proud history,” Hudson said on a call with reporters, according to the Wall Street Journal. “As tough a choice as that is, we’re making that choice.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 67,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

As­traZeneca joins Mer­ck, Bris­tol-My­ers in Chi­na's check­point race as reg­u­la­tors OK first PD-L1

AstraZeneca has made a stride toward realizing its ambitions in China as regulators greenlight Imfinzi as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer.

In particular, the PD-L1 agent is filling a void for immunotherapies in Stage III unresectable case, the company said, where the cancer has not spread to the rest of the body. It is to be used, with curative intent, in patients whose cancer hasn’t progressed following concurrent platinum-based chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Cor­re­vio is putting it­self up on the auc­tion block af­ter FDA re­view pan­el points to an­oth­er re­jec­tion

For 13 years, the Canadian biotech Correvio tried to get the FDA to accept a heart drug since abandoned by Merck and Astellas. Yesterday, the agency’s outside experts voted 11-2 against approval, all but assuring another rejection for the atrial fibrillation compound vernakalant.

And today Correvio announced that Correvio may soon be no more. The company said it is looking to sell itself as its stock plummets into penny-stock territory $CORV and its potential moneymaker sputters once more.

Psilocybin mushrooms (via The Denver Post)

In a key step for psy­che­del­ic re­search, mag­ic mush­room com­pound clears first clin­i­cal safe­ty hur­dle

Exasperated with the often-ineffective existing slate of antidepressants, COMPASS Pathways set up shop in London 2016 — and made a beeline for psilocybin, the psychoactive ingredient in magic mushrooms.

On Wednesday, the startup said its man-made version of the chemical — which is illegal across geographies in its natural fungi form — had been well-tolerated in an early-stage, placebo-controlled trial in 89 healthy volunteers.

Al­pham­ab On­col­o­gy rounds out HKEX's sec­ond biotech IPO year with $230M raise and high lo­cal in­ter­est

Alphamab Oncology has inspired a surge of local interest in what will likely be the Hong Kong Stock Exchange’s last biotech run of the year, pricing its IPO on the high end of the range and raising over $230 million (HK$1.83 billion).

After rejigging the offering structure and making up to 50% available for enthusiastic local investors, the biotech sold 179.4 million shares at $1.31 (HK$10.2) and saw its stock rise to $1.77 ($13.8) on the first day of trading.

For sale: Long-act­ing PhI­II GLP-1 di­a­betes drug that’s way be­hind ri­vals, now spurned by Sanofi

Almost exactly 4 years ago Sanofi came to the bargaining table with South Korea’s Hanmi bearing $434 million dollars in cash and offering about $4 billion in milestones to in-license their once-weekly GLP-1 injectable. The pact was intended to revive their ailing diabetes division. Instead, it turned into a very expensive grave to mark the end of Sanofi’s R&D ambitions in the field.

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson used efpeglenatide’s demise — while committing to paying hundreds of millions of more dollars to push it through 5 late-stage studies — as a marker of the company’s determination to stay focused on first and best-in-class drugs.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 67,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

What does $6.9B buy these days in on­col­o­gy R&D? As­traZeneca has a land­mark an­swer

Given the way the FDA has been whisking through new drug approvals months ahead of their PDUFA date, AstraZeneca and their partners Daiichi Sankyo may not have to wait until Q2 of next year to get a green light on trastuzumab deruxtecan (DS-8201).

The pharma giant this morning played their ace in the hole, showing off why they were willing to commit to a $6.9 billion deal — with $1.35 billion in a cash upfront — to partner on the drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 67,500+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Parkin­son's trans­plants emerge as stem cell pi­o­neer Jeanne Lor­ing joins R&D race

Jeanne Loring hadn’t studied Parkinson’s in 22 years when she got an email from a local neurologist.

The neurologist, Melissa Houser, didn’t know Loring had ever published on the disease. She was just looking for a stem cell researcher who might hear her out. 

“I think I was just picked out of a hat,” Loring told Endpoints News. 

At a meeting in Loring’s Scripps Research office, Houser and a Parkinson’s nurse practitioner, Sherrie Gould, asked her why there was so much research done in stem cell transplants for other neurodegenerative diseases but not Parkinson’s. They wanted to know if she would work on one.