Viva’s $210 million round; Merck grabs Caraway for $610 million; Genentech signs a deal with NVIDIA 

Biotech news

Here is Labiotech’s weekly roundup of the latest biotech news. Whether it is partnerships, clinical trials, or fundraising, we have got you covered. Stay in the loop by subscribing to our newsletter for direct updates to your inbox.

Viva Biotech closes $210 million funding round 

Chinese company Viva Biotech closed a funding round worth $210 million, participated by investors Temasek, Highlight Capital (HLC), and True Light, on Monday.

The company, which performs contract research, development and manufacturing services, with the help of its various technology platforms, will use the funds to foster Viva’s growth.

The round was completed after Viva Biotech Holdings obtained nearly $150 million through the transfer of approximately 24.21% equity in its contract research organization (CRO) business entity, Viva Biotech (Shanghai) Limited. Prior to this, the company had secured $60 million in convertible bond financing.

NMD Pharma raises nearly $80 million to advance neuromuscular disorders trials

Danish biotech NMD Pharma bagged €75 Million (~$80 million) in a series B round, announced last week. The funds will contribute towards conducting three phase 2 clinical studies for the treatment of myasthenia gravis, spinal muscular atrophy and Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.

The investigational drug, NMD670, is a ClC-1 molecule inhibitor that will be evaluated in the clinic. Moreover, the company will pursue undisclosed targets for the treatment of other neuromuscular diseases, hence expanding its pipeline.

The financing was led by investment company Jeito Capