Markus Enzelberger (Versant)

Ver­sant woos Mor­phoSys' ex-CSO to its boom­ing dis­cov­ery en­gine, with big plans for new star­tups

As Mor­phoSys cel­e­brat­ed the FDA’s ac­cep­tance of its first-ever BLA — com­plete with a pri­or­i­ty re­view that could lead to a quick OK for its CD19-tar­get­ed CAR-T ri­val — last Mon­day, for­mer CSO Markus En­zel­berg­er was mark­ing a dif­fer­ent mile­stone of his own.

It was his first day at Ver­sant Ven­tures’ dis­cov­ery en­gine in Basel, a change of scenery af­ter 18 years as the Ger­man biotech’s chief sci­en­tist. New­ly named en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence of Ridge­line Ther­a­peu­tics, En­zel­berg­er ex­pects to spend half of his time eval­u­at­ing new op­por­tu­ni­ties for com­pa­ny cre­ation and the oth­er half help­ing biotech fledg­lings in the port­fo­lio build the nec­es­sary in­fra­struc­ture.

“I’m a tech­nol­o­gy guy,” he said. “I’ve al­ways been get­ting new tech­nolo­gies off the ground.”

Woo­ing En­zel­berg­er was part of the growth Ver­sant has in mind for Ridge­line. Guid­ed by Alex May­weg — a Basel-based part­ner who’s just been pro­mot­ed to man­ag­ing di­rec­tor — the 3-year-old op­er­a­tion has al­ready seen its first spin­out, Black Di­a­mond Ther­a­peu­tics, make a $200 mil­lion Nas­daq de­but and hot start to 2020.

En­zel­berg­er al­so re­places Rober­to Ia­cone, the EIR who was in­volved in Black Di­a­mond but has de­camped for Ar­ix Bio­science in Lon­don.

Brad Bol­zon

The team of sci­en­tists work­ing in the wet labs will grow from 40 to 60 by 2022, which will help dou­ble the com­pa­ny build­ing ca­pac­i­ty from 1 to 2 per year.

“It’s very im­por­tant to us that we’re one of the few US ven­ture firms that are ful­ly em­bed­ded in Eu­rope for well over a decade,” said Brad Bol­zon, Ver­sant chair­man and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor.

While Basel — home to No­var­tis and Roche — has long been known for its sup­ply of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal tal­ent and ac­cess to world-class aca­d­e­m­ic re­search, the spir­it of en­tre­pre­neuri­al­ism didn’t start grow­ing un­til re­cent­ly.

Two new Ridge­line star­tups are al­ready in the works: Monte Rosa works with lead­ing re­searchers of cere­blon re­pro­gram­ming from Lon­don and Basel to de­vel­op pro­tein degra­da­tion ther­a­pies, while Bright Peak Ther­a­peu­tics boasts of a chem­istry-en­abled plat­form that “gives us con­trol to make what­ev­er mod­i­fi­ca­tions we want, wher­ev­er we want to on the pro­tein back­bone,” ac­cord­ing to man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Tom Woi­wode.

Tom Woi­wode

“Brad and I still re­mem­ber when we went over there and opened up that of­fice in Basel to try to ini­ti­ate our Eu­ro­pean in­vest­ment prac­tice, most peo­ple told us we were nuts,” Woi­wode said.

But Ver­sant now be­lieves it’s proved the doubters wrong, so much so that Woi­wode can safe­ly put the Basel of­fice in May­weg’s hands and re­lo­cate back to the West Coast, which Bol­zon still views as their an­chor re­gion.

They’re al­so mak­ing a move in the buzzing hub of Boston, where Markus War­muth — the for­mer CEO of H3 Bio­med­i­cine and one-time en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence at Third Rock Ven­tures — has been work­ing as a ven­ture part­ner. War­muth is al­so the CEO of Monte Rosa and will help move the com­pa­ny to the city.

Mean­while at In­cep­tion — the US equiv­a­lent of Ridge­line — Ver­sant has tapped Richard Glynne as CSO of the San Diego site, en­trust­ing him with key re­spon­si­bil­i­ties in launch­ing an­oth­er pro­tein degra­da­tion play­er. Dubbed Ly­cia Ther­a­peu­tics, the biotech will lever­age dis­cov­er­ies by Stan­ford’s Car­olyn Bertozzi around ex­tra­cel­lu­lar pro­teins. In Mon­tre­al, Marce­lo Bi­gal is tak­ing the helm of in­nate im­mu­ni­ty-fo­cused Ven­tus Ther­a­peu­tics.

Alex May­weg

All of it points to the im­por­tance of com­pa­ny cre­ation, Bol­zon said, which cur­rent­ly ac­counts for 30% of its in­vest­ments but is ex­pect­ed to go over 50%. Com­pared to the 5.2X av­er­age re­turn mul­ti­ple among all of its 16 ex­its, Ver­sant-launched en­ti­ties de­liv­ered 7.1X av­er­age re­turn.

