With fresh in­vestor cash in hand, Volas­tra part­ners with Mi­crosoft to de­vel­op metasta­t­ic can­cer bio­mark­er plat­form

De­spite a suite of in­no­va­tions in on­co­log­ic ther­a­py, metasta­t­ic can­cer re­mains one of the lead­ing killers of US pa­tients, and the un­der­ly­ing dri­vers of its growth are still lit­tle known. A West Harlem biotech is look­ing at one po­ten­tial path to solv­ing metas­ta­sis, and now it’s work­ing with a high-pro­file part­ner to speed its ef­forts.

Volas­tra has closed an ex­pand­ed $44 mil­lion Se­ries A and iced a deal with Mi­crosoft to de­vel­op new dig­i­tal tools to iden­ti­fy bio­mark­ers for can­cer metas­ta­sis based on the com­pa­ny’s work study­ing chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty, the biotech said in a pair of re­leas­es Tues­day.

Lewis Cant­ley

Found­ed on sci­ence from co-founders Lewis Cant­ley, Olivi­er El­e­men­to and Samuel Bakhoum, Volas­tra is look­ing to dis­cov­er and de­vel­op nov­el drugs tar­get­ing chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty, a key dri­ver in the metasta­t­ic can­cer. The biotech us­es ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to iden­ti­fy bio­mark­ers for chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty “at scale,” CEO Charles Hugh-Jones told End­points News, and is work­ing to de­vel­op nov­el mol­e­cules across three broad po­ten­tial modal­i­ties: im­mune ac­ti­va­tion, syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty and CIN-path­way mod­u­la­tion.

The key there is “at scale,” and that’s the idea that sparked the part­ner­ship with Mi­crosoft. The tech gi­ant will pit its “com­put­er vi­sion” plat­form, which crunch­es da­ta sets for vi­su­al fea­tures, against Volas­tra’s grow­ing chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty da­ta sets and hope­ful­ly be­gin churn­ing out bio­mark­ers soon­er than you might think.

Charles Hugh-Jones

“They’re re­al­ly in­ter­est­ed in how they can ap­ply their ma­chine vi­sion al­go­rithms and we’re bring­ing to the ta­ble the chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty ex­per­tise,” Hugh-Jones said. “Com­bin­ing those two, we will have by the third quar­ter of this year a ma­chine vi­sion plat­form where we bulk iden­ti­fy chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty.”

With that high-pro­file deal in place, Volas­tra will al­so take a fresh round of in­vestor cash to scale its own in­ter­nal dis­cov­ery plat­form and po­ten­tial­ly be ready to start un­veil­ing lead com­pounds in the near fu­ture. The biotech cur­rent­ly has two leads un­der wraps, Hugh-Jones said, and is look­ing to get in­to first hu­man stud­ies by ear­ly 2023.

Chro­mo­so­mal in­sta­bil­i­ty is a ripe field for study giv­en its role in dri­ving metasta­t­ic can­cer, which is di­ag­nosed in about 350,000 US pa­tients each year. On­ly about a third of those re­spond to tar­get­ed or im­munother­a­pies, Volas­tra said, leav­ing the door open for a wide range of al­ter­na­tive modal­i­ties.

The $44 mil­lion round ex­pands Volas­tra’s seed fund­ing and was head­lined by new in­vestors Vi­da Ven­tures and Catalio Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, which joined a syn­di­cate that in­cludes Po­laris Part­ners, Droia Ven­tures, ARCH Ven­ture Part­ners and Quark Ven­ture.

Hugh-Jones joined the team in Sep­tem­ber, which bloomed pri­mar­i­ly from the work of Cor­nell’s Cant­ley, who dis­cov­ered the PI3K path­way in on­col­o­gy.

At the In­flec­tion Point for the Next Gen­er­a­tion of Can­cer Im­munother­a­py

While oncology researchers have long pursued the potential of cellular immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer, it was unclear whether these therapies would ever reach patients due to the complexity of manufacturing and costs of development. Fortunately, the recent successful development and regulatory approval of chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells have demonstrated the significant benefit of these therapies to patients.

Tillman Gerngross (Adagio)

Till­man Gern­gross on Omi­cron: 'It is a grim sit­u­a­tion...we’re go­ing to see a sig­nif­i­cant drop in vac­cine ef­fi­ca­cy'

Tillman Gerngross, the rarely shy Dartmouth professor, biotech entrepreneur and antibody expert, has been warning for over a year that the virus behind Covid-19 would likely continue to mutate, potentially in ways that avoid immunity from infection and the best defenses scientists developed. He spun out a company, Adagio, to build a universal antibody, one that could snuff out any potential mutation.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.

In­cor­po­rat­ing Ex­ter­nal Da­ta in­to Clin­i­cal Tri­als: Com­par­ing Dig­i­tal Twins to Ex­ter­nal Con­trol Arms

Most drug development professionals are familiar with the nerve-racking wait for the read-out of a large trial. If it’s negative, is the investigational therapy ineffective? Or could the failure result from an unforeseen flaw in the design or execution of the protocol, rather than a lack of efficacy? The team could spend weeks analyzing data, but a definitive answer may be elusive due to insufficient power for such analyses in the already completed trial. These problems are only made worse if the trial had lower enrollment, or higher dropout than expected due to an unanticipated event like COVID-19. And if a trial is negative, the next one is likely to be larger and more costly — if it happens at all.

Jeff Albers, Blueprint Medicines CEO

Look­ing past Big Phar­ma ri­vals, Blue­print buys a pre­clin­i­cal biotech for $250M+

J&J’s Rybrevant scored the first approval back in May for a small group of lung cancer patients with a rare EGFR mutation. Despite a swarm of other biopharma companies angling for a piece of that market, Blueprint Medicines is betting nearly $500 million on a candidate it thinks will stand out.

Blueprint is putting down $250 million in cash and another $215 million in biobucks for Lengo Therapeutics and its preclinical non-small cell lung cancer program LNG-451. Though it hasn’t been tested in humans, Blueprint says the candidate was “highly brain-penetrant” in preclinical trials, and has the potential to inhibit all common EGFR exon 20 insertion variants — which are found in just 2% to 3% of NSCLC patients.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Iain McGill, Quell CEO

Eu­ro­pean in­vestors pour $156M to beat Blue­stone, Third Rock and RA Cap­i­tal in multi­bil­lion-dol­lar race to the clin­ic

Amid burgeoning efforts to create a new type of cell therapy out of regulatory T cells — whether by channeling or blocking their immunosuppressive power — Quell Therapeutics wants to shoot for a first.

If everything goes well, the Syncona-backed biotech will be in the clinic early next year, marking what it calls the historic feat of dosing a patient with a CAR-Treg with multiple edited genes.

Like the flu vac­cine every year, the FDA could move quick­ly on a vari­ant-tar­get­ed Covid vac­cine

In the same way that the FDA signs off on flu vaccines every year without requiring large clinical trials to measure their efficacy, the FDA may employ a similar strategy in authorizing variant-focused versions of the mRNA vaccines.

As the world braces for more data on the latest variant Omicron, which may reduce vaccine efficacy, top vaccine developers like Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have promised they can pull together a new vaccine targeted against a specific Covid variant in about 100 days. Since Omicron emerged last week, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J have all said they’ve begun work on Omicron-specific vaccines, if needed.

Jonathan Montagu (L) and Gerry Harriman, HotSpot co-founders

HotSpot gets hot­ter with $100M raise to push to­ward clin­ic

HotSpot Therapeutics, the allostery-focused biotech that works on what it calls “natural hotspots” — hence the name — is getting a bit hotter in its valuation from investors. And to that end they’ve raised $100 million.

The four-year-old AI computational biotech started by two former Nimbus execs announced this morning that it closed its Series C round right at the line of a 9-figure investment, courtesy of some big investors.

Thanks­giv­ing edi­tion: Top 15 End­points sto­ries of 2021; Can you name that vac­cine?; Mer­ck­'s Covid an­tivi­ral dis­ap­points; FDA nom­i­nee's in­dus­try ties; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all those who are celebrating it — although, if we are being honest, this week’s abbreviated edition is really for those who are not. Wherever you’re tuning in from, we appreciate your support, hope you find this recap helpful and we wish you a wonderful weekend.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

What were End­points read­ers tun­ing in­to this year? Here’s a look at our 15 most pop­u­lar re­ports of the year (so far)

At the beginning of this year, I laid out a basic objective for Endpoints News as we headed to our 5th anniversary. We’ve long been doing a fine job covering the breaking news in R&D — if I do say so myself — but we needed to expand our horizons on industry coverage, increase the staff and go much, much deeper when the stories demanded it.

In a phrase: broader and deeper.

It’s safe to say, based on our daily web traffic, that you all seemed to like this idea. We’ve doubled the staff — thanks to a growing group of paid subscribers — ramped up the daily report and now publish a regular slate of in-depth articles. And traffic — those clicks you always read about — have gone up in volume too. Monthly sessions are up 43%, to close to 1.5 million. Unique readers are up 63%, to 874,480 in October, after setting a record of close to a million the month before. Page views are running at 3 million-plus a month. And the overall number of subscribers has surged to 124,000.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 124,100+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.