Ver­sant gam­bles $20 mil­lion on a UCSD spin­out fo­cused on NASH and fi­bro­sis

Ariel Feld­stein

Back in the spring of 2015, Jef­frey Stafford helped set up a deal with Cel­gene to ac­quire the drug dis­cov­ery plat­form he helped cre­ate at San Diego-based Quan­ti­cel for up to $485 mil­lion, and went along to help shep­herd the next stage as an ex­ec­u­tive at the sub­sidiary.

Now, he and his for­mer back­ers at Ver­sant have joined forces again to launch a new pre­clin­i­cal start­up fo­cused on the hot R&D field of NASH and fi­bro­sis. And he’s joined by long­time col­league Jim Veal, who is the new CSO at the fledg­ling Je­cure Ther­a­peu­tics.

To­day, they’re hav­ing a com­ing out par­ty for Je­cure, which se­cured a $20 mil­lion Se­ries A from Ver­sant, the sole backer at this ear­ly stage.

Jef­frey Stafford

This is a trans­la­tion­al biotech at this stage of the game, square­ly fo­cused on the aca­d­e­m­ic work of Ariel Feld­stein, the di­vi­sion chief of gas­troen­terol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego.

“Us­ing an­i­mal mod­els and RNAi ther­a­pies, we have de­vel­oped unique cell based as­says for high through­put test­ing in in vi­vo mod­els,” Feld­stein tells me. “We are able to di­al up, or down, spe­cif­ic path­ways key in NASH pro­gres­sion re­lat­ed to in­flam­ma­tion, which fu­eled the fi­brot­ic re­sponse.”

“We’re putting all these things to­geth­er at Je­cure,” he adds, which is “in a unique po­si­tion to tar­get the patho­gen­e­sis of the dis­ease.”

Jim Veal

Right now, says Stafford, the plan is to get in the clin­ic two years from now in 2019, look­ing to even­tu­al­ly leapfrog some ma­jor late-stage ef­forts on NASH and fi­bro­sis that have at­tract­ed con­sid­er­able at­ten­tion.

“We have a small team of six,” adds Veal. And that in­cludes two lead­ing re­searchers from Feld­stein’s lab with ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in liv­er dis­ease. The goal is to grow the team in the com­ing years to 20 or 25, which should be enough to han­dle three or four re­search pro­grams.

Op­ti­miz­ing Cell and Gene Ther­a­py De­vel­op­ment and Pro­duc­tion: How Tech­nol­o­gy Providers Like Corn­ing Life Sci­ences are Spurring In­no­va­tion

Remarkable advances in cell and gene therapy over the last decade offer unprecedented therapeutic promise and bring new hope for many patients facing diseases once thought incurable. However, for cell and gene therapies to reach their full potential, researchers, manufacturers, life science companies, and academics will need to work together to solve the significant challenges facing the industry.

Amid mon­key­pox fears, biotechs spring to ac­tion; Mod­er­na’s CFO trou­ble; Cuts, cuts every­where; Craft­ing the right pro­teins; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

It’s always a bittersweet moment saying goodbye, but as Josh Sullivan goes off to new adventures we are grateful for the way he’s built up the Endpoints Manufacturing section — which the rest of the team will now carry forward. If you’re not already, this may be a good time to sign up for your weekly dose of drug manufacturing news. Thank you for reading and wish you a restful weekend.

Bay­er sounds re­treat from a $670 mil­lion CAR-T pact in the wake of a pa­tient death

Two months after Atara Biotherapeutics hit the hold button on its lead CAR-T 2.0 therapy following a patient death, putting the company under the watchful eye of the FDA, its Big Pharma partners at Bayer are bowing out of a $670 million global alliance. And the move is forcing a revamp of Atara’s pipeline plans, even as research execs vow to continue work on the two drugs allied with Bayer 18 months ago, which delivered a $60 million cash upfront.

