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.”

Dan Skovronsky, Eli Lilly CSO

UP­DAT­ED: An­a­lysts are quick to pan Eli Lil­ly's puz­zling first cut of pos­i­tive clin­i­cal da­ta for its Covid-19 an­ti­body

Eli Lilly spotlighted a success for one of 3 doses of their closely-watched Covid-19 antibody drug Wednesday morning. But analysts quickly highlighted some obvious anomalies that could come back to haunt the pharma giant as it looks for an emergency use authorization to launch marketing efforts.

The pharma giant reported that LY-CoV555, developed in collaboration with AbCellera, significantly reduced the rate of hospitalization among patients who were treated with the antibody. The drug arm of the study had a 1.7% hospitalization rate, compared to 6% in the control group, marking a 72% drop in risk.

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Sean Bo­hen's break from bio­phar­ma is over. The ex-As­traZeneca CMO has re­tired his Big Phar­ma jer­sey and is now — hap­pi­ly — run­ning a lit­tle biotech

The last I had heard about Sean Bohen, he had stepped out of his high-profile job as chief medical officer at AstraZeneca at the beginning of 2019 as CEO Pascal Soriot triggered a broad-ranging R&D shakeup. And then, earlier this week, I got a chance to catch up.

It turns out that Bohen decided at the time that he would not just jump into a new job in the booming biopharma business. As an oncologist, he had worked on the big programs at AstraZeneca, and before that he was at Genentech. That was good for a ticket to just about anyplace in the big biopharma world. But he felt it was time to stop and think things through.

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Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: A mi­cro-cap with a po­ten­tial­ly promis­ing coro­n­avirus drug en­lists mask-skep­tic con­gress­man for DSMB

A small biotech that has talked up a potentially promising but unproven treatment for Covid-19 enlisted an unusual member for its study’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board: a sitting Republican congressman with close ties to the CEO and a history of mask skepticism.

NeuroRx, an Israeli biotech testing a lung inflammation drug in Covid-19 patients, tapped Maryland Rep. Andy Harris for the DSMB, Politico reported. Harris is an anesthesiologist but not a biostatistician, and he has questioned the CDC about a “cult of masks” in the US. Harris has known NeuroRx CEO Jonathan Javitt since the two worked at Johns Hopkins together over 20 years ago.

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#ES­MO20: Alk­er­mes of­fers their first snap­shot of a ben­e­fit for their next-gen IL-2 drug. But why did 1 pa­tient starve to death?

Everyone in the cancer R&D arena is looking to build new franchises around better drugs and combos. And one busy pocket of that space is centered entirely on creating an IL-2 drug that can be as effective as the original without the toxicity that damned it to the sidelines.

Alkermes $ALKS formally tossed its hat into the ring of contenders at virtual ESMO today, highlighting the first glimpse of efficacy for their candidate, ALKS 4230, as both a monotherapy as well as in combination with Merck’s Keytruda.

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Albert Bourla (Photo by Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er match­es Mod­er­na with their full Covid-19 tri­al blue­print — As­traZeneca says it will un­veil its pro­to­col 'short­ly'

Yesterday, after sustained public pressure as Moderna released its Phase III Covid-19 trial blueprint, Pfizer released its own full trial design for their vaccine trials. The move was designed to boost transparency and shore up public trust in the vaccines, but it also revealed differences in how the two companies are approaching the much-watched studies while failing to satisfy the demands of the fiercest advocates for transparency.

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Stronger to­geth­er? Boehringer and Mi­rati team to put first KRAS-KRAS com­bo in the clin­ic

Researchers are still waiting to see how much any of the vaunted KRAS drugs now in the clinic can, after decades of preclinical research and some early human studies, help patients. But while they do, two of the leading developers will look to see whether a KRAS-KRAS combo might pose a better shot than any KRAS alone.

Boehringer Ingelheim and Mirati have signed a collaboration to combine Mirati’s closely-watched lead KRAS inhibitor, MRTX849, in a clinical trial with the pan-KRAS blocker that Boehringer has quietly developed with high expectations behind their flashier contenders.

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#ES­MO20: Re­gen­eron, Sanofi eye an­oth­er first for their PD-1 con­tender Lib­tayo with promis­ing da­ta for on­col­o­gy niche

Regeneron and Sanofi took another step forward in the long march towards a greatly expanded market for their late-bloomer PD-1 checkpoint Libtayo.

The two occasional allies posted an objective response rate of 31% for Libtayo among 84 patients suffering from advanced cases of basal cell carcinoma at virtual ESMO. That spotlights progress for 26 patients, 5 of whom had a complete response. The data also reflect a boost in the number of responses seen from the last cut of the numbers.

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A long­time Cy­tomX ex­ec re-emerges at Syn­thekine, an $82M Stan­ford spin­out

Debanjan Ray apparently had big plans when he quietly left his long-held CFO spot at CytomX back in March 2019. He had gotten his own biotech.

Still in its early stages at the time, that biotech, known as Synthekine, is now ready to start talking. They are breaking out of stealth mode today with $82 million in Series A funding led by Canaan Partners, Samsara BioCapital and The Column Group, and plans to rapidly bring a handful of engineered cytokines, including a rejigged IL-2, into the clinic.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Pfiz­er ex­ecs con­fi­dent­ly tap their top 10 block­busters-to-be. But what are the chances of sur­viv­ing PhI­II, let alone hit­ting these big peak sales es­ti­mates?

Pfizer’s top executive team doesn’t lack for confidence.

Where many Big Pharmas would be reluctant to put a peak sales figure on their late-stage drugs, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has shrugged off the usual diffidence to outline where the pharma giant expects to get $15 billion-plus.

The list, outlined this week during their investor presentations, is topped by 3 drugs in the $3 billion-plus peak sales category. They are:

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