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.”

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk gestures to the audience after being recognized by President Trump following the successful launch of a Falcon 9 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (via Getty Images)

Tes­la chief Elon Musk teams up with Covid-19 play­er Cure­Vac to build 'R­NA mi­cro­fac­to­ries'

Elon Musk has joined the global tech crusade now underway to revolutionize vaccine manufacturing — now aimed at delivering billions of doses of a new mRNA vaccine to fight Covid-19. And he’s cutting right to the front.

In a late-night tweet Wednesday, the Tesla chief announced:

Tesla, as a side project, is building RNA microfactories for CureVac & possibly others.

That’s not a lot to go on. But the tweet comes a year after Tesla’s German division in Grohmann and CureVac filed a patent on a “bioreactor for RNA in vitro transcription, a method for RNA in vitro transcription, a module for transcribing DNA into RNA and an automated apparatus for RNA manufacturing.” CureVac, in the meantime, has discussed a variety of plans to build microfactories that can speed up the whole process for a global supply chain.

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George Yancopoulos (Regeneron)

Re­gen­eron co-founder George Yan­copou­los of­fers a com­bat­ive de­fense of the po­lice at a high school com­mence­ment. It didn’t go well

Typically, the commencement speech at Yorktown Central School District in Westchester — like most high schools — is an opportunity to encourage students to face the future with confidence and hope. Regeneron president and co-founder George Yancopoulos, though, went a different route.

In a fiery speech, the outspoken billionaire defended the police against the “prejudice and bias against law enforcement” that has erupted around the country in street protests from coast to coast. And for many who attended the commencement, Yancopoulos struck the wrong note at the wrong time, especially when he combatively challenged someone for interrupting his speech with a honk for “another act of cowardness.”

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Elias Zerhouni (Photo by Vincent Isore/IP3/Getty Images)

Elias Zer­houni dis­cuss­es ‘am­a­teur hour’ in DC, the de­struc­tion of in­fec­tious dis­ease R&D and how we need to prep for the next time

Elias Zerhouni favors blunt talk, and in a recent discussion with NPR, the ex-Sanofi R&D and ex-NIH chief had some tough points to make regarding the pandemic response.

Rather than interpret them, I thought it would be best to provide snippets straight from the interview.

On the Trump administration response:

It was basically amateur hour. There is no central concept of operations for preparedness, for pandemics, period. This administration doesn’t want to or has no concept of what it takes to protect the American people and the world because it is codependent. You can’t close your borders and say, “OK, we’re going to be safe.” You’re not going to be able to do that in this world. So it’s a lack of vision, basically just a lack of understanding, of what it takes to protect the American people.

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Douglas Love, Annexon CEO (Annexon)

IPO bound? A Bay Area biotech grabs a mega-round on the road to a piv­otal neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram

South San Francisco-based Annexon has added $100 million to its cash reserves, along with a new roster of marquee investors backing their play on the classical complement pathway involved in neurodegeneration. And that may well fit the profile for an IPO — though right now everything seems to be working on that score.

Eighteen months after Bain and their syndicate partners put up $75 million to fuel clinical work, Annexon is back at the trough. And this time they’re adding Redmile Group for the lead role, with supporting investments from these new arrivals: BlackRock, Deerfield Management Company, Eventide Asset Management, Farallon Capital Management, Janus Henderson Investors and Logos Capital.

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Sec­ond death trig­gers hold on Astel­las' $3B gene ther­a­py biotech's lead pro­gram, rais­ing fresh con­cerns about AAV

Seven months after Astellas shelled out $3 billion to acquire the gene therapy player Audentes, the biotech company’s lead program has been put on hold following the death of 2 patients taking a high dose of their treatment. And there was another serious adverse event recorded in the study as well, with a total of 3 “older” patients in the study affected.

The incidents are derailing plans to file for a near-term approval, which had been expected right about now.

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Look­ing for 'ex­ter­nal in­no­va­tion,' Boehringer In­gel­heim re­serves $500M+ for new Shang­hai hub

Now that Boehringer Ingelheim’s bet on contract manufacturing in China has paid off, the German drugmaker is anteing up more to get into the research game.

Boehringer has set aside $507.9 million (€451 million) for a new External Innovation Hub to be built in Shanghai over five years. The site will become one of its “strategic pillars” as the team strives to get 71 approvals — either for new products or indications — by 2030, said Felix Gutsche, president and CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim China.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Patrick Straub/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock)

No­var­tis pays $678M for kick­back scheme as Vas Narasimhan tries to dis­tance phar­ma gi­ant from shady be­hav­ior

Novartis has reached another large settlement to resolve misconduct allegations, agreeing to pay more than $678 million to settle claims that it had spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lavish dinners, so-called speaking fees and expensive alcohol “that were nothing more than bribes” to get doctors to prescribe Novartis medications.

The top-shelf alcohol and lavish meals included a $3,250 per person night at Nobu in Dallas, a $672-per person dinner at Washington DC’s Smith & Wollensky and a $314 per person meal at Sushi Roku in Pasadena, according to the Justice Department complaint. There were at least 7 trips to Hooters and fishing trips in Alaska and off the Florida coast. Each of these events were supposed to be “speaker programs” where doctors educated other doctors on a drug, but the DOJ alleged many were “bogus” wine-and-dine events where the drug was barely mentioned, if at all.  (“Nobody presented slides on the fishing trips,” the complaint says.)

No­vavax snags Ben Machielse for CMC and pro­motes a trio of staffers; Mar­ty Du­vall lands an­oth­er CEO post at On­copep­tides

Novavax has been making waves recently by securing a $384 million commitment from CEPI to cover R&D and manufacturing for its Covid-19 vaccine while also spending $167 million on a 150,000 square-foot facility. The Maryland biotech continues to shore up its leadership team as well, bringing in Ben Machielse as their EVP of CMC just a couple weeks after nabbing AstraZeneca vet Filip Dubrovsky as their new CMO. Machielse was president and CEO of Vtesse from 2014-17, and before that, he also spent more than 11 years at MedImmune and was EVP of operations for the back half of his tenure.

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Dan Gold, MEI Pharma CEO

De­vel­op­ment part­ners at MEI, Helsinn dump a high-risk PhI­II AML study af­ter con­clud­ing it would fail sur­vival goal

Four years after Switzerland’s Helsinn put $25 million of cash on the table for an upfront and near-term milestone to take MEI Pharma’s drug pracinostat into a long-running Phase III trial for acute myeloid leukemia, the partners are walking away from a clinical pileup.

The drug — an HDAC inhibitor — failed to pass muster during a futility analysis, as researchers concluded that pracinostat combined with azacitidine wasn’t going to outperform the control group in the pivotal.