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Sanofi and Re­gen­eron clear the fin­ish line in an in­flam­ma­to­ry esoph­a­gus dis­ease, leav­ing Take­da in the dust

With atopic dermatitis rivals breathing down Dupixent’s neck, Sanofi and Regeneron on Friday secured a first win in new territory in what Sanofi’s head of immunology and inflammation Naimish Patel called the fastest approval he’s ever seen.

The FDA approved Dupixent on Friday to treat patients 12 years and older with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and scarring of the esophagus. The approval came just a couple months after regulators granted Dupixent priority review, and months ahead of its PDUFA date on Aug. 3.

Fu­ji­film con­tin­ues its biotech build­ing spree with new fa­cil­i­ty in Chi­na

A Japanese conglomerate is making a big play in China with the opening of a new facility, as it continues to expand.

Fujifilm Irvine Scientific has opened its new Innovation and Collaboration Center in Suzhou New District, China, an area in Jiangsu province specifically designated for technological and industrial development.

According to Fujifilm, the 12,000-square-foot site will be responsible for the company’s cell culture media optimization, analysis and design services. Cell culture media itself often requires customization of formulas and protocols to achieve the desired quantity and quality of therapeutic desired. Fujifilm Irvine Scientific is offering these services from its headquarters in California and Japan to its customers globally, as well as in China now.

Daisy Robinton, Oviva Therapeutics co-founder and CEO

A new spin­out wades in­to ovar­i­an ag­ing, armed with a seed round and ex­per­i­men­tal drugs from Mass Gen­er­al

There aren’t many biotechs emphasizing women’s health, but a new spinout is trying to change that.

Oviva Therapeutics, a pipeline company of New York-based Cambrian Biopharma, emerged from stealth earlier this week to dive into the idea of extending women’s “healthspans,” or what it says is the part of a person’s life spent in generally good health, with a specific focus on ovaries. The emergence comes both with a seed financing worth $11.5 million from Cambrian, and an in-licensing agreement with Massachusetts General Hospital for a trio of patents.

Try­ing to shake up the Parkin­son's par­a­digm, Ab­b­Vie sub­mits NDA for con­tin­u­ous, 24-hour in­fu­sion ther­a­py

AbbVie is approaching the FDA with a new therapy to potentially treat Parkinson’s disease, using prodrugs of two medications commonly used for the condition.

The Big Pharma submitted its NDA for ABBV-951, a solution of levodopa and carbidopa prodrugs being evaluated in advanced Parkinson’s patients who don’t respond well to oral therapy, AbbVie announced Friday morning. Researchers are hoping a positive Phase III study that reads out in late October will help move things along quickly at the agency.

Siddhartha Mukherjee (Brian Ach/Getty Images for The New Yorker)

All Blue's $733M bid to ac­quire Zymeworks turns hos­tile as board bat­tles back — af­ter a biotech celebri­ty jumps in

Yesterday, the team at All Blue Capital — bent on the takeover of a badly battered Zymeworks — brought in celebrated oncologist, Pulitzer prize-winning writer and biotech exec Siddhartha Mukherjee to add some glitz to their proposed board. But they’re still not winning over any converts.

This morning, Zymeworks’ board officially turned this acquisition offer into a hostile showdown, rejecting the unsolicited offer and marshaling its forces to prevent a buyout at $10.50 per share.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (via Getty)

Sanofi's $20B buy­out of Gen­zyme pays off again with Eu­ro­pean OK for first Nie­mann-Pick drug

Sanofi CEO Paul Hudson has made clear his intention to develop new rare disease drugs and broaden his company’s offerings. That effort leaped forward on Friday with the EMA’s signing off on the company’s — and the EU’s — first drug to treat the non-central nervous system manifestations of the rare and debilitating Niemann-Pick disease.

The enzyme replacement therapy, developed to replace patients’ deficient or defective enzyme, known as acid sphingomyelinase, was first developed by Genzyme, which Sanofi acquired for more than $20 billion in 2011. That acquisition has also helped Sanofi pull in sales in the field of MS.