Andrey Zarur, GreenLight Biosciences CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Vir­tu­al­ly un­known mR­NA up­start rides SPAC to Nas­daq with a $1.5B val­u­a­tion as RA-backed neu­ro play­er prices IPO

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Just a few days af­ter EQRx an­nounced its in­tent to merge with Eli Cas­din’s third blank check com­pa­ny, an­oth­er SPAC deal is wrapped up and ready for Nas­daq.

RNA tech firm Green­Light Bio­sciences will re­verse merge its way to the pub­lic mar­ket, the com­pa­ny an­nounced Tues­day morn­ing, net­ting the biotech a rough­ly $1.5 bil­lion val­u­a­tion. Green­Light will merge with the SPAC En­vi­ron­men­tal Im­pact Ac­qui­si­tion Corp., which is backed by Canac­cord Ge­nu­ity Group and Hud­son Bay Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, and will get $207 mil­lion from the SPAC as well as $105 mil­lion in PIPE fi­nanc­ing.

Green­Light is work­ing on sev­er­al ex­per­i­men­tal vac­cines us­ing mR­NA tech­nol­o­gy, in­clud­ing for sea­son­al flu, Covid-19 and sick­le cell dis­ease. Ex­ecs have set out a “blue­print to vac­ci­nate the world,” ar­gu­ing that mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties are not up to snuff. Green­Light has pro­posed build­ing sev­en new mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ties to try to com­bat this is­sue.

But the Med­ford, MA-based com­pa­ny got its start try­ing to shake up the pes­ti­cides mar­ket for in­dus­tri­al agri­cul­ture, spend­ing most of its ear­ly ef­forts here since be­ing found­ed in 2008 be­fore piv­ot­ing to hu­man health in late 2019, ear­ly 2020. CEO An­drey Zarur told End­points News that Green­Light’s plat­form com­bines two mR­NA ap­proach­es — one that in­volves fer­men­ta­tion-based process­es and an­oth­er uti­lized by high-pro­file com­pa­nies like Mod­er­na and BioN­Tech in­volv­ing tran­scrip­tion.

This “hy­brid” mod­el, Zarur said, can hope­ful­ly en­able Green­Light to pro­duce mR­NA-based prod­ucts at a much high­er scale and much low­er cost than the big­ger names. The re­sult is what the com­pa­ny calls “cell-free bio­pro­cess­ing.”

“We use the same types of cells that are used to make an­ti­bod­ies, used in fer­men­ta­tion process,” Zarur said. “They’re very in­ex­pen­sive and com­mon­ly used. We grow them, then we har­vest the raw ma­te­ri­als. It’s no dif­fer­ent than if plant­i­ng plants and har­vest­ing the fruits.”

Zarur added that Green­Light had nev­er planned on stop­ping at agri­cul­ture, but it was the first ap­pli­ca­tion where the com­pa­ny di­rect­ed its plat­form. He tout­ed Green­Light’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry pan­el, in­clud­ing famed UPenn mR­NA re­searcher Drew Weiss­man, as piv­otal to help­ing the com­pa­ny branch out in­to life sci­ences a cou­ple years ago.

“When we de­cid­ed to move in­to hu­man health­care, we didn’t do it blind­ly,” Zarur said. “We didn’t do this half-assed.”

This past spring, Green­Light wel­comed a for­mer GSK Vac­cines staffer to help fur­ther things along in Amin Khan. Khan, a mem­ber of the group’s R&D lead­er­ship team, is at least the fourth GSK Vac­cines ex­ec to leave the com­pa­ny in the last sev­er­al months as it wait­ed and fell far be­hind in the Covid-19 hunt.

Be­fore Khan came Jef­frey Ul­mer, who de­part­ed in Ju­ly 2020; Amir Re­ich­man, for­mer head of glob­al vac­cines en­gi­neer­ing core tech­nolo­gies, who left in Jan­u­ary 2021; and Em­manuel Hanon, the for­mer chief of vac­cines re­search, who took a new job this past April. GSK al­so saw their pres­i­dent of US phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, Jack Bai­ley, de­part in the sum­mer of 2020 to take the CEO gig at G1 Ther­a­peu­tics.

With the glut of SPAC pric­ings hav­ing slowed down from ear­li­er this year, more and more blank check com­pa­nies are find­ing part­ners to bring to Nas­daq. More than $18 bil­lion has flowed in­to the biotech sec­tor alone, per the End­points News tal­ly, fol­low­ing near­ly a dozen merg­ers an­nounced in the sec­ond quar­ter. Green­Light is the fourth biotech SPAC to an­nounce its merg­er so far in the third quar­ter.

Eliem com­pletes rapid IPO rise

Eliem Ther­a­peu­tics has com­plet­ed its quick as­cent to Nas­daq af­ter emerg­ing from stealth just this past March, rais­ing $80 mil­lion and pric­ing shares at $12.50 apiece.

The biotech had like­ly been work­ing on an IPO for a lit­tle while, as it had de­clined in­ter­view re­quests af­ter a $60 mil­lion Se­ries B back in May. Eliem is mak­ing its pub­lic de­but with a pipeline of four neu­ro as­sets led by a pro­drug of an en­do­cannabi­noid known as palmi­toylethanolamide, or PEA.

Re­search for the com­pound had been in pos­ses­sion by RA Cap­i­tal, where Eliem was in­cu­bat­ed. Eliem’s lead can­di­date ETX-810 is cur­rent­ly in two Phase IIa stud­ies look­ing at di­a­bet­ic pe­riph­er­al neu­ro­path­ic pain and lum­bosacral radic­u­lar pain. Da­ta read­outs are ex­pect­ed for the first half of 2022.

RA Cap­i­tal is the big win­ner of the IPO, as the firm con­trolled more than 52% of shares be­fore the of­fer­ing. Post-of­fer­ing, RA will still own about a 40% stake, ac­cord­ing to the S-1. The firm AI ETI, backed by Ac­cess In­dus­tries Hold­ings, al­so takes home a 16.9% stake once the of­fer­ing con­cludes.

And Va­lerie Moris­set, the long­time pain re­searcher who took the CSO job at Eliem, will win an IPO prize as well. Mor­riset gets 1.2% of shares post-of­fer­ing.

Eliem will trade un­der the tick­er $ELYM.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Months af­ter a mam­moth raise, Ven­tyx Bio­sciences dips back in­to ven­ture well

Several months after emerging from what CEO Raju Mohan called “quiet mode” with a mammoth $114 million raise, Ventyx Biosciences is now making its plans for the clinic loud and clear.

The California-based immune modulation player kicked the week off with a $51 million Series B, while also naming some key hires ahead of its big clinical push.

The CMO slot is going to Jörn Drappa, former CMO at Viela Bio before it was bought out by Horizon Therapeutics earlier this year. The AstraZeneca vet stayed on at Horizon for a while as executive VP of R&D before making the jump to Ventyx.

Mi­rati tri­umphs again in KRAS-mu­tat­ed lung can­cer with a close­ly watched FDA fil­ing now in the cards

After a busy weekend at #ESMO21, which included a big readout for its KRAS drug adagrasib in colon cancer, Mirati Therapeutics is ready to keep the pressure on competitor Amgen with lung cancer data that will undergird an upcoming filing.

In topline results from a Phase II cohort of its KRYSTAL-1 study, adagrasib posted a response rate of 43% in second-line-or-later patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer containing a KRAS-G12C mutation, Mirati said Monday.