CEO Dan Hicklin (Werewolf)

Were­wolf pre­pares to bare its teeth in 1st tri­al for tar­get­ed cy­tokine tu­mor fight­ers with new round of in­vestor cash

Boston area biotech Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics launched in late 2019 with the goal of chas­ing nov­el im­mune sys­tem mod­u­la­tors to erad­i­cate sol­id tu­mors. Just over a year af­ter hit­ting the ground run­ning, Were­wolf has three can­di­dates in de­vel­op­ment and has its eyes set on the clin­ic with a new round of fund­ing.

Were­wolf on Thurs­day un­veiled a $72 mil­lion Se­ries B round to move its im­munother­a­pies, which tar­get the mi­croen­vi­ron­ments of sol­id can­cer tu­mors, to Phase I clin­i­cal proof-of-con­cept stud­ies.

The com­pa­ny, which launched with $56 mil­lion in Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing, is chas­ing pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry im­mune mod­u­la­tor mol­e­cules like IL-2 and IL-12 un­der its In­dukine trade­mark to hunt sol­id tu­mors. Were­wolf’s tar­get­ed cy­tokine can­di­dates aim to on­ly trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse once they en­ter a tu­mor’s mi­croen­vi­ron­ment — there­by spar­ing the sur­round­ing healthy cells from dam­age.

Were­wolf CEO Dan Hick­lin told End­points News that the newest round of fi­nanc­ing sig­ni­fies the lev­el of progress the com­pa­ny has achieved in a rel­a­tive­ly short pe­ri­od of time, but more im­por­tant­ly will al­low fur­ther re­search in­to ad­dress­ing the on­go­ing un­met med­ical needs as­so­ci­at­ed with sol­id can­cer tu­mors that don’t re­spond con­sis­tent­ly to oth­er can­cer ther­a­peu­tics.

“First, we got over the hur­dle of show­ing that you could re­al­ly make im­munother­a­py work and (the sec­ond hur­dle of) not just in one or two can­cers, but mul­ti­ple can­cers. So we have to start tap­ping in­to oth­er ap­proach­es and oth­er mech­a­nisms to stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem, be­cause right now check­point ther­a­py is re­mark­able in what it can do — but it has its lim­i­ta­tions,” Hick­lin said. “There’s still pa­tients that don’t re­spond. There’s still pa­tients that re­lapse. And so, you know, the ther­a­py is try­ing to go to that next stage where we’re look­ing at ad­di­tion­al mech­a­nisms and dif­fer­ent ways to stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem.”

Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics CEO Dan Hick­lin works along­side a sci­en­tist in the com­pa­ny’s lab­o­ra­to­ry.

Click on the im­age to see the full-sized ver­sion

Were­wolf now has three mol­e­cule pro­grams in its port­fo­lio, Hick­lin said, and is “thrilled” about the progress the com­pa­ny has made in its on­go­ing tech­nol­o­gy de­vel­op­ments. This progress is what led to “a re­al­ly world-class set of life sci­ence in­vestors” fund­ing a new round of in­vest­ments, he added.

Those in­vestors in­clude RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, which led the round and is joined by Deer­field Man­age­ment, HBM Health­care In­vest­ments, Soleus Cap­i­tal, Adage Cap­i­tal, Sphera Health­care and CaaS Cap­i­tal. The com­pa­ny said its Se­ries A in­vestors, in­clud­ing MPM Cap­i­tal, Long­wood, Tai­ho Ven­tures, Arkin Bio Ven­tures, DC In­vest­ment Part­ners and UPMC, al­so con­tributed to the Se­ries B funds.

Were­wolf’s In­dukine us­es a pro­pri­etary en­gi­neer­ing struc­ture dubbed PREDA­TOR, which Hick­lin de­scribes as a mul­ti­fac­eted sys­tem that has phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal prop­er­ties which al­low it to func­tion like a drug. Once ad­min­is­tered in­to the body, the mol­e­cules se­lec­tive­ly ac­ti­vate once they en­counter can­cer­ous dis­ease tis­sue, which could spare reg­u­lar tis­sue from ad­verse ef­fects.

“These are cy­tokines that are a very pow­er­ful way to stim­u­late the im­mune sys­tem to at­tack tu­mors,” he said. “But un­for­tu­nate­ly, these cy­tokines can al­so ac­ti­vate the im­mune sys­tem and ad­verse­ly af­fect nor­mal tis­sues as well, es­pe­cial­ly if they’re not tar­get­ed and con­trolled prop­er­ly once they’re ad­min­is­tered to the host … im­por­tant­ly, we’re do­ing this with­out com­pro­mis­ing their po­ten­cy.”

The new round of fi­nanc­ing comes at an ex­cit­ing time for the com­pa­ny, which in the past six months or so has added two key biotech vets to its C-suite in Ran­di Isaacs, a 20-year vet­er­an who took over as Were­wolf’s chief med­ical of­fi­cer af­ter leav­ing No­var­tis, and Ellen Lub­man, who hopped over as the com­pa­ny’s chief busi­ness of­fi­cer af­ter stints at Im­pel Neu­roPhar­ma and Al­ler­gan.

Ellen Lub­man

Lub­man, who joined Were­wolf in Au­gust, said her first five months have been “noth­ing short of ex­hil­a­rat­ing.”

“Both in terms of where the biotech in­dus­try is to­day, and how we have re­al­ly be­come as an in­dus­try, much more of a uni­corn — giv­en the abil­i­ty to rapid­ly de­vel­op a Covid-19 re­sponse, med­ical­ly speak­ing — and so that’s been an ex­hil­a­rat­ing op­por­tu­ni­ty … to be part of this time in our his­to­ry,” Lub­man said.

Were­wolf has held its pre­clin­i­cal da­ta for its two In­dukine can­di­dates, known as WTX-124 and WTX-330, close to the vest. Hick­lin said the com­pa­ny plans on pub­licly read­ing out da­ta dur­ing the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion for Can­cer Re­search con­fer­ence, which will be held in April and May.

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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James Sabry, Roche global head of pharma partnering

Roche, Genen­tech plunk down $60M up­front to part­ner with Chi­nese phar­ma on PRO­TAC-based prostate can­cer drug

Roche and Genentech are always on the hunt for deals, and on Thursday they found their newest partner.

The pair will team up with the Chinese pharma company Jemincare to push forward a new program for prostate cancer, the companies announced. Roche is ponying up $60 million upfront to get its hands on the candidate and promising up to $590 million in biobucks, plus royalties, down the line.

In return, Genentech will get a worldwide license to develop the program, known as JMKX002992, and bring it to market.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia ter­mi­nates Bay­er pact half a year ear­ly, col­lect­ing small por­tion of €240M promised

Bayer and Exscientia are winding down their three-year collaboration, leaving the big German pharma to take the AI-designed compounds born out of the pact further.

London-based Exscientia revealed in its Q2 update that the partners have “mutually agreed to end” their collaboration, which kicked off in early 2020, after recently achieving a drug discovery milestone. In an SEC filing, Exscientia said it terminated the pact on May 30, about six months early.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”