Rainer Strohmenger (Credit: UroMems)

Welling­ton Part­ners tanks up with $237M for its next life sci fund — same strat­e­gy, but with more cash on hand

A year ago, when Philadel­phia-based Caris­ma Ther­a­peu­tics was rais­ing a $53 mil­lion A round to back their work on macrophages in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, Mu­nich-based Welling­ton Part­ners stepped in with the new crowd to take a ring­side seat.

That was a bit un­usu­al for the life sci­ences crew at Welling­ton, which tends to stay clos­er to home with in­vest­ments in the Ger­man-speak­ing re­gion of Eu­ro­pean biotech — con­cen­trat­ing on star­tups like Im­mat­ics. But then af­ter 22 years in the in­vest­ing game, there’s al­so a sense that they don’t want to be com­plete­ly tied down by too many self-im­posed rules.

“It’s a very hot area,” says Welling­ton man­ag­ing part­ner Rain­er Strohmenger, who was fa­mil­iar with the re­search on macrophages done in Eu­rope. And Caris­ma fit in­to the ba­sic pro­file of the kind of biotech they like to back: 3 to 5 years out from a po­ten­tial ex­it win­dow, with a shot at of­fer­ing a 5X to 10X re­turn on what they put in.

To­day, Welling­ton is dou­bling down on that ba­sic strat­e­gy, un­veil­ing a $237 mil­lion ven­ture round that is ful­ly two and a half times big­ger than its last fund. That won’t rank as one of the biggest life sci­ences funds to come out this year, but they’re a play­er which will have a sig­nif­i­cant role in the de­vel­op­ment of 15 to 20 life sci­ences com­pa­nies with this mon­ey — in­vest­ing on av­er­age around $5 mil­lion to $10 mil­lion in their port­fo­lio com­pa­nies. 

Strohmenger is par­tic­u­lar­ly chuffed that most of the in­vestors from his last fund have come in with larg­er sums on this turn. They like the strat­e­gy, and Welling­ton Part­ners is keep­ing to it — with a lit­tle tai­lor­ing on size.

“We can now de­ploy more mon­ey per com­pa­ny, but the in­vest­ment strat­e­gy will not re­al­ly change,” says Strohmenger, who counts Welling­ton as stage ag­nos­tic when it comes to their back­ing. “You’ll find com­pa­nies in ear­ly stages but al­so in growth stages that ful­fill these cri­te­ria,” with a fo­cus from biotech (about half) to de­vices, di­ag­nos­tics and dig­i­tal health.

I asked Strohmenger about the gen­er­al growth of ven­ture in­vest­ing around the biotech world, some­thing he watch­es every day. Megarounds that were once a rainy have now be­come quite com­mon.

“The mar­ket is still far from be­ing over­heat­ed,” he replies. “And in Eu­rope there’s still a scarci­ty of cap­i­tal.” 

That’s cre­at­ed some spe­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties in de­vices, where reg­u­la­to­ry hur­dles have raised the bar on fund­ing re­quire­ments. That in turn has cre­at­ed more at­trac­tive in­vest­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, he adds, as the com­pa­nies that clear that hur­dle will be able to im­ple­ment high­er pric­ing for their prod­ucts, tap­ping bet­ter mar­kets for the work they do.

Brian Kaspar. AveXis via Twitter

AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder fires back at No­var­tis CEO Vas Narasimhan, 'cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly de­nies any wrong­do­ing'

Brian Kaspar’s head was among the first to roll at Novartis after company execs became aware of the fact that manipulated data had been included in its application for Zolgensma, now the world’s most expensive therapy.

But in his first public response, the scientific founder at AveXis — acquired by Novartis for $8.7 billion — is firing back. And he says that not only was he not involved in any wrongdoing, he’s ready to defend his name as needed.

I reached out to Brian Kaspar after Novartis put out word that he and his brother Allen had been axed in mid-May, two months after the company became aware of the allegations related to manipulated data. His response came back through his attorneys.

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UP­DAT­ED: An em­bold­ened As­traZeneca splurges $95M on a pri­or­i­ty re­view vouch­er. Where do they need the FDA to hus­tle up?

AstraZeneca is in a hurry.

We learned this morning that the pharma giant — not known as a big spender, until recently — forked over $95 million to get its hands on a priority review voucher from Sobi, otherwise known as Swedish Orphan Biovitrum.

That marks another step down on price for a PRV, which allows the holder to slash 4 months off of any FDA review time.

