With a po­ten­tial cure for lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­or­ders in hand, Avro­bio rais­es $60M to back gene ther­a­py pipeline

In gene ther­a­py, re­spons­es from just one or two pa­tients can have a huge in­flu­ence on an­a­lysts’ opin­ions. Just ask the ex­ec­u­tive team at blue­bird bio, which trum­pets each pa­tient’s progress with de­light — or cal­i­brates a new de­vel­op­ment strat­e­gy when smiles turn to frowns.

So it’s no won­der that Avro­bio is so proud of its very first pa­tient.

Ge­off MacK­ay

At a sci­en­tif­ic con­fer­ence in Japan last fall, re­searchers re­viewed the case of a pa­tient with Fab­ry dis­ease whose blood lev­els of the en­zyme a-Gal A were near ze­ro at the start of treat­ment. With­in 45 days of re­ceiv­ing their gene ther­a­py AVR-RD-01, the pa­tient’s plas­ma a-Gal A ac­tiv­i­ty in­creased in­to the nor­mal range, they said. And 6 months lat­er that hadn’t changed.

In oth­er words, they got the re­sponse they want­ed and Pa­tient 1 cleared the first hur­dle on dura­bil­i­ty. All sys­tems go for a young com­pa­ny that is out to cre­ate a once-and-done fix.

At­las seed­ed the com­pa­ny — Bruce Booth is the proud chair­man — and then launched it in the spring of 2016 with a $25 mil­lion A round that backed the work of 15 staffers. Over the last few months, its staff has dou­bled. And more hires are be­ing planned for lat­er this year.

That up­beat start has helped in­spire a hefty $60 mil­lion round to back the mid-stage work that will soon be­gin for a com­pa­ny that has laid out a broad plan to fol­low some of the lead­ers in lyso­so­mal stor­age dis­or­ders with the promise of a cure that could one day rel­e­gate the cur­rent stan­dard of care for these ail­ments to an his­toric foot­note.

Bruce Booth

The Se­ries B round was co-led by Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment and Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal (a Citadel com­pa­ny), and in­clud­ed Ais­ling, Brace Phar­ma Cap­i­tal, Even­tide, Morn­ing­side and Leerink Part­ners, along with ex­ist­ing in­vestors At­las Ven­ture, SV Health In­vestors and Clarus Ven­tures.

Get­ting an in­vest­ment group like Leerink in your round — not an every­day event in biotech — might make you think that there’s an IPO in the off­ing, es­pe­cial­ly with 2018 look­ing like an es­pe­cial­ly good year to take a biotech pub­lic. Gene ther­a­py pi­o­neers have al­so earned a lot of re­spect on Nas­daq, even with some tur­bu­lence for every set­back.

But Avro­bio CEO Ge­off MacK­ay is cir­cum­spect about any near-term of­fer­ings.

The com­pa­ny’s fo­cus this year is on kick­ing off a crit­i­cal Phase II tri­al for Fab­ry dis­ease, he says, to run par­al­lel to the Phase I.

There are no time­lines for the tri­als on pub­lic dis­play, though.

In gene ther­a­py, even af­ter the first US ap­proval, all com­pa­nies in the field tend to get striped with the same brush. MacK­ay’s de­sire now is to make sure that every­one knows that Avro­bio is in the lentivi­ral camp, where you’ll find lead­ers like blue­bird bio.

“AAV is a dif­fer­ent vec­tor,” he says. “It’s not fair to ex­trap­o­late to lentivi­ral.”

And at that point I hadn’t even men­tioned the James Wil­son study sound­ing the alarm around high-dose gene ther­a­pies us­ing AAV tech ear­li­er in the week.

A break­through with a gene ther­a­py would un­doubt­ed­ly have a huge im­pact on the pa­tients who de­pend on steady in­fu­sions of some high-priced ther­a­pies.

“We’re very re­spect­ful of the con­tri­bu­tion Gen­zyme and Shire’s made,” says MacK­ay. “Twen­ty years ago these pa­tients had no op­tions, then the pa­tients had an op­tion. When we look at it with fresh eyes, we see a sig­nif­i­cant op­por­tu­ni­ty to im­prove on the stan­dard of care.”

“Pa­tients now re­ly on bi­week­ly in­fu­sions of en­zymes, with se­vere chal­lenges to cost, com­pli­ance and qual­i­ty of life,” adds the CEO. “When ERT suc­ceeds it slows the pro­gres­sion of dis­ease but doesn’t halt it. The cen­tral premise is to de­liv­er via a one-time in­fu­sion for 24-7 pro­tec­tion, which we hope will halt the pro­gres­sion rather than just slow it down.”

Avro­bio has a long ways to go, but it has big plans for when it ar­rives.

A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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While No­var­tis ban­ish­es Zol­gens­ma scan­dal scars — Bio­gen goes on a Spin­raza 'of­fen­sive'

While Novartis painstakingly works to mop up the stench of the data manipulation scandal associated with its expensive gene therapy for spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) Zolgensma— rival Biogen is attempting to expand the use of its SMA therapy, Spinraza. 

The US drugmaker $BIIB secured US approval for Spinraza for use in the often fatal genetic disease in 2016. The approval covered a broad range of patients with infantile-onset (most likely to develop Type 1) SMA. 

Jason Kelly. Mike Blake/Reuters via Adobe

Eye­ing big ther­a­peu­tic push, Gink­go bags $290M to build a cell pro­gram­ming em­pire

Ginkgo Bioworks is on a roll. Days after publicizing a plan to nurture new startups via partnerships with accelerators Y Combinator and Petri, the Boston biotech says it has raised another $290 million for its cell programming platform to reach further and wider.

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UP­DAT­ED: Speak­er Nan­cy Pelosi to un­veil bill for fed­er­al­ly ne­go­ti­at­ed drug prices

After months of buzz from both sides of the aisle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will today introduce her plan to allow the federal government to negotiate prices for 250 prescription drugs, setting up a showdown with a pharmaceutical industry working overtime to prevent it.

The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.

Jeff Kindler's Cen­trex­ion re­news bid to make pub­lic de­but

Jeffrey Kindler’s plan to take his biotech — which is developing a slate of non-opioid painkillers — public, is back on.

The Boston based company, led by former Pfizer $PFE chief Kindler, originally contemplated a $70 million to $80 million IPO last year— but eventually postponed that strategy. On Wednesday, the company revived its bid to make a public debut in a filing with the SEC — although no pricing details were disclosed.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Zachary Hornby. Boundless

'A fourth rev­o­lu­tion in can­cer ther­a­pies': ARCH-backed Bound­less Bio flash­es big check, makes big­ger promis­es in de­but

It was the cellular equivalent of opening your car door and finding an active, roaring engine in the driver seat.

Scientists learned strands of DNA could occasionally appear outside of its traditional home in the nucleus in the 1970s, when they appeared as little, innocuous circles on microscopes; inexplicable but apparently innate. But not until UC San Diego’s Paul Mischel published his first study in Science in 2014 did researchers realize these circles were not only active but potentially overactive and driving some cancer tumors’ superhuman growth.

Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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