Elisa Kieback (T-knife)

Ver­sant funds TCR ther­a­py biotech T-knife's $78M+ Se­ries A to boost hu­man­ized T cell mice plat­form

Just a day af­ter an­nounc­ing the for­ma­tion of a start­up in Switzer­land that will de­vel­op al­ter­na­tive TCR cell ther­a­pies, Ver­sant is keep­ing its foot on the gas.

The multi­bil­lion dol­lar life sci­ences VC an­nounced Thurs­day morn­ing it is lead­ing the Se­ries A fund­ing of T-knife, a Ger­man biotech that plans to use its pro­pri­etary hu­man­ized T cell re­cep­tor (HuT­CR) mouse plat­form to treat sol­id tu­mors. T-knife raised about $78.4 mil­lion in the round and hopes to not on­ly de­vel­op its own pipeline but al­so li­cense out its mice for use by oth­er com­pa­nies.

“This plat­form that we have, I would say, is so broad­ly ap­plic­a­ble that we know it has val­ue not on­ly to us but very well give val­ue to oth­er com­pa­nies as well,” CEO Elisa Kieback told End­points News. “So our busi­ness strat­e­gy is, of course, pri­mar­i­ly to de­vel­op our own pipeline of prod­ucts, but at the same time [ap­ply] this plat­form with phar­mas and biotechs to gen­er­ate re­cep­tors for their plat­forms.”

RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment co-led the round, and ex­ist­ing in­vestors An­dera Part­ners and Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

Thomas Blanken­stein

Pri­va­tized re­search is a bit of a new area for Kieback, as T-knife’s plat­form was spun out of an aca­d­e­m­ic set­ting at the Max-Del­bruck Cen­ter with the sup­port of Char­ité Uni­ver­si­ty Hos­pi­tal in Berlin where Kieback worked with pro­fes­sor Thomas Blanken­stein. Blanken­stein, who is al­so a sci­en­tif­ic co-founder of T-knife, pi­o­neered the foun­da­tion for T-knife’s mice be­gin­ning in the ear­ly 2000s, and he and Kieback have since con­duct­ed aca­d­e­m­ic tri­als pri­or to found­ing the com­pa­ny.

As the costs to run those ex­per­i­ments grew, the duo rec­og­nized the need to take the re­search pri­vate. One of the perks of be­ing pri­vate, Kieback said, is that un­der­tak­ing the nec­es­sary tri­als pro­ceeds at a much faster pace than in acad­e­mia.

“We ba­si­cal­ly re­al­ized what the plat­form could do, but we al­so saw how ex­pen­sive cell ther­a­py is to man­u­fac­ture these prod­ucts and bring them to the clin­ic,” Kieback said. “That was around the time we de­cid­ed we need­ed to take this pri­vate, it couldn’t be lim­it­ed as an aca­d­e­m­ic re­search tool be­cause it re­al­ly had po­ten­tial to bring these re­cep­tors and ther­a­pies to pa­tients, and for that we need­ed pri­vate mon­ey.”

While Mat­ter­horn, which Ver­sant un­veiled Wednes­day, deals al­so with TCR ther­a­pies, it does so in a dif­fer­ent man­ner than T-knife in that the for­mer at­tempts to un­der­stand a class of T cells that could specif­i­cal­ly tar­get MR1. T-knife’s mice, mean­while, ex­press on­ly hu­man TCRs that are re­strict­ed to hu­man leuko­cyte anti­gen, or HLA.

T-knife’s lead prod­uct tar­gets MAGE-A1, which be­longs to the group of can­cer/testis anti­gens, in pa­tients with mul­ti­ple myelo­ma. Nor­mal­ly ex­pressed as testis in healthy tis­sue, this pro­tein can some­times be er­ro­neous­ly ac­ti­vat­ed in tu­mor cells.

“It’s an ide­al tar­get be­cause it’s not present in healthy tis­sue apart from testis, and testis can­not be at­tacked by T cells,” Kieback said. “And the oth­er re­al­ly great thing about it is there are many oth­er tu­mor in­di­ca­tions which are hav­ing MAGE-A1 ex­pres­sion, so we can ap­ply this ther­a­py in so many dif­fer­ent ways.”

The fund­ing will give T-knife three years of run­way, Kieback said, and al­low the biotech to fin­ish Phase I tri­als for that lead can­di­date. In ad­di­tion, the com­pa­ny can al­so bring up to three fur­ther pipeline pro­grams in­to Phase I with the cash.

Long-term, the goal is an IPO, but Kieback isn’t think­ing that far ahead just yet.

“The cur­rent plan is of course to set up as a trans-At­lantic com­pa­ny, so maybe that’s how we’ll be in the be­gin­ning,” Kieback said. “That’s al­so one of the rea­sons why we re­al­ly be­lieve we need US in­vest­ments at this stage be­cause we need to set up of­fices in the US and re­cruit man­age­ment, so this is our next step.”

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Tom Barnes, Orna Therapeutics CEO

UP­DAT­ED: 'We have failed to fail': Mer­ck gam­bles $250M cash on a next-gen ap­proach to mR­NA — af­ter punt­ing its big al­liance with Mod­er­na

Merck went in deep on its collaboration with Moderna on new mRNA programs, and dropped them all over time, including their RSV partnership. But after writing off what turned out as one of the most successful infectious disease players in the business, Merck is coming in this morning with a new preclinical alliance — this time embracing a biotech that hopes to eventually outdo the famously successful mRNA in a new run at vaccines and therapeutics.

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Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”

Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Tempus Labs)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs from 2020.

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Joe Jonas (Photo by Anthony Behar/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

So­lo Jonas broth­er car­ries Merz's new tune in Botox ri­val cam­paign

As the lyrics of his band’s 2019 pop-rock single suggest, Joe Jonas is only human — and that means even he gets frown lines. The 33-year-old singer-songwriter is Merz’s newest celebrity brand partner for its Botox rival Xeomin, as medical aesthetics brands target a younger audience.

Merz kicked off its “Beauty on Your Terms” campaign on Tuesday, featuring the Jonas brother in a video ad for its double-filtered anti-wrinkle injection Xeomin.

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL CEO Paul Per­reault de­ter­mined to grow plas­ma col­lec­tion af­ter full-year sales dip

As the ink dries on CSL’s $11.7 billion Vifor buyout, the company posted a dip in profits, due in part to a drop in plasma donations amid the pandemic.

However, CEO Paul Perreault assured investors and analysts on the full-year call that the team has left “no stone unturned” when assessing options to grow plasma volumes. The chief executive also spelled out positive results for the company’s monoclonal antibody garadacimab in hereditary angioedema (HAE), though he isn’t revealing the exact numbers just yet.

Blaise Coleman, Endo International CEO

En­do files for Chap­ter 11 as it looks to fin­ish off its opi­oid lit­i­ga­tion

Irish drugmaker Endo International is entering into bankruptcy as it faces the weight of serious litigation related to its involvement in the opioid epidemic in the US.

The company has filed Chapter 11 proceedings in the US Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, with the company expected to file recognition proceedings in Canada, the UK and Australia. The company’s bankruptcy filing showed the company had assets and liabilities in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion.