Bio Roundup: Blackstone’s Billions, Biogen Finishes Filing, Novavax at “Warp Speed” & More

Xconomy National — 

Cash flowed throughout the life sciences ecosystem this week as Blackstone (NYSE: BX) raised a record-setting life sciences fund, companies of all stages announced new financings, and money continued to find its way to those working on efforts to treat or prevent COVID-19.

Financiers poured $100 million or more into at least three biotechs, a trio of financings complemented by smaller rounds raised despite the disruption caused by the ongoing pandemic. Not to be outdone, the federal government’s Operation Warp Speed effort splashed out its largest award yet on a company developing one of the front-runner vaccine candidates against the infection caused by the novel coronavirus.

Public investors, in turn, welcomed to the markets multiple life sciences companies as others raced to join the queue, setting terms while the public funding window remains wide open for biotech companies. All those stories, plus more, in this week’s roundup.

DEALS & DOLLARS

—Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) is paying Dragonfly Therapeutics $55 million to expand their immunotherapy research alliance to include multiple sclerosis and neuroinflammation. The pact, begun by Celgene prior to its acquisition by Bristol, initially covered blood cancers.

—Vor Biopharma pulled in a $110 million Series B to advance the Cambridge, MA-based biotech’s targeted therapies for treating cancer. Launched by PureTech Health in 2016, the company aims to use gene editing to help boost the efficacy of cancer-killing drugs while better avoiding damage to healthy cells.

—VelosBio, which has its headquarters in San Diego plus teams in Seattle and the Bay Area, raised $137 million to move ahead the antibody-drug conjugates and bispecific antibodies it is developing to target cancers that overexpress the protein ROR1.

—UK biotech Mission Therapeutics, which is developing drugs to target the ubiquitin pathway for the treatment of kidney disease, neurodegenerative disease, rare mitochondrial diseases, and fibrosis, raised $15 million (about £12 million) in a round led by the venture capital arm of Pfizer (NYSE: PFE), an existing investor. The investment involves an expansion of the companies’ existing research collaboration.

—New York biotech HiberCell, which is developing novel therapeutics for cancer relapse and metastasis, announced the acquisition of Biothera Pharmaceuticals and its Imprime PGG program, a clinical-stage innate immune activator. Biothera’s Minnesota-based staff, operations, and other assets will be integrated into HiberCell.

—New York-based Blackstone (NYSE: BX) closed what it described as the largest life sciences private fund ever raised, bringing in $4.6 billion for its life sciences investment arm. In recent months the Blackstone Life Sciences unit has invested in Alnylam (NASDAQ: ALNY), Reata Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: RETA), and medical device company Medtronic (NYSE: MDT).

Cambridge, MA-based Kymera Therapeutics signed a deal with Sanofi (NASDAQ: SNY) that earned it $150 million upfront and the potential for up to $2 billion in milestone payments in exchange for granting the French biopharma rights to two of its protein degradation programs designed to address immune-inflammatory diseases. The lead program aims to treat hidradenitis suppurativa, a condition in which small, painful lumps form under the skin.

Biotech startup NFlection Therapeutics is putting $20 million it raised earlier this summer to work in an effort to create a topical gel to treat neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) to treat the condition more rapidly and safely than the first FDA-approved NF1 drug, an AstraZeneca treatment that passed muster earlier this year.

—San Mateo, CA-based Tranquis Therapeutics launched with $30 million in Series A funding to develop treatments for neurodegenerative and aging-related diseases based on research conducted by Stanford professor Edgar Engleman, its scientific founder. The round was co-led by Remiges Ventures and SR One.

—Harbour BioMed closed a Series C financing of $102.8 million to use to accelerate development of portfolio of biologic drugs targeting cancer, immunologic diseases, and COVID-19. The round follows a $75 million financing the company announced in March. The company has offices in China, the Netherlands, and Cambridge, MA.

—Eir Ventures, a new life sciences-focused investment firm with operations in Stockholm and Copenhagen, debuted with €76 million (about $86 million) that it aims to funnel into startups in the Nordic region. Investors that put money into Eir’s inaugural fund include Saminvest, the European Investment Fund, Vækstfonden, and Novo Holdings.

—Foghorn Therapeutics signed its first deal with biopharma, agreeing to team up with Merck and allow it to tap into its know-how around the chromatin regulatory system. The Cambridge, MA-based biotech receives an upfront payment, the amount of which it didn’t disclose, and becomes eligible for up to $425 million in milestone payments and royalties based on milestones.

DRUG DEVELOPMENTS & DATA

—Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB) finalized the FDA submission of its controversial Alzheimer’s drug, aducanamab. The Cambridge, MA company has requested the agency grant the filing priority review. Included in the package were data from two Phase 3 trials and a Phase 1b study.

—The FDA placed a clinical hold on a trial being conducted by Cellectis (NASDAQ: CLLS) evaluating an immunotherapy based on gene-edited allogeneic CAR T-cells as a treatment for multiple myeloma after one of the enrolled patients died. An evaluation as to the factors in the fatality is underway.

—Copenhagen biotech Zealand Pharma (NASDAQ: ZEAL) opened new US headquarters in Boston’s Seaport District. The site, at which about 40 employees will be based, joins existing US offices in Marlborough, MA, and New York.

—The FDA approved an oral drug by Astex Pharmaceuticals that combines decitabine and cedazuridine (Inqovi) as a treatment for patients with myelodysplastic syndromes. The drug, taken as one tablet by mouth once daily for five days in a row of each 28-day cycle, was OK’d based on a study that compared it to intravenous decitabine.

—Bellus Health (NASDAQ: BLU) reported that its chronic cough drug candidate, BLU-5937, failed to meet the goals of a Phase 2 study, sending shares of the Laval, Quebec-based biotech down more than 71 percent.

—Swiss biotech Idorsia reported its insomnia drug, daridorexant, met the main goal of a second Phase 3 study evaluating the treatment in nearly 1,000 patients. The company plans to ask the FDA for the green light to market the drug in the US by year’s end.

—Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD) is returning to Precision Biosciences (NASDAQ: DTIL) rights to a hepatitis B program in development with the Durham, NC, biotech’s gene editing technology. The program was part of a 2018 collaboration funded by Gilead.

THIS WEEK IN BIOTECH IPOS

South San Francisco-based Annexon Biosciences set a preliminary IPO target of $100 million, an offering it revealed only days after it raised $100 million in private financing to advance its research into antibody drugs to treat neurodegeneration. The company is looking to finance its clinical-stage drug candidates and preclinical programs.

—San Francisco Bay Area biotech Nkarta Therapeutics increased its anticipated IPO haul, offering investors 13 million shares at $16 to $17 apiece in a bid to raise about $215 million. The company, a developer of allogeneic natural killer cell therapies for cancer that plans to list on the Nasdaq exchange under the stock symbol “NKTX,” will use the funds to finance clinical trials.

—San Diego’s Poseida Therapeutics, a clinical-stage biotech advancing CAR T cell therapies to treat multiple myeloma, raised by 49 percent the total it planned to raise in its IPO compared to the midpoint of its previously filing, offering 14 million shares at $16 apiece instead of 10 million shares at a range of $14 to $16. The company applied to list on the Nasdaq exchange under the stock symbol “PSTX.”

—AlloVir, a Cambridge, MA clinical-stage biotech developing allogeneic T cell therapies for viral diseases, filed paperwork with regulators indicating plans to go public. The company, which is looking to list on the Nasdaq exchange under the stock symbol “ALVR,” last year raised a $120 million Series B financing round to move ahead its experimental cell therapy programs.

—Relay Therapeutics set terms for its planned IPO, aiming to offer 14.7 million shares at $16 to $18 per share to raise up to $265 million. The money is intended to further the development of drugs developed to block cancer-causing proteins, which Relay is doing by applying computational techniques to analyze protein motion.

COVID-19 R&D

—The federal government’s Operation Warp Speed awarded $1.6 billion to Gaithersburg, MD-based Novavax to help advance its investigational COVID-19 vaccine and ready millions of doses in preparation for its possible success. The multiagency effort has backed a number of vaccine developers in an effort to prep 300 million doses of an effective vaccine by early next year.

—A Phase 3 trial conducted by Sanofi (NYSE: SNY) and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: REGN) evaluating a 400 mg dose of sarilumab (Kevzara) in COVID-19 patients requiring mechanical ventilation failed to meet the study’s main compared to supportive care alone. The results led to the trial’s cessation.

—Regeneron started a Phase 3 trial of another investigational treatment, its double antibody cocktail REGN-COV2, for the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. The study, which the Tarrytown, NY company is running with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will test the drug candidate’s ability to prevent infection among uninfected people who have had close exposure to a COVID-19 patient.

—Burlingame, CA-based Corvus Pharmaceuticals kicked off a Phase 1 study to evaluate CPI-006, an antibody the company has been advancing as a potential cancer treatment, in patients with COVID-19. The study aims to determine whether CPI-006 has the potential to enhance patients’ antibody response to the virus that causes the illness.

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Cyteir Therapeutics added Paul Secrist as chief scientific officer and Andrew Gengos as chief business officer … Kinnate Biopharma appointed Richard Williams as its chief medical officer…and David Slack joined Cend Therapeutics as its new president and CEO.

Frank Vinluan contributed to this report.

Image: iStock/mrgao