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.”

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock to be act­ing FDA com­mis­sion­er while Biden team fi­nal­izes nom­i­nee — re­ports

Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

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Eli Lil­ly re-ups di­ver­si­ty pledge, pitch­ing in $30M to ven­ture fund for mi­nor­i­ty-owned health­care firms

The fight against racial injustice spurred by a series of high-profile shootings of Black men by police earlier this year put Big Pharma and healthcare — industries targeted for their lack of diversity — in the hot seat. Eli Lilly made an early pledge to change its ways and put more back into the community, and now it’s continuing to make good on that commitment.

Lilly will infuse $30 million into the Unseen Capital Health Fund, a venture fund looking to invest in early-stage minority-owned healthcare companies that have been historically “unseen” by the investment community, the pharma said Friday.

Laurie Glimcher, Dana-Farber president and CEO (Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: With its rank-and-file churn­ing out star­tups, Dana-Far­ber launch­es ven­ture fund to cap­i­tal­ize on that suc­cess

The pace of innovation at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in recent years has seen a wave of startups launch with IP or leadership sourced from the nonprofit’s ranks. Now, looking for its own returns on that success, Dana-Farber has launched a new venture fund to invest in those fledgling businesses.

On Thursday, Dana-Farber unveiled Binney Street Capital — its first-ever venture fund. Roche and Verily veteran Luba Greenwood has been tapped to lead the fund, which was named after the location of the institute’s Boston site.

CEO Brett Monia (Ionis)

Can Brett Mo­nia push Io­n­is be­yond Spin­raza?

For 30 years, Brett Monia struggled as one of Ionis’ top scientists to get their antisense technology to work. Now, as CEO, he’s trying to use it to turn Ionis into one of the industry’s biggest biotechs.

Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

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David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hack­ers start re­leas­ing 'ma­nip­u­lat­ed' Covid-19 vac­cine docs; Ex-FDA com­mish David Kessler to re­place Mon­cef Slaoui as Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed chief — re­port

There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

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Nadim Ahmed (Bristol Myers Squibb)

Bris­tol My­er­s' top hema­tol­ogy ex­ec is on his way out — right on the heels of a $6B CVR im­plo­sion

Fourteen days after the $6.3 billion CVR tied to the approval of liso-cel went up in smoke, one of the top execs in charge of the work at Bristol Myers Squibb is preparing to step out of his job.

Mizuho analyst Salim Syed, who’s been following every twist and turn in the CVR saga, told investors on Thursday morning that Nadim Ahmed is on his way out. Syed’s note:

Recall, Ahmed is EVP and President of Hematology at BMY (i.e. JCAR017 and bb2121 are both hematological drugs). He’s still listed on the BMY management page. This is true — he’s still technically there. However, I have confirmed w/ BMY that his last day is tomorrow, Friday 1/15. To my best knowledge, Ahmed does not have another job lined up post his departure tomorrow.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (AP Images)

#JPM21: Al­bert Bourla pre­pares Pfiz­er to set­tle in to next phase post-Up­john, but that does­n't mean he's rul­ing out deals

One of the iconic brands in biopharma, Pfizer took a big gamble on the strength of its in-house science when it decided to offload its flagging Upjohn generics business last year. Now, a more agile Pfizer is looking to cement its identity for the future, but one thing will stay the same: M&A is still very much a part of the game plan.

With its Upjohn generics business off the books, Pfizer is looking to double down on its branded medicines with the goal of hitting 6% annual growth each year — previously unheard-of at old Pfizer — while continuing to develop its blockbuster pipeline, CEO Albert Bourla said at a JP Morgan fireside chat Tuesday.

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