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.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; 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.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

Enrique Conterno, FibroGen

As it awaits piv­otal re­view of lead drug, Fi­bro­Gen bol­sters its ear­ly pipeline with li­cens­ing deal for galectin pro­gram

FibroGen’s long-awaited review for anemia med roxadustat is just weeks away, and there’s good reason to believe the outcome won’t swing in its favor after a data manipulation scandal and tepid analyst consensus on the drug’s chances. With its future murky, FibroGen is now opening the pocketbook to refresh its pipeline for whatever the next phase may be.

FibroGen will shell out $25 million in cash for a global license to Boston-area biotech HiFiBiO’s galectin-9 platform targeting immuno-oncology and autoimmune disorders, the partners said Thursday.

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Samantha Du, Zai Lab

Chi­nese on­col­o­gy spe­cial­ist Zai Lab bro­kers a deal with Macro­Gen­ics for up to 4 bis­pecifics with a mod­est down pay­ment

Samantha Du’s Zai Lab has earned its reputation as a Chinese oncology partner of choice with an aggressive licensing strategy to tap that growing market. Now, a West Coast bispecifics player with a lead collaboration molecule already identified will add its name to Zai Lab’s growing rolodex.

Zai Lab will shell out $55 million upfront — $25 million in cash and $30 million in equity — for a mix of Asian and global rights to four of San Francisco-based MacroGenics’ bispecific antibodies, with one lead molecule already in development, the partners said Wednesday.

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