Biotech Strategy Blog

Commentary on Science, Innovation & New Products with a focus on Oncology, Hematology & Cancer Immunotherapy

Posts from the ‘VC & Financing’ category

View of Cambridge and Charles River

Neon Therapeutics is based in Cambridge, MA

One of the much anticipated cancer immunotherapy presentations at the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare conference was by Neon Therapeutics CEO Hugh O’Dowd.

As readers know we’re riding the Immuno-Oncology wave on Biotech Strategy Blog, and one of the exciting new topics to emerge is whether we can target neoantigens to create personalized immunotherapy.

Our mini-series last year on neonatigens received a lot of attention. It included a primer and three interviews. We were very much of the opinion that Neon Therapeutics is a company to watch out for.

In case you missed them, here are the links:

I highly recommending reading these articles as background on the science and new product development as a prelude to the latest commercialisation update we will cover in today’s post.

What did we learn from the 2017 JP Morgan presentation of the Neon Therapeutics corporate strategy?

If you didn’t make it to the presentation at JPM17 in San Francisco (it wasn’t webcast), you may be interested in this post. This is the latest update in our on-going series on neoantigens and why they matter in cancer immunotherapy.

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We’re kicking off the first in a mini-series of expert interviews from the 2016 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium #SABCS16 with a leading researcher who has discovered a first-in-class compound that shows preclinical promise in several cancers including multi-drug resistant metastatic breast cancer.

It has a novel mechanism of action: 

“Interestingly, it was the only molecule, out of the 150,000 we screened that seemed to work through this pathway.”

To go from “bench to bedside,” and take this drug into the clinic now requires funding beyond what academia can provide.

If you’re at #JPM17 and into early stage VC funding or are in pharma/biotech business development BD&L and are on the look out for an innovative new licensing/investment deal, this post is for you.

What makes this a great story is I heard that one “missing piece of the jigsaw” in working out the pathway through which the drug worked came from unrelated research presented at a seminar on wound healing in zebrafish!

As a 2013 article by Robin McKie in The Observer notes, zebrafish (Danio rerio) share 70% of our genes, which makes them pretty cool research models. They are also transparent.

Hearing this anecdote reminded me of my conversation with Dr William Pao that you can hear on Episode 3 of the Novel Targets Podcast where he astutely said:

 “You never know where things are going to lead, you just have to be able to take advantage of them.”

That could also be a metaphor for life.

Science is about making sense of connections and patterns, which is why funding of basic science is so important. A piece of work by one researcher can unlock a breakthrough by another in a totally unrelated area.

While I was doing this SABCS16 interview, I was also reminded of the story behind the development of enzalutamide, and how AACR past-president Dr Charles Sawyers pitched his UCLA drug discovery work to several major pharma companies, without success, until Dr David Hung at Medivation took the risk… and the rest is history.

What makes that story so surprising is at the time Dr Sawyers already had a track record of success with his work on the development of imatinib!

It was a privilege to talk with a senior scientist at #SABCS16 who has thought outside of the box, made scientific connections, and in the process developed a new drug that shows exciting preclinical promise.

Improving the outcome for cancer patients requires the translation of basic science into new products that enter clinical trials.

I do hope funding will be forthcoming to move this first-in-class drug into the clinic so that’s its potential can be fully evaluated.

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If you’re at #JPM17, it’s a great time to buy a sub to BSB and put it on your expenses!

It’s Wednesday at the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference and the last full day of the meeting. 

SF Streetcar at Pine StIt’s also our last day for a rolling blog; we hope you’ve enjoyed our coverage and commentary this year.

If you want to catch up on what we’ve written about, do check out our posts form Day 1 (Link) and Day 2 of JPM17 (Link).

Yesterday also included some thoughts on the latest Merck pembrolizumab filing announcement in 1L NSCLC, which has certainly had a dramatic impact on the market, even for big pharma (MRK +$4.9B, BMY -$3.3B).

Companies we’ve covered so far include: Celgene, Incyte, Seattle Genetics, Clovis, Puma, BMS, Five Prime, Nektar, Juno and others.

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It’s Tuesday at the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco.

San Francisco Streetcar in RainEach day of #JPM17 we’re doing a rolling blog post which we’re updating throughout the day with commentary and insights on the company presentations we’re covering.

While we’re not giving a blow-by-blow account, many companies have the slides readily available, we will be commenting on noteworthy news, and what we learn about pharma/biotech corporate strategy going into 2017.

For those of you who like to catch up with the final summary of each day’s highlights, you can read our post around Day 1 here (Link).

Yesterday we also published a thought leader interview we did with Dr Stephan Grupp, Director of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program at CHOP about some of the latest CAR T cell data and emerging issues we heard at #ASH16 last month (Link).  Do check it out!

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It’s Day 1 of the 2017 JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco…

San Francisco StreetcarDespite the travel challenges associated with the cold weather hitting much of the United States, many have made [or are in the process of making] the “pilgrimage” to hear leading pharma and emerging biotech companies lay out their strategy and goals for the coming year.

Every company that presents at #JPM17 has made their New Year’s resolutions… and like the ones we make personally, some will work out, while others will fall short.

In light of the success of our rolling blog from last years’ JPM conference (link to #JPM16 coverage), we’ve decided to repeat the concept again this year. Throughout the day (schedule permitting) we’ll be updating the post with commentary around news that catches our attention.

If you want to follow along yourself and listen to the company presentations, here’s the link to the JPM17 webcasts and conference agenda (link).

As an aside, in our coverage we will be using JPM followed by the last two digits of the year of the meeting i.e. #JPM17, last year it was #JPM16. This is how the “BioTwitter” community commonly refers to the meeting, and we will be continuing that tradition, notwithstanding the fact that JP Morgan have announced the “official” Twitter hashtag is awkward and long winded #JPMHC35.

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Like the Battle of Britain, the cancer immunotherapy landscape is a dynamic one where tactical decisions can make the difference between “winning” and “losing.”

As Bristol Myers recently found out in first-line NSCLC, if you choose the wrong trial design or adopt an overly-aggressive strategy, you can end up losing badly (see post: Detailed thoughts on BMS CheckMate 026 1L trial in NSCLC)

A recent trip to the operations bunker at former RAF Uxbridge, from where the fighters of 11 Group were directed, shows how close we came to losing the Battle of Britain.  Had the German Luftwaffe continued to target RAF airfields instead of diverting their efforts on London, the outcome of the war is likely to have been quite different.

History provides a valuable lesson that strategy and tactics can and do matter; in R&D the targets you choose and how effectively you execute on a plan can make a big difference to outcome.

Battle of Britain Bunker Plot

Pictured: the RAF 11 Group Operations plot as it looked on September 15, 1940.

In Part 2 of the BSB interview with PsiOxus Therapeutics CEO Dr John Beadle, we discuss corporate strategy, and some of the challenges faced by an emerging Biotech company, many of which are likely to be shared by other small companies in the field.

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San Francisco JPM16 Day 3It’s Day 3 of the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco, and we hope that you’re enjoying our commentary and analysis around some of the presentations & news each day. If you’re reading this and aren’t a subscriber already, then why not become one?

We’re not offering a substitute for watching a company presentation yourself, they’re freely available by webcast and several companies have also put up their presentations up on their websites, but in a world awash with information competing for time and attention, we hope we’ve teased out a few of the noteworthy points.

Yesterday, on the Day 2 post we commented on $AMGN, $RHBBY, $BMY, $SGMO, $IMGN and more.

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San Francisco JPM16 Day 2It’s Tuesday at the 2016 JP Morgan Healthcare conference in San Francisco (Twitter #JPM16).

Each day of #JPM16 we’re doing a rolling blog post which we’re updating throughout the day with commentary and insights on the company presentations we’re covering.

While we’re not giving a blow-by-blow account, many companies have the slides readily available, we will be commenting on noteworthy news, and what we learn about corporate strategy going into 2016.

For those of you who like to catch up with the final summary of each day’s highlights, you can read yesterday’s Day 1 synopsis here and our interview with Seattle Genetics CEO, Clay Siegall here.

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San Francisco JPM16 Day 1It’s Day 1 of the annual pilgrimage to San Francisco for the JP Morgan Healthcare conference. In light of the success of the daily rolling blogs we’ve done around the conferences we cover, for the first time we’re doing a rolling blog for each day of #JPM16.

Throughout the day (schedule permitting) we’ll be updating the post with commentary around noteworthy news.

Company presentations mentioned in this post include: $PBYI, $CELG, $GILD, $INCY, $SGEN, $MDVN. There’s also commentary on several of the deals announced by Roche, Juno, Novartis, Sanofi, AstraZeneca & Merck.

If you want to follow along yourself, here’s the link to the JPM16 webcasts & conference agenda.

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At ASCO 2014, one of the posters that attracted a lot of attention was the one from Kite Pharma ($KITE) on their rapid cell expansion (RACE) technology for the production of engineered autologous T cell therapy.

Dr Renier Brentjens at 2012 Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium

As regular blog readers will know, we’ve been following the development of CD19-targeted T cells for the treatment of B cell malignancies such as CLL, ALL and aggressive NHL for some time.

Back in Autumn 2012, at the Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium (CFS) in NYC, more commonly known as the “Greenspan” meeting after the late Dr Ezra Greenspan, we heard presentations on early CAR-T cell data from Dr Renier Brentjens (pictured right) of Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) and Dr Michael Kalos from the University of Pennsylvania (Penn).

At ASH 2012, we wrote about the data presented by Dr Carl June in the Ernest Beutler Prize Lecture. Dr Blazar, who jointly received the award, gave this quote from Dr Beutler, which is a reminder of why basic science is worthy of funding, and how important it is to innovation:

“The tendency to merely elaborate on what many others are doing arises, at least in part, from the almost universal misconception that our understanding of nature is profound, that most or all of the basic concepts have already been discovered, and that success in science consists of filling in the blanks with large teams of collaborators.”

What started off as pure academic research, has within a short period of time, become a hot (if not the hottest) area of immunotherapy drug development as inspired by the potential of early data, companies and investors pour money into commercializing CAR-T cell therapy.

Novartis had obtained the exclusive rights to Penn’s CTL019 CAR-T cell therapy in August 2012 at what now seems a bargain price.

Juno Therapeutics was subsequently created with $176M in Series A private equity funding at the end of 2013 to commercialize the CAR-T cell research of Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York and Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Last week brought further development with an Initial Public Offering (IPO) from Kite Pharma who have a collaboration with the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Kite said they expected to raise $106M at a share price of $17, which was at the high end of the range. The shares soared 70% in initial trading, and closed at $29 on Friday.

To throw more fuel into the competitive fire, Pfizer have announced the signing of an agreement with French company, Cellectis, to collaborate on the development of their CAR-T cell technology.

In this first of a series of blog posts on gems from the ASCO poster hall, we take a look at the data presented by Kite Pharma and some of the challenges and opportunities the company faces.

Please note this post offers no investment advice and makes no recommendation on whether you should buy or sell shares in $KITE.

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