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.

Biotech in­vestors and CEOs see two paths to growth, but are they equal­ly vi­able?

The dynamic in the biotech market has been highly volatile in the last few years, from the high peaks immediately after the COVID vaccine in 2021, to the lowest downturns of the last 20 years in 2022. This uncertainty makes calling the exact timing of the market’s turn something of a fool’s errand, according to Dr. Chen Yu, Founder and Managing Partner of TCG Crossover (TCG X). He speaks with RBC’s Noël Brown, Head of US Biotechnology Investment Banking, about the market’s road ahead and two possible paths for growth.

Dave Marek, Myovant CEO

My­ovant board balks as ma­jor­i­ty own­er Sum­it­o­mo swoops in with a $2.5B deal to buy them out

Three years after Sumitomo scooped up Roivant’s 46% stake in the publicly traded Myovant $MYOV as part of a 5-company, $3 billion deal, they’re coming back for the whole thing.

But these other investors at Myovant want more than what the Japanese pharma company is currently offering to pay at this stage.

Sumitomo is bidding $22.75 a share for the outstanding stock, which now represents 48% of the company after Sumitomo bumped its ownership since the original deal with Roivant. Myovant, however, created a special committee on the board, and they’re shaking their heads over the offer.

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Casey McPherson shows his daughters Rose (left) and Weston around Everlum Bio, a lab that he co-founded to spark a treatment for Rose and others with ultra-rare conditions. (Ilana Panich-Linsman)

Fa­ther starts lab af­ter in­tel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty is­sues stymie rare dis­ease drug de­vel­op­ment

Under bright lab lights, Casey McPherson holds his 6-year-old daughter, Rose. His free hand directs Rose’s gaze toward a computer screen with potential clues in treating her one-of-a kind genetic condition.

Gray specks on the screen show her cells that scientists reprogrammed with the goal of zeroing in on a custom medicine. McPherson co-founded the lab, Everlum Bio, to spark a treatment for Rose — and others like her. A regarded singer-songwriter, McPherson never imagined going into drug development.

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Benjamine Liu, TrialSpark CEO

Paul Hud­son and Tri­alSpark's mu­tu­al de­sire to speed up de­vel­op­ment con­verges in three-year, six-drug goal

A unicorn startup that originally set out to hasten clinical studies for biopharma partners dug further into its revised path of internal drug development by linking arms with Sanofi in a pact that the biotech’s CEO said originated from the top.

TrialSpark and the Big Pharma on Tuesday committed to in-licensing and/or acquiring six Phase II/Phase III drugs within the next three years.

“I’ve known Paul Hudson for a while and we were discussing the opportunity to really re-imagine a lot of different parts of pharma,” TrialSpark CEO Benjamine Liu told Endpoints News, “and one of the things that we discussed was this opportunity to accelerate the development of new medicines in mutual areas of interest.”

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Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO

Vlad Coric charts course for new Bio­haven with neu­ro­science push and Big Phar­ma vets on board

What’s Biohaven without its CGRP portfolio? That’s what CEO Vlad Coric is tasked with deciding as he maps out the new Biohaven post-Pfizer takeover.

Pfizer officially scooped up Biohaven’s CGRP assets on Monday, including blockbuster migraine drug Nurtec and the investigational zavegepant, for $11.6 billion. As a result, Coric spun the broader pipeline into an independent company on Tuesday — with the same R&D team behind Nurtec but about 1,000 fewer staffers and a renewed focus on neuroscience and rare disease.

In AstraZeneca's latest campaign, wild eosinophils called Phils personify the acting up often seen in uncontrolled asthma

As­traZeneca de­buts an­noy­ing pur­ple ‘Phil’ crea­tures, per­son­i­fied asth­ma eosinophils ‘be­hav­ing bad­ly’

There are some odd-looking purple creatures lurking around the halls of AstraZenca lately. The “Phil” character cutouts are purple, personified eosinophils with big buggy eyes and wide mouths, and they’re a part of AZ’s newest awareness effort to help people understand eosinophilic asthma.

The “Asthma Behaving Badly” characters aren’t only on the walls at AZ to show the new campaign to employees, however. The “Phils” are also showing up online on the campaign website, and in digital and social ads and posts on Facebook and Instagram.

Bob Duggan (Duggan Investments)

Biotech bil­lion­aire Bob Dug­gan flies the white flag as Sum­mit hunts a new own­er, or part­ner, for sole clin­i­cal-stage ef­fort

Bob Duggan’s Summit Therapeutics $SMMT is running out of moves for its sole clinical-stage candidate.

The biotech issued a terse statement in an SEC filing that it’s pulling the plug on the only active clinical trial for ridinilazole, which has been through a failed late-stage trial for C. difficile. A pediatric study is being curtailed as Summit says it decided a few days ago to either partner out the therapy or get a buyer — if they can find one.

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Look­ing to push CAR-T in sol­id tu­mors, Bay Area biotech goes pub­lic in SPAC flip — with slight name change

SPACs might be slowly creeping back.

Monday evening, Estrella Biopharma said it was going public via a SPAC deal with TradeUP Acquisition Corp. The deal is set to close in the first half of 2023, and if all goes as planned, the public version of Estrella — dubbed Estrella Immunopharma — will be worth around $398.5 million.

The Bay Area biotech will also get around $45.4 million in cash, and TradeUp stockholders will get around 15% stock in the public biotech.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)

Can a smart­phone app de­tect Covid? Pfiz­er throws down $116M to find out

What can a cough say about a patient’s illness? Quite a bit, according to ResApp Health — and Pfizer’s listening.

The pharma giant is shelling out about $116 million ($179 million AUD) to scoop up the University of Queensland spinout and its smartphone technology that promises to diagnose Covid and other respiratory illnesses based on cough and breathing sounds, the university announced last week.

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