With $500M-plus, a buy­out and two new bil­lion-dol­lar pacts, up­start Vir is ready to roll on in­fec­tious dis­eases

George Scan­gos has been busy since leav­ing Bio­gen’s helm and jump­ing to the start­up Vir Biotech­nol­o­gy in San Fran­cis­co. Now it’s time for the com­ing out par­ty, which in­volves de­vel­op­ment al­liances with two of the biotechs back at his for­mer base in Cam­bridge, MA. And ac­cord­ing to Scan­gos, Vir is still just get­ting start­ed in build­ing a whole new com­pa­ny.

To­day Scan­gos un­veiled a biotech buy­out, two bil­lion-dol­lar drug de­vel­op­ment deals to build the pipeline, more than $500 mil­lion in fi­nanc­ing from some high-rolling tech gam­blers and four aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships at Vir, which has set out to cre­ate a new pipeline for in­fec­tious dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment.

Let’s kick this off with the part­ner­ships.

Robert Nelsen, Arch Ven­tures

Al­nyam gets it start­ed with a pact cov­er­ing RNAi drugs for in­fec­tious dis­eases, with Vir bag­ging de­vel­op­ment rights for a next-gen he­pati­tis B drug along with rights to four oth­er pro­grams that go in­to the pack­age. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, Al­ny­lam si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly said it’s ax­ing its orig­i­nal ear­ly-stage hep B pro­gram for ALN-HBV and re­plac­ing it with an amped up suc­ces­sor dubbed ALN-HBV02.

In the Al­ny­lam pact, Vir will pick up the pro­gram for the first hu­man proof-of-con­cept study, with the part­ners co-fund­ing the work. Vir takes con­trol in Phase II and Al­ny­lam has an op­tion to jump in­to a prof­it-shar­ing pact ahead of Phase III.

Al­ny­lam gets an un­spec­i­fied up­front in cash and stock in Vir, with $1 bil­lion-plus in mile­stones.

Then there’s Vis­ter­ra. This biotech has built a plat­form us­ing an epi­tope-tar­get­ing tech that can be used for pre­ci­sion an­ti­body de­vel­op­ment.

Vir has bagged an op­tion on mi­nor­i­ty rights to VIS410 for in­fluen­za A hos­pi­tal cas­es with a shot at a re­gion­al co-pro­mo­tion li­cense, plus pro­grams for RSV, fun­gal in­fec­tions and two oth­er pro­grams to be de­cid­ed on. Vis­ter­ra al­so gets more than a bil­lion dol­lars in po­ten­tial mile­stones.

Build­ing its own plat­form, Vir has ac­quired Switzer­land’s Hum­abs Bio­Med SA for an un­spec­i­fied amount, adding its op­er­a­tions and staff, who will re­main in Eu­rope.

The four new aca­d­e­m­ic deals cov­er an AI col­lab­o­ra­tion for drug dis­cov­ery with Stan­ford; a part­ner­ship with Har­vard that will give Vir an in-li­cens­ing edge for fu­ture pro­grams; an ex­pand­ed pact with OHSU and an al­liance with the Fred Hutchin­son Can­cer Re­search Cen­ter for cell ther­a­pies.

Pay­ing for all this is a syn­di­cate that was led by Arch Ven­tures’ Robert Nelsen, who seed­ed the com­pa­ny, along with the Bill & Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures and Al­ta Part­ners. They’re joined by Soft­Bank Vi­sion Fund, Temasek, Bail­lie Gif­ford, the Alas­ka Per­ma­nent Fund, and se­lect sov­er­eign wealth funds, pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als, fam­i­ly of­fices and in­sti­tu­tion­al in­vestors.

Scan­gos calls Vir a sci­ence-dri­ven com­pa­ny, but it’s very much fo­cused on clin­i­cal stage de­vel­op­ment. In a state­ment, he not­ed:

“We ex­pect to move sev­er­al com­pounds in­to clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment in the next 18 months and we have an op­tion to ac­quire a por­tion of a Phase II com­pound tar­get­ing flu. We al­so con­tin­ue to eval­u­ate sev­er­al near-term op­por­tu­ni­ties to ac­quire ad­di­tion­al mid- and late-stage clin­i­cal com­pounds, as well as ex­pand our tech­nol­o­gy base even fur­ther. We have hired an ex­pe­ri­enced man­age­ment team and built in­ter­nal tech­nol­o­gy de­vel­op­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties re­quired for the pro­duc­tion of bi­o­log­i­cal prod­ucts. I am pleased that in our first year we have been able to align lead­ing ideas, tech­nol­o­gy, and ex­per­tise fo­cused on trans­form­ing the care of peo­ple with se­ri­ous in­fec­tious dis­eases and pro­vid­ing a re­turn to our in­vestors.”

George Scan­gos pic­tured dur­ing a TV in­ter­view on Jan­u­ary 12, 2016. David Paul Mor­ris/Bloomberg via Get­ty Im­ages

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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No­var­tis is eye­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Med­Co buy­out as Jer­sey biotech nears NDA — re­ports

To get from Novartis’ US headquarters to the Medicines Company, you make a left out of a square concrete building on NJ-Route 10, follow it past the sun orange veranda of Jersey’s Hot Bagels and the inexplicable green Vermont cabin that houses the Whippany Railway Museum until you turn right and immediately arrive at a rectangular glass building. It should take you about 12 minutes.

Reports are out that Novartis may be making that trip. Amid a torrent of Phase III data burnishing MedCo’s chances at a blockbuster cholesterol drug,  Bloomberg News is reporting that Novartis is looking to acquire the Jersey-based biotech.

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UP­DAT­ED: In a land­mark first glimpse of hu­man da­ta from Ver­tex, CRISPR/Cas9 gene ther­a­py sig­nals ear­ly ben­e­fit

Preliminary data on two patients with blood disorders that have been administered with Vertex and partner CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-editing therapy suggest the technology is safe and effective, marking the first instance of the benefit of the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in humans suffering from disease.

Patients in these phase I/II studies give up peripheral blood from which hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are isolated. The cells are tinkered with using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and the edited cells — CTX001 — are infused back into the patient via a stem cell transplant. The objective of CTX001 is to fix the errant hemoglobin gene in patents with two blood disorders: beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, by unleashing the production of fetal hemoglobin.

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Badrul Chowdhury. FDA via Flickr

As­traZeneca los­es an­oth­er ex­ec­u­tive to biotech, as Badrul Chowd­hury moves to Savara

Another executive is migrating from the echelons of Big Pharma to the corridors of small biotech.

In April 2018, Badrul Chowdhury took his more than two decades of experience at the FDA to AstraZeneca, where he took on the role of senior vice president and chief physician-scientist for respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity late-stage development in biopharmaceuticals R&D.

After about a year and a half in this role, Chowdhury is moving to a small Texas biotech called Savara, where he will serve as chief medical officer.

Yiannis Kiachopoulos and Artur Saudabayev, co-founders of Causaly

Lon­don AI up­start, which counts No­var­tis as a cus­tomer, can teach your com­put­er to read

When Amazon developed a machine-learning tool to make its recruitment process more efficient — the man-made system absorbed the gender-bias of its human makers, and the project was aborted. In the field of biopharmaceuticals, the way researchers train their machine learning algorithms can skew the outcome of predictions. But before those predictions can be made, the engine must learn to read to make sense of explosive volume of knowledge out there.

Burt Adelman. Novo Ventures

Here's a $25M seed fund aimed at back­ing some brash new drug ideas out of the Broad

As a former academic and a seasoned drug developer, Burt Adelman knew when he was recruited as a senior advisor to Novo Ventures in 2017 that one of his key priorities needs to be introducing the fund to the network he was so deeply embedded in.

“I was thinking long and hard on how can I, as a Boston insider, help Novo really get inside the ecosystem of Boston biotech?” he recalled in an interview with Endpoints News.

Welling­ton lines up a $393M bankroll for its next round of pri­vate biotech bets — and they’re like­ly think­ing big

Wellington Management made some uncustomary waves at the beginning of the year when it threw its considerable weight against Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene buyout. But after Bristol-Myers’ biggest investor conceded that game to the influential proxy firms involved, they’re now going to end the year by rolling out a big new investment fund for a new stable of fledgling biotechs on the private side of the industry.

As uter­ine race with Ab­b­Vie heats up, My­ovant eyes FDA ap­proval with tri­al re­sults from prostate can­cer

Myovant has long had a secret weapon in its uterine rivalry with AbbVie: Men.

While the small Swiss biotech has jockeyed with the Illinois-based giant for a foothold in the endometriosis and uterine fibroid therapy market, the company has been developing the same lead compound, relugolix, for use in one of the most common cancers for the uterus-less: prostate cancer. Today, Myovant is out with positive topline results from its big Phase III trial on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist. They say they’ve reached every primary and secondary endpoint with p values less than .0001.