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

Tar­get­ing a Po­ten­tial Vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of Cer­tain Can­cers with DNA Dam­age Re­sponse

Every individual’s DNA is unique, and because of this, every patient responds differently to disease and treatment. It is astonishing how four tiny building blocks of our DNA – A, T, C, G – dictate our health, disease, and how we age.

The tricky thing about DNA is that it is constantly exposed to damage by sources such as ultraviolet light, certain chemicals, toxins, and even natural biochemical processes inside our cells.¹ If ignored, DNA damage will accumulate in replicating cells, giving rise to mutations that can lead to premature aging, cancer, and other diseases.

Ken Frazier, Merck CEO (Bess Adler/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck takes a swing at the IL-2 puz­zle­box with a $1.85B play for buzzy Pan­dion and its au­toim­mune hope­fuls

When Roger Perlmutter bid farewell to Merck late last year, the drugmaker perhaps best known now for sales giant Keytruda signaled its intent to take a swing at early-stage novelty with the appointment of discovery head Dean Li. Now, Merck is signing a decent-sized check to bring an IL-2 moonshot into the fold.

Merck will shell out roughly $1.85 billion for Pandion Pharmaceuticals, a biotech hoping to gin up regulatory T cells (Tregs) to treat a range of autoimmune disorders, the drugmaker said Thursday.

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Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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Fol­low biotechs go­ing pub­lic with the End­points News IPO Track­er

The Endpoints News team is continuing to track IPO filings for 2021, and we’ve designed a new tracker page for the effort.

Check it out here: Biopharma IPOs 2021 from Endpoints News

You’ll be able to find all the biotechs that have filed and priced so far this year, sortable by quarter and listed by newest first. As of the time of publishing on Feb. 25, there have already been 16 biotechs debuting on Nasdaq so far this year, with an additional four having filed their S-1 paperwork.

Doug Ingram (file photo)

Why not? Sarep­ta’s third Duchenne MD drug sails to ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval

Sarepta may be running into some trouble with its next-gen gene therapy approach to Duchenne muscular dystrophy. But when it comes to antisense oligonucleotides, the well-trodden regulatory path is still leading straight to an accelerated approval for casimersen, now christened Amondys 45.

We just have to wait until 2024 to find out if it works.

Amondys 45’s approval was unceremonious, compared to its two older siblings. There was no controversy within the FDA over approving a drug based on a biomarker rather than clinical benefit, setting up a powerful precedent that still haunts acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock as biotech insiders weighed her potential permanent appointment; no drama like the FDA issuing a stunning rejection only to reverse its decision and hand out an OK four months later, which got more complicated after the scathing complete response letter was published; no anxious tea leaf reading or heated arguments from drug developers and patient advocates who were tired of having corticosteroids as their loved ones’ only (sometimes expensive) option.

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S&P ex­pects steady ero­sion in Big Phar­ma's cred­it pro­file in 2021 as new M&A deals roll in — but don't un­der­es­ti­mate their un­der­ly­ing strength

S&P Global has taken a look at the dominant forces shaping the pharma market and come to the conclusion that there will be more downgrades than upgrades in 2021 — the 8th straight year of steady decline.

But it’s not all bad news. Some things are looking up, and there’s still plenty of money to be made in an industry that enjoys a 30% to 40% profit margin, once you factor in steep R&D expenses.

With dust set­tled on ac­tivist at­tack, Lau­rence Coop­er leaves Zio­pharm to a new board

Laurence Cooper has done his part.

In the five years since he left a tenured position at Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center to become CEO of Boston-based Ziopharm, he’s steered the small-cap immunotherapy player through patient deaths in trials, clinical holds, short attacks and, most recently, an activist attack on the board.

So when the company has “fantastic news” like an IND clearance for a TCR T cell therapy program, he’s ready to pass on the baton.

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Steve Cutler, Icon CEO (Icon)

In the biggest CRO takeover in years, Icon doles out $12B for PRA Health Sci­ences to fo­cus on de­cen­tral­ized clin­i­cal work

Contract research M&A had a healthy run in recent years before recently petering out. But with the market ripe for a big buyout and the Covid-19 pandemic emphasizing the importance of decentralized trials, Wednesday saw a tectonic shift in the CRO world.

Icon, the Dublin-based CRO, will acquire PRA Health Sciences for $12 billion in a move that will shake up the highest rungs of a fragmented market. The merger would combine the 5th- and 6th-largest CROs by 2020 revenue, according to Icon, and the merger will set the newco up to be the second-largest global CRO behind only IQVIA.

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J&J ad­comm live blog: Com­mit­tee votes 22-0 to rec­om­mend an FDA OK for the J&J vac­cine, set­ting up 3rd US Covid-19 jab

The US could have a third authorized Covid-19 vaccine within hours.

The FDA’s advisory committee voted unanimously — 22-0 — to recommend the agency issue an emergency use authorization for J&J’s vaccine. If they follow the precedent of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine,  the FDA will likely authorize the vaccine by Saturday, immediately adding a few million doses to the US supply and adding a 100 million by June. An authorization would give the world its first single-dose vaccine, a major weapon in the effort to vaccinate the world and bring the virus to heel, particularly in rural and developing areas.