With deep ties to Chi­na, Vi­vace ex­its stealth mode with a lead can­cer pro­gram, plat­form and $40M

It’s not un­usu­al for in­vestors to qui­et­ly seed a stealth biotech long enough to see if they’re on to some­thing, then de­but the com­pa­ny with a Se­ries A. In Vi­vace Ther­a­peu­tics’ case, the West Coast biotech wait­ed for the Se­ries B, flesh­ing out a lead pro­gram and a plat­form tech­nol­o­gy to help it stand out in a crowd of star­tups.

In the process, back­ers have ex­pand­ed the syn­di­cate to in­clude a line­up of transpa­cif­ic in­vestors drawn to a com­pa­ny with roots in Chi­na as well as Cal­i­for­nia, spawn­ing a new kind of vir­tu­al com­pa­ny with a hand­ful of full­time staffers and some high-pro­file sci­en­tif­ic founders with their own cross-cul­tur­al back­grounds that fit this com­pa­ny per­fect­ly.

Kun-liang Guan

Kun-liang Guan at UC San Diego opened the doors at Vi­vace with re­search that led to a lead ther­a­py that tar­gets the Hip­po-YAP sig­nal­ing path­way, a new ap­proach to treat­ing can­cer.  Bin Liu, a pro­fes­sor at UC San Fran­cis­co with a well es­tab­lished en­tre­pre­neur­ial record of his own in biotech, of­fered the plat­form tech, fo­cus­ing on bis­pe­cif­ic an­ti­bod­ies tout­ed with “su­per po­tent” qual­i­ties de­signed to pro­mote bind­ing “in a near­ly ir­re­versible and cell-type spe­cif­ic man­ner to tar­get cells.”

Sofie Qiao

The CEO is Sofie Qiao, who spent time as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor at WuXi Ven­tures, the ven­ture arm of WuXi CEO Ge Li, who runs a large CRO that’s been lend­ing con­sid­er­able as­sis­tance on the con­tract­ing side as the biotech gets es­tab­lished. Qiao brought in Leonard Post as CSO, a log­i­cal pick af­ter the two built Lead Ther­a­peu­tics, the com­pa­ny that first de­vel­oped ta­la­zoparib, a PARP in­hibitor that was scooped up by Bio­Marin, lat­er ac­quired by Medi­va­tion and then bagged by Pfiz­er in a $14 bil­lion buy­out.

Back in 2015, Qiao, WuXi and Canaan came in on the $15 mil­lion A round used to found the com­pa­ny. To­day, they’re pulling the veil off a $25 mil­lion B round as they po­si­tion the com­pa­ny for the clin­ic.

“We de­cid­ed to put the mon­ey in it and see how it goes,” Qiao re­calls in telling me the sto­ry about the ear­ly days. “In the past two years we have made a lot of progress.”

Post tells me they start­ed off with an in­hi­bi­tion ef­fort, lat­er adding an ac­ti­va­tor as well. “That was not an easy thing to do,” he notes. There are no ob­vi­ous drug­gable tar­gets in the path­way, he adds, but they do have com­pounds that are do­ing the trick in pre­clin­i­cal work, which is about as de­tailed as he wants to get right now.

All the founders in Vi­vace were born in Chi­na, but have deep aca­d­e­m­ic and fi­nan­cial ties in the US. Now they are wel­com­ing Cen­o­va Cap­i­tal as the lead in­vestor in the B round, in­clud­ing Se­quoia Cap­i­tal Chi­na in a syn­di­cate that count­ed Tim Shan­non at Canaan, WuXi Health­care Ven­tures and Mis­sion Bay Cap­i­tal.

Vi­vace has a staff of 6 now, which may grow just a bit. Qiao and Post sound hap­py with their ex­pe­ri­ence run­ning a cap­i­tal-ef­fi­cient vir­tu­al biotech with help in Chi­na, a mod­el they first pur­sued at Lead. They want to im­prove on that mod­el, not break the mold.

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.

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.

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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Mer­ck helps bankroll new part­ner Themis' game plan to fin­ish the chikun­gun­ya race and be­gin on­colyt­ic virus quest

As Themis gears up for a Phase III trial of its chikungunya vaccine, the Vienna-based biotech has closed out €40 million ($44 million) to foot the clinical and manufacturing bills.

Its heavyweight partners at Merck — which signed a pact around a mysterious “blockbuster indication” last month — jumped into the Series D, led by new investors Farallon Capital and Hadean Ventures. Adjuvant Capital also joined, as did current investors Global Health Investment Fund, aws Gruenderfonds, Omnes Capital, Ventech and Wellington Partners Life Sciences.