Yer­voy in­ven­tor's on­col­o­gy start­up Pi­o­nyr gets $62M for tu­mor-fight­ing tech

An on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny co-found­ed by one of the in­ven­tors of Yer­voy has closed a $62 mil­lion round to push its an­ti-tu­mor tech to­wards the clin­ic.

Steve James

The start­up, called Pi­o­nyr Im­munother­a­peu­tics, is de­vel­op­ing an­ti­body ther­a­peu­tics that boost the body’s im­mune re­sponse at the site of the tu­mor. New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates led the round, along with new in­vestors Sofinno­va and Vi­da Ven­tures. Ex­ist­ing back­ers in­clud­ing Or­biMed joined the round.

Pi­o­nyr’s tech, which the com­pa­ny calls “Myeloid Tun­ing,” at­tempts to re­bal­ance the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment to fa­vor im­mune-ac­ti­vat­ing myeloid cells. Es­sen­tial­ly, the an­ti­body will tar­get and de­stroy the myeloid cells that sup­press the body’s nat­ur­al tu­mor-fight­ing im­mune re­sponse, leav­ing the im­mune-ac­ti­vat­ing myeloid cells alive and strong. Pi­o­nyr’s CEO Steve James tells me the com­pa­ny plans to test this ap­proach in com­bi­na­tion tri­als with check­point in­hibitors and as a stand­alone treat­ment. In an­i­mals, the drug has proven to boost the per­for­mance of check­point in­hibitors.

Max Krum­mel

The com­pa­ny should have a pret­ty good idea of how they might im­prove the per­for­mance of a check­point in­hibitor. Af­ter all, Pi­o­nyr was co-found­ed by Max Krum­mel, the UC San Fran­cis­co pro­fes­sor who co-in­vent­ed the first check­point ­– Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb’s Yer­voy.

James said the com­pa­ny be­gan look­ing for next-lev­el treat­ment op­tions back in 2015, when the com­pa­ny was found­ed. Back then, fo­cus­ing on myeloid cells was pi­o­neer­ing. To­day, how­ev­er, “myeloid” has be­come a bit of a buzz­word in on­col­o­gy, with lots of com­pa­nies queu­ing up the area for R&D.

“You’re find­ing a num­ber of Big Phar­mas have grav­i­tat­ed to the idea,” James said. “They’ve re­al­ized that you can’t have 50 check­point in­hibitors on the mar­ket. There has to be a new ap­proach that could work as an en­hance­ment to check­point in­hibitors or open up ar­eas they’re not get­ting good re­spons­es in.”

In fact, Bris­tol-My­ers it­self has a pro­gram that in­volves elim­i­nat­ing myeloid cells. The phar­ma gi­ant paid Five Prime $350 mil­lion up­front two years ago to part­ner on the an­ti­body pro­gram called colony stim­u­lat­ing fac­tor 1 re­cep­tor (CSF1R), which re­cent­ly shared dis­ap­point­ing da­ta from a com­bo tri­al with Op­di­vo.

James said the BMS pro­gram doesn’t tar­get im­muno-sup­pres­sive myeloid cells like Pi­o­nyr’s tech­nol­o­gy does, but rather tar­gets mul­ti­ple myeloids.

“It will be in­ter­est­ing to see how their broad­er mech­a­nism of ac­tion will play out in clin­i­cal tri­als,” James said.

James wouldn’t dis­close which can­cers Pi­o­nyr will be tak­ing on, but did say the com­pa­ny was in sev­er­al pre­clin­i­cal tri­als and ex­pects INDs in 2019.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

RA Cap­i­tal, Hill­house join $310M rush to back Ever­est's climb to com­mer­cial heights in Chi­na

Money has never been an issue for Everest Medicines. With an essentially open tab from their founders at C-Bridge Capital, the biotech has gone two and a half years racking up drug after drug, bringing in top exec after top exec, and issuing clinical update after update.

But now other investors want in — and they’re betting big.

Everest is closing its Series C at $310 million. The first $50 million comes from the Jiashan National Economic and Technological Development Zone; the remaining C-2 tranche was led by Janchor Partners, with RA Capital Management and Hillhouse Capital as co-leaders. Decheng Capital, GT Fund, Janus Henderson Investors, Rock Springs Capital, Octagon Investments all joined.

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Doug Giordano might have some thoughts on how that could work out.

The SVP of business development at the pharma giant has helped forge a new fund called the Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiative. And he has $500 million of Pfizer’s money to put behind 7 to 10 — or so — biotech stocks that fit that general description.

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Por­tion of Neil Wood­ford’s re­main­ing in­vest­ments, in­clud­ing Nanopore, sold off for $284 mil­lion

It’s been precisely one year and one day since Neil Woodford froze his once-vaunted fund, and while a global pandemic has recently shielded him from the torrent of headlines, the fallout continues.

Today, the California-based patent licensing firm Acacia Research acquired the fund’s shares for 19 healthcare and biotech companies for $284 million.  Those companies include shares for public and private companies and count some of Woodford’s most prominent bio-bets, such as Theravance Biopharma, Oxford Nanopore and Mereo Biopharma, according to Sky News, which first reported the sale. It won’t include shares for BenevelontAI, the machine learning biotech once valued at $2 billion.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

Michael Gladstone, partner at Atlas Venture

At­las rais­es new $400M fund amid spree of VC rais­es. Here’s what they’ll spend it on

You can add another few hundred million to the now Montana-sized reservoir of cash biotech VCs have raised since the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.

Atlas Venture, the prominent Kendall Square incubator, has raised $400 million for its twelfth biotech fund, their first in 3 years. After a string of mammoth new raises from other major VCs in April and May, the total pot now stands between $5 billion and $6 billion, depending on how you slice it.

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Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

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