Len Post and Sofie Qiao (Vivace)

Vi­vace Ther­a­peu­tics scores $30M Se­ries C to take on­col­o­gy can­di­date for 'Hip­po' path­way to hu­man tri­al next year

Named for the Ital­ian term in­di­cat­ing a piece of mu­sic should be played at an up­beat and live­ly tem­po, Cal­i­for­nia-based Vi­vace Ther­a­peu­tics seems to have lived up to its name­sake.

In the mere five years the small-mol­e­cule drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment com­pa­ny has been in busi­ness, its sci­en­tists and re­searchers have de­vot­ed sig­nif­i­cant amounts of time and mon­ey to­ward ther­a­peu­tics that tar­get a path­way in the body that can cause can­cer­ous tu­mors to de­vel­op if cer­tain pro­teins are ac­ti­vat­ed. Now, with $30 mil­lion in Se­ries C fi­nanc­ing, Vi­vace is aim­ing to test one of its can­di­dates against that path­way start­ing in ear­ly 2021.

The pro­teins, called YAP, in­vade cells through what’s called the Hip­po path­way — a sig­nal­ing sys­tem in the body that con­trols tis­sue re­gen­er­a­tion and tells or­gans when it’s time to stop grow­ing. If ac­ti­vat­ed, YAP can dis­rupt the path­way in a way that caus­es the can­cer­ous tu­mors to form.

CEO Sofie Qiao told End­points News that ex­am­in­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween YAP and the Hip­po path­way was the rea­son she found­ed Vi­vace in 2015 — it’s a nov­el re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cial­ly in terms of its con­nec­tion to can­cer. For the first two years, Qiao said, the com­pa­ny op­er­at­ed in stealth mode, but in May 2017, Vi­vace raised a $25 mil­lion Se­ries B to be­come a com­mer­cial-fo­cused on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny.

Now, the work to un­der­stand and po­ten­tial­ly treat a pro­tein mu­ta­tion that may cause lung, gas­tric, colon, cer­vi­cal, ovar­i­an, breast, melanoma, he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma and squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma can­cers has paid off in the biggest way yet for Qiao and Vi­vace with the lat­est $30 mil­lion round.

“Most of the on­col­o­gy play­ers in our in­dus­try have been watch­ing this path­way for quite a few years, and many of them have proac­tive­ly ap­proached us for dis­cus­sion since we do have a pub­lic pres­ence,” Qiao said. “To the best of our knowl­edge, no one has sent any mol­e­cule to the clin­ic, so we are po­si­tioned to be the first com­pa­ny to test a mol­e­cule tar­get­ing this path­way in hu­man set­ting.”

No­table in­vestors for this round in­clude: Canaan Part­ners, WuXi Health­care Ven­tures, Cen­o­va Cap­i­tal, Se­quoia Cap­i­tal Chi­na, Box­er Cap­i­tal and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment.

Qiao said near­ly all of the $30 mil­lion would be put in­to the hu­man clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment process of Vi­vace’s drug can­di­date. The ini­tial process­es will tar­get tu­mors that are known to be en­tire­ly de­pen­dent on ac­ti­vat­ed YAP, and Vi­vace said in a news re­lease that pre-clin­i­cal R&D showed that its clin­i­cal can­di­date is ac­tive as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er an­ti-can­cer ther­a­pies against tu­mors that re­ly up­on dys­func­tion of the Hip­po path­way.

Len Post, Vi­vace’s chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, said in an in­ter­view that un­til now, no sci­en­tif­ic progress had re­al­ly been made on how to dis­rupt the Hip­po path­way if YAP pro­teins were ac­ti­vat­ed. Vi­vace’s work, he said, dis­cov­ered how cer­tain com­pounds work in the con­text of the path­way and what has to hap­pen to in­hib­it the path­way from form­ing can­cer­ous tu­mors.

For YAP pro­teins to ac­ti­vate, they have to find an­oth­er pro­tein called a tran­scrip­tion­al en­hanced as­so­ciate do­main. Vi­vace’s com­pounds block those TEAD pro­teins by pre­vent­ing the ad­di­tion of a fat­ty acid that would al­low the two pro­teins to bond.

The $30 mil­lion round brings Vi­vace’s to­tal in­vest­ment haul just since 2017 to rough­ly $70 mil­lion. Qiao said that those fig­ures in­di­cate a clear in­ter­est from the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty in the Hip­po path­way and its po­ten­tial im­pact on the field of on­col­o­gy.

“That shows how much en­thu­si­asm and in­ter­est the in­vestor com­mu­ni­ty has for this path­way,” she said. “I think they re­al­ly like our da­ta and our team and the po­ten­tial of our mol­e­cule re­al­ly gen­er­at­ing clin­i­cal ef­fi­ca­cy.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; 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.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Yao-Chang Xu, Abbisko Therapeutics founder and CEO

Qim­ing-backed Ab­bisko makes $200M+ Hong Kong de­but, as a SPAC and Agenus spin­out al­so price on Nas­daq

Three new entities priced their public debuts late Thursday and early Friday, including a SPAC, a traditional Nasdaq IPO and a Chinese biotech joining the Hong Kong Index.

Shanghai-based Abbisko Therapeutics raised the most money of the triumvirate, garnering $226 million in its Hong Kong debut and pricing at HK$12.46, or roughly $1.60 in US dollars. The blank check company followed up with a $150 million raise, while MiNK Therapeutics priced on Nasdaq at $12 per share and a $40 million raise.

Paul Grayson, Tentarix CEO (Versant)

Phar­ma vet­er­ans re­group with $50M and a plan to dis­cov­er new mul­ti-specifics

While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.

On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.

Tillman Gerngross, Adagio CEO

Q&A: Till­man Gern­gross ex­plains why his Covid mAb will have an edge over an al­ready crowd­ed field

If anyone knows about monoclonal antibodies, it’s serial entrepreneur, Adimab CEO, and Dartmouth professor of bioengineering Tillman Gerngross.

Even the name of Gerngross’ new antibody startup Adagio Therapeutics is meant to reflect his vision behind the development of his Covid-19 mAb: slowly, he said, explaining that “everyone else, whether it’s Regeneron, Lilly, or AstraZeneca, Vir, they all valued speed over everything.”

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