“Our mod­el is three-fold: go­ing af­ter break­through sci­ence, hav­ing the ge­o­graph­ic reach to source the best op­por­tu­ni­ties wher­ev­er they can be iden­ti­fied, and num­ber 3, hav­ing these unique com­pa­ny cre­ation ca­pa­bil­i­ties,” he added. The new moves are “en­tire­ly con­sis­tent with just build­ing off that.”

Pfiz­er lays off em­ploy­ees at Cal­i­for­nia and Con­necti­cut sites

Pfizer has laid off employees at its La Jolla, CA, and Groton, CT sites, according to multiple LinkedIn posts from former employees.

The Big Pharma confirmed to Endpoints News it has let go of some employees, but a spokesperson declined to specify how many workers were impacted and the exact locations affected. Earlier this month, the drug developer had confirmed to Endpoints it was sharpening its focus and doing away with some early research on areas such as rare disease, oncology and gene therapies.

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Late Fri­day ap­proval; Trio of biotechs wind down; Stem cell pi­o­neer finds new fron­tier; Biotech icon to re­tire; 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.

I hope your weekend is off to a nice start, wherever you are reading this email. As for me, I’m trying to catch the tail of the Lunar New Year festivities.

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Rodney Rietze, iVexSol CEO

Bris­tol My­ers, Charles Riv­er join Se­ries A fund­ing for iVex­Sol

Massachusetts-based iVexSol has secured funding to the tune of $23.8 million in its latest Series A round. The new investors include Bristol Myers Squibb, manufacturer Charles River Laboratories and Asahi Kasei Medical.

iVexSol is a manufacturer of lentiviral vectors (LVV), used in making gene therapies, and this latest round of fundraising brings its total Series A total over $39 million, which will be used to recruit more employees and bolster its technology.

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Jake Van Naarden, Loxo@Lilly CEO

Lil­ly en­ters ripe BTK field with quick FDA nod in man­tle cell lym­phoma

Eli Lilly has succeeded in its attempt to get the first non-covalent version of Bruton’s tyrosine kinase, or BTK, inhibitors to market, pushing it past rival Merck.

The FDA gave an accelerated nod to Lilly’s daily oral med, to be sold as Jaypirca, for patients with relapsed or refractory mantle cell lymphoma.

The agency’s green light, disclosed by the Indianapolis Big Pharma on Friday afternoon, catapults Lilly into a field dominated by covalent BTK inhibitors, which includes AbbVie and Johnson & Johnson’s Imbruvica, AstraZeneca’s Calquence and BeiGene’s Brukinsa.

Tony Johnson, Goldfinch Bio CEO (Goldfinch via YouTube)

Kid­ney dis­ease drug­mak­er Goldfinch Bio shuts down

Goldfinch Bio, attempting to make treatments for kidney diseases and diabetic nephropathy, is shutting down.

President and CEO Tony Johnson confirmed to Endpoints News Friday afternoon that the biotech shut down after “fundraising challenges in the current macro-environment.” Fierce Biotech first reported the news.

Johnson, who joined in 2017 after a stint as SVP of early clinical development at AstraZeneca, said in a text that the company “entered the ABC process recently,” referring to an assignment for the benefit of the creditors, which provides a different wind-down avenue than a bankruptcy.

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Filip Dubovsky, Novavax CMO

No­vavax gets ready to take an­oth­er shot at Covid vac­cine mar­ket with next sea­son plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

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Dutch biotech starts liq­ui­da­tion af­ter end­ing PhI­II in GVHD

A 13-year-old Dutch biotech is going through a liquidation process after an unexpected end to its Phase III trial testing whether its combination of two monoclonal antibodies was superior to Incyte’s Jakafi.

Xenikos had hoped to prove its investigational therapy, named T-Guard, was better than Jakafi at garnering a complete response in patients experiencing life-threatening complications in which new cells from a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begin to fight the body. Jakafi was approved for the indication, steroid-refractory acute graft-versus-host disease, in May 2019.

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Robert Hariri, Celularity CEO (Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Brain Mapping Foundation)

Celu­lar­i­ty warns of loom­ing lay­offs, spot­lights ear­ly pro­grams as mon­ey runs dry

Celularity has warned “a substantial portion” of its employees that layoffs could be looming in the face of a reprioritization effort. In the same breath, it touted some of its very early next-gen candidates in degenerative diseases and oncology.

“While Celularity is hopeful that there will be no need to substantially reduce its headcount, the notifications were provided in accordance with applicable law and to maintain full transparency with its employees,” the news release reads, in part.

Eliot Forster, F-star CEO (Rachel Kiki for Endpoints News)

F-star gets down to the wire with $161M sale to Chi­nese buy­er as na­tion­al se­cu­ri­ty con­cerns linger

With the clock ticking on F-star Therapeutics’ takeover by a Chinese buyer, the companies are still scrambling to remove a hold on the deal from the US government’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.

F-star and invoX Pharma said they are “actively negotiating” with CFIUS “about the terms of a mitigation agreement to address CFIUS’s concerns regarding potential national security risks posed by the transaction.”

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