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Martin Shkreli [via Getty]

Pris­on­er #87850-053 does not get to add drug de­vel­op­er to his list of cred­its

Just days after Retrophin shed its last ties to founder Martin Shkreli, the biotech is reporting that the lead drug he co-invented flopped in a pivotal trial. Fosmetpantotenate flunked both the primary and key secondary endpoints in a placebo-controlled trial for a rare disease called pantothenate kinase-associated neurodegeneration, or PKAN.

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We­bi­nar: Re­al World End­points — the brave new world com­ing in build­ing fran­chise ther­a­pies

Several biopharma companies have been working on expanding drug labels through the use of real world endpoints, combing through the data to find evidence of a drug’s efficacy for particular indications. But we’ve just begun. Real World Evidence is becoming an important part of every clinical development plan, in the soup-through-nuts approach used in building franchises.

I’ve recruited a panel of 3 top experts in the field — the first in a series of premium webinars — to look at the practical realities governing what can be done today, and where this is headed over the next few years, at the prodding of the FDA.

ZHEN SU — Merck Serono’s Senior Vice President and Global Head of Oncology
ELLIOTT LEVY — Amgen’s Senior Vice President of Global Development
CHRIS BOSHOFF — Pfizer Oncology’s Chief Development Officer

A premium subscription to Endpoints News is required to attend this webinar. Please upgrade to either an Insider or Enterprise plan for access. Already have Endpoints Premium? Please sign-in below. You can contact our Subscriptions team at help@endpointsnews.com with any issues.

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Am­gen, Al­ler­gan biosim­i­lar of Roche's block­buster Rit­ux­an clears an­oth­er US piv­otal study 

Novartis $NVS may have given up, but Amgen $AMGN and Allergan $AGN are plowing ahead with their knockoff of Roche’s blockbuster biologic Rituxan in the United States.

Their copycat, ABP 798, was found to have a clinically equivalent impact as Rituxan — meeting the main goal of the study involving CD20-positive B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma patients. This is the second trial supporting the profile of the biosimilar. In January, it came through with positive PK results in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

BeiGene and Mus­tang nail down spe­cial FDA sta­tus for top drugs; Roche bags added cov­er­age for Hem­li­bra

→ BeiGene $BGNE is getting a boost in its drive to field a rival to Imbruvica. The FDA has offered an accelerated review to zanubrutinib, a BTK inhibitor that has posted positive results for mantle cell lymphoma. The PDUFA date lands on February 27, 2020. The drug scored breakthrough status at the beginning of the year.

→ BeiGene isn’t the only biopharma company to gain special regulatory status today. Mustang Bio $MBIO and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital announced that MB-107, a lentiviral gene therapy for the treatment of X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency, also known as bubble boy disease, has been granted Regenerative Medicine Advanced Therapy status.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­vives bid to get drug list prices on TV ads

The Trump administration is not giving up just yet. On Wednesday, the HHS filed an appeal against a judge’s decision in July to overturn a ruling obligating drug manufacturers to disclose the list price of their therapies in television adverts — hours before it was stipulated to go into effect.

In May, the HHS published a final ruling requiring drugmakers to divulge the wholesale acquisition cost— of a 30-day supply of the drug — in tv ads in a bid to enhance price transparency in the United States. The pharmaceutical industry has vehemently opposed the rule, asserting that list prices are not what a typical patient in the United States pays for treatment — that number is typically determined by the type of (or lack thereof) insurance coverage, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs. Although there is truth to that claim, the move was considered symbolic in the Trump administration’s healthcare agenda to hold drugmakers accountable in a climate where skyrocketing drug prices have incensed Americans on both sides of the aisle.

Bob Smith, Pfizer

Pfiz­er is mak­ing a $500M state­ment to­day: Here’s how you be­come a lead play­er in the boom­ing gene ther­a­py sec­tor

Three years ago, Pfizer anted up $150 million in cash to buy Bamboo Therapeutics in Chapel Hill, NC as it cautiously stuck a toe in the small gene therapy pool of research and development.

Company execs followed up a year later with a $100 million expansion of the manufacturing operations they picked up in that deal for the UNC spinout, which came with $495 million in milestones.

And now they’re really going for it.

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Video: Putting the AI in R&D — with Badhri Srini­vasan, Tony Wood, Rosana Kapeller, Hugo Ceule­mans, Saurabh Sa­ha and Shoibal Dat­ta

During BIO this year, I had a chance to moderate a panel among some of the top tech experts in biopharma on their real-world use of artificial intelligence in R&D. There’s been a lot said about the potential of AI, but I wanted to explore more about what some of the larger players are actually doing with this technology today, and how they see it advancing in the future. It was a fascinating exchange, which you can see here. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity. — John Carroll