With a 'monopoly' on gly­co­pro­teomics, In­ter­Venn rais­es $34M to push can­cer di­ag­nos­tic in­to the clin­ic, woos Il­lu­mi­na BD ex­ec

For a few years now, ear­ly de­tec­tion of can­cer has been the sex­i­est top­ic in all of di­ag­nos­tics. With bil­lions of VC dol­lars poured in­to the pur­suit of tests to sniff out tu­mors ear­ly, the field is full of new ap­proach­es that promise to ac­cu­rate­ly pick up traces of can­cer, when pa­tients are more like­ly to be cured. But amid all the -omics — rang­ing from next-gen­er­a­tion ge­net­ic se­quenc­ing to high-through­put pro­tein screen­ing — one par­tic­u­lar type of mol­e­cule is al­ways ab­sent.

Al­do Car­ras­coso

What’s miss­ing is an analy­sis of pro­tein gly­co­sy­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­Venn Bio­sciences, which has just raised $34 mil­lion to com­mer­cial­ize its first di­ag­nos­tics.

While In­ter­Venn may lack the glam­our of big-mon­ey out­fits such as Grail (now ac­quired by Il­lu­mi­na), Thrive, Kar­ius, Seer and Freenome, the South San Fran­cis­co-based com­pa­ny boasts of two star founders who’ve spent years to un­earth the in­tri­ca­cies of gly­co­bi­ol­o­gy: Car­olyn Bertozzi of Stan­ford and Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la of UC Davis.

It’s al­so re­cruit­ed a new chief busi­ness of­fi­cer, John Leite, from di­ag­nos­tics gi­ant Il­lu­mi­na to scout deals for some of the 24 dif­fer­ent tests in the port­fo­lio.

In­ter­Venn CEO Al­do Car­ras­coso, whose en­tre­pre­neur­ial ef­forts have pre­vi­ous­ly re­volved around busi­ness man­age­ment, dig­i­tal me­dia and blockchain, crossed paths with the sci­en­tists af­ter his cousin, fol­low­ing his moth­er and a close rel­a­tive, suc­cumbed to breast can­cer in 2016. The fam­i­ly tried every type of se­quenc­ing to no avail. The in­tense frus­tra­tion in un­der­stand­ing what’s go­ing on even­tu­al­ly led him to Le­bril­la’s lab, where he took a blood test.

He wait­ed a few hours for the blood to be processed by the mass spec­trom­e­ter. Then he was asked to come back in 12 months.

Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la

“I said, what do you mean come back in 12 months?” Car­ras­coso re­called to End­points News. The stu­dents and post­docs need­ed the time to run through the da­ta, re­peat­ing the process a few hun­dred thou­sand times to iden­ti­fy spec­tral sig­na­tures.

He had an idea of how you can su­per­charge what they were do­ing and trans­form the “in­sane process” with ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence — a re­cur­rent neur­al net­work to be spe­cif­ic — and Le­bril­la took in­ter­est. The next year was spent build­ing a hand-cu­rat­ed dataset of gly­co­pro­teomics and us­ing it to train their first neur­al net­work.

The re­sult­ing al­go­rithm could spit out re­sults in 12 min­utes, some­times even 12 sec­onds.

John Leite

“That was the biggest bot­tle­neck for Car­l­i­to Le­bril­la and Car­olyn Bertozzi,” Car­ras­coso said. “The abil­i­ty to man­age the im­mense in­for­ma­tion that gly­co­pro­teomics gen­er­ate. It’s just over­whelm­ing for sci­en­tists.”

Through run­ning sam­ples for bio­phar­ma, hos­pi­tal and aca­d­e­m­ic clients, In­ter­Venn has dis­cov­ered bio­mark­ers that formed the ba­sis of 24 di­ag­nos­tics. In ear­ly 2021 they hope to com­plete en­roll­ment of a tri­al to com­pare its pan­el, VO­CAL, against the wide­ly used CA 125.

Af­ter that comes a slew of tests for re­nal, lung, liv­er, prostate, pan­cre­at­ic, na­sopha­ryn­geal, col­orec­tal can­cer and oth­ers, all con­sist­ing of dis­tinct sets of gly­copep­tides. In­ter­Venn al­so sees po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tion of its tech in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, where it may help drug de­vel­op­ers iden­ti­fy the pa­tients who would ben­e­fit from ther­a­pies that to­day on­ly helps 20% to 30% of pa­tients.

Er­win Es­ti­gar­rib­ia

“That’s some­thing that to­day doesn’t ex­ist,” COO Er­win Es­ti­gar­rib­ia, a vet­er­an of the di­ag­nos­tics space, said.

The re­al test lies ahead. With­out for­mal FDA ap­proval, In­ter­Venn’s pan­els must be processed cen­tral­ly at its San Fran­cis­co fa­cil­i­ty. But there’s a plan to ex­pand the over­sub­scribed ser­vice, not just by ex­pand­ing ca­pac­i­ty but ob­tain­ing reg­u­la­to­ry clear­ance to al­low oth­ers to run their di­ag­nos­tics, com­plete with a “plat­form ag­nos­tic” soft­ware that can han­dle da­ta from any mass spec­trom­e­ter. With the new cash com­ing in from Anzu Part­ners, Genoa Ven­tures, Am­pli­fy Part­ners, True Ven­tures, Xer­aya Cap­i­tal and the Oj­jeh Fam­i­ly, Car­ras­coso ex­pects the head­count to grow dra­mat­i­cal­ly from the cur­rent 50.

But for now, In­ter­Venn is con­tent oc­cu­py­ing what the CEO de­scribes as a mo­nop­oly.

“I wait for the day that there is an­oth­er In­ter­Venn,” he said. “But we’ve been search­ing for years. There hasn’t.”

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.

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.

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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Per­cep­tive's fourth — yes, fourth — SPAC jumps to Nas­daq as the blank check tree con­tin­ues to ripen

The biotech SPAC boom has gone almost hand-in-hand with the industry’s IPO gold rush, and this week saw more blank check companies hop aboard the train.

Leading the way is Perceptive Advisors’ fourth SPAC, appropriately named Arya Sciences Acquisition IV, which priced Friday morning after raising $130 million. And on top of that, new Ziopharm executive chair James Huang is launching his own SPAC with MSD Partners and Panacea Venture, filing S-1 paperwork Thursday with plans to raise $200 million.

CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month after Big Pharma took notice of Artiva when Merck signed a collaboration worth nearly $2 billion in milestones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech already has its next big fundraise.

Artiva returns from the venture well Friday with a $120 million Series B round, money they will use to get their first program into the clinic and to file INDs for another two candidates. The raise marks the latest development in a rapidly expanding footprint for Artiva, which, in addition to the Merck deal last month, has now raised almost $200 million since its Series A last June.

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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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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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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