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.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; 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 earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Goldfinch Bio CEO Tony Johnson (L) and Karuna Therapeutics CEO Bill Meury

Karuna li­cens­es Goldfinch as­sets to com­pete with Boehringer In­gel­heim in neu­ro­science

Karuna Therapeutics is looking to compete with Boehringer Ingelheim on depression and anxiety with a new license to Goldfinch Bio’s assets, starting with $15 million to the shuttered biotech.

Karuna steps into an arena already being tested by Boehringer in multiple Phase II studies — the two are targeting transient receptor potential canonical 4 and 5, or TRPC4/5, which is thought to have a role in neuroscience indications. Goldfinch’s asset went through a Phase II in kidney diseases, but Karuna’s sights are set on mood and anxiety disorders for now.

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Te­va drops out of in­dus­try trade group PhRMA

Following in AbbVie’s footsteps, Teva confirmed on Friday that it’s dropping out of the industry trade group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA).

Teva didn’t give a reason for its decision to leave, saying only in a statement to Endpoints News that it annually reviews “effectiveness and value of engagements, consultants and memberships to ensure our investments are properly seated.”

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Sanofi CFO Jean-Baptiste de Chatillon (L) and CEO Paul Hudson (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi sees downtick in flu sales as it preps for launch of RSV an­ti­body

Sanofi expects its RSV antibody jointly developed with AstraZeneca will be available next season, executive VP of vaccines Thomas Triomphe announced on the company’s quarterly call.

Beyfortus, also known as nirsevimab, was approved in the EU back in November and is currently under FDA review with an expected decision coming in the third quarter of this year. The news comes as the FDA plans to hold advisory committee meetings over the next couple months to review RSV vaccines from Pfizer and GSK.

Christophe Weber, Takeda CEO (Photographer: Shoko Takayasu/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Take­da fo­cus­es on ‘di­verse’ pipeline prospects on heels of two ac­qui­si­tions

After a whopping $4 billion asset buy from Nimbus Therapeutics, along with a $400 million deal with Hutchmed for a colorectal cancer drug, Takeda executives touted pipeline optimism on its latest earnings call this week.

That’s because the TYK2 inhibitor for psoriasis Takeda is getting from Nimbus, along with the Hutchmed fruquintinib commercialization outside of China, are just two of what it reports are 10 late-stage development programs of promising candidates.