Who needs ven­ture back­ers? Bill Haney bags new deal cash from Cel­gene as his biotech up­start Drag­on­fly ex­plores NK cell tech

Bill Haney con­tin­ues to build Drag­on­fly Ther­a­peu­tics one deal at a time. And now he’s bank­ing more cash as he grows the com­pa­ny in­to an I/O play­er to reck­on with.

Tyler Jacks

Cel­gene is hand­ing over $24 mil­lion to bag the world­wide li­cens­ing rights on a pair of hema­tol­ogy ther­a­pies, pay­ing $12 mil­lion apiece just weeks af­ter the big biotech agreed to dou­ble down on their al­liance with the Cam­bridge, MA-based start­up and ex­pand the work with 4 new tar­gets.

The pact al­so comes with a pack­age of mile­stones.

David Raulet

Al­so al­lied with Mer­ck, Drag­on­fly’s busi­ness is built on TriN­KETs (Tri-spe­cif­ic, NK cell En­gager Ther­a­pies), link­ing nat­ur­al killer cells to the pro­teins found on the sur­face of can­cer cells. And that kind of ap­proach, they be­lieve, can cre­ate a po­tent next-gen im­munother­a­py ap­proach — po­ten­tial­ly a big deal for a com­pa­ny like Mer­ck or Cel­gene. 

Giv­en some busy trav­el plans for the CEO, who’s wrap­ping up a time­ly doc­u­men­tary on No­bel Prize win­ning sci­en­tist Jim Al­li­son, I pitched him some ques­tions via email last night.

JC: In prac­ti­cal terms, what does the buy-in do for Drag­on­fly?

BH: Three things. It is an­oth­er valu­able step in con­firm­ing our TriN­KET plat­form, be­cause Cel­gene clear­ly has a great deal of in­for­ma­tion about our Trin­kets tar­get­ing these first two in­di­ca­tions – through a set of cyno stud­ies. It con­firms our speed – as these drug can­di­dates have been hand­ed over less than 18 months af­ter our part­ner­ship was first an­nounced. Fi­nal­ly, it gives us more cap­i­tal – and in com­bi­na­tion with the oth­er deals re­cent­ly an­nounced, has built us a pret­ty for­mi­da­ble cap­i­tal po­si­tion, with­out sell­ing any shares.

JC: What can you tell me about the tar­gets here? 

BH: Both tar­gets are heme tar­gets – in keep­ing with Cel­gene’s for­mi­da­ble po­si­tion in heme in­di­ca­tions – but it is al­so im­por­tant that hav­ing seen all the da­ta from our joint pro­grams over the past 16 months – Cel­gene’s re­cent­ly an­nounced ex­pan­sion of our agree­ment broad­ened their in­ter­est to fo­cus on sol­id can­cer tar­gets as well – some­thing the Mer­ck agree­ment we have al­so fo­cused on.

JC: Any more part­ner­ship talks in the works right now?

BH: Yes. We are in ac­tive dis­cus­sions with a num­ber of part­ners both to de­vel­op Trin­KETS against new tar­gets, and to part­ner the drug can­di­dates we are rapid­ly ad­vanc­ing for IND fil­ing Q2 next year.

The com­pa­ny counts three key founders: 

Tyler Jacks, an MIT pro­fes­sor, HH­MI in­ves­ti­ga­tor and di­rec­tor of the David H. Koch In­sti­tute for In­te­gra­tive Can­cer Re­search; Berke­ley’s David Raulet, whose back­ground as an ex­pert in NK cells and tu­mor im­munol­o­gy helped spot­light some of the big ideas Drag­on­fly is pur­su­ing, clear­ly played a big role with this deal; and Haney, an en­tre­pre­neur and film­mak­er.


Im­age: Bill Haney. DRAG­ON­FLY

Im­ple­ment­ing re­silience in the clin­i­cal tri­al sup­ply chain

Since January 2020, the clinical trials ecosystem has quickly evolved to manage roadblocks impeding clinical trial integrity, and patient care and safety amid a global pandemic. Closed borders, reduced air traffic and delayed or canceled flights disrupted global distribution, revealing how flexible logistics and supply chains can secure the timely delivery of clinical drug products and therapies to sites and patients.

In fi­nal days at Mer­ck, Roger Perl­mut­ter bets big on a lit­tle-known Covid-19 treat­ment

Roger Perlmutter is spending his last days at Merck, well, spending.

Two weeks after snapping up the antibody-drug conjugate biotech VelosBio for $2.75 billion, Merck announced today that it had purchased OncoImmune and its experimental Covid-19 drug for $425 million. The drug, known as CD24Fc, appeared to reduce the risk of respiratory failure or death in severe Covid-19 patients by 50% in a 203-person Phase III trial, OncoImmune said in September.

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Pascal Soriot (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: As­traZeneca, Ox­ford on the de­fen­sive as skep­tics dis­miss 70% av­er­age ef­fi­ca­cy for Covid-19 vac­cine

On the third straight Monday that the world wakes up to positive vaccine news, AstraZeneca and Oxford are declaring a new Phase III milestone in the fight against the pandemic. Not everyone is convinced they will play a big part, though.

With an average efficacy of 70%, the headline number struck analysts as less impressive than the 95% and 94.5% protection that Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna have boasted in the past two weeks, respectively. But the British partners say they have several other bright spots going for their candidate. One of the two dosing regimens tested in Phase III showed a better profile, bringing efficacy up to 90%; the adenovirus vector-based vaccine requires minimal refrigeration, which may mean easier distribution; and AstraZeneca has pledged to sell it at a fraction of the price that the other two vaccine developers are charging.

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John Maraganore, Alnylam CEO (Scott Eisen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Al­ny­lam gets the green light from the FDA for drug #3 — and CEO John Maraganore is ready to roll

Score another early win at the FDA for Alnylam.

The FDA put out word today that the agency has approved its third drug, lumasiran, for primary hyperoxaluria type 1, better known as PH1. The news comes just 4 days after the European Commission took the lead in offering a green light.

An ultra rare genetic condition, Alnylam CEO John Maraganore says there are only some 1,000 to 1,700 patients in the US and Europe at any particular point. The patients, mostly kids, suffer from an overproduction of oxalate in the liver that spurs the development of kidney stones, right through to end stage kidney disease.

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Bob Nelsen (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

Bob Nelsen rais­es $800M and re­cruits a star-stud­ded board to build the 'Fox­con­n' of biotech

Bob Nelsen spent his pandemic spring in his Seattle home, talking on the phone with Luciana Borio, the scientist who used to run pandemic preparedness on the National Security Council, and fuming with her about the dire state of American manufacturing.

Companies were rushing to develop vaccines and antibodies for the new virus, but even if they succeeded, there was no immediate supply chain or infrastructure to mass-produce them in a way that could make a dent in the outbreak.

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Carl Hansen, AbCellera CEO (University of British Columbia)

From a pair of Air Jor­dans to a $200M-plus IPO, Carl Hansen is craft­ing an overnight R&D for­tune fu­eled by Covid-19

Back in the summer of 2019, Carl Hansen left his post as a professor at the University of British Columbia to go full time as the CEO at a low-profile antibody shop he had founded called AbCellera.

As biotech CEOs go, even after a fundraise Hansen wasn’t paid a whole heck of a lot. He ended up earning right at $250,000 for the year. His compensation package included a loan — which he later paid back — and a pair of Air Jordan tennis shoes. His newly-hired CFO, Andrew Booth, got a sweeter pay packet than that — which included his own pair of Air Jordans.

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Leonard Schleifer, Regeneron CEO (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Trail­ing Eli Lil­ly by 12 days, Re­gen­eron gets the FDA OK for their Covid-19 an­ti­body cock­tail

A month and a half after becoming the experimental treatment of choice for a newly diagnosed president, Regeneron’s antibody cocktail has received emergency use authorization from the FDA. It will be used to treat non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients who are at high-risk of progressing.

Although the Rgeneron drug is not the first antibody treatment authorized by the FDA, the news comes as a significant milestone for a company and a treatment scientists have watched closely since the outbreak began.

Bahija Jallal (file photo)

TCR pi­o­neer Im­muno­core scores a first with a land­mark PhI­II snap­shot on over­all sur­vival for a rare melanoma

Bahija Jallal’s crew at TCR pioneer Immunocore says they have nailed down a promising set of pivotal data for their lead drug in a frontline setting for a solid tumor. And they are framing this early interim readout as the convincing snapshot they need to prove that their platform can deliver on a string of breakthrough therapies now in the clinic or planned for it.

In advance of the Monday announcement, Jallal and R&D chief David Berman took some time to walk me through the first round of Phase III data for their lead TCR designed to treat rare, frontline cases of metastatic uveal melanoma that come with a grim set of survival expectations.

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Simeon George, SR One CEO (SR One)

Scoop: SR One crew com­pletes a com­pli­cat­ed spin­out from Glax­o­SmithK­line. And now they have a $500M fund to in­vest on their own

It’s taken close to 2 years, but Simeon George and his team at SR One have completed their spinout from GlaxoSmithKline, ending a saga as one of the longest running venture arms of Big Pharma as they go out on their own to forge the next chapter with a new and independent $500 million fund.

GSK is sticking with the spinout, this time as a minority investor — though a big one. And I’m told that the R&D group at GSK will remain involved in evaluating their new plays, helping with the scientific due diligence involved in scouting the world for new opportunities during a period of explosive growth in biotech investing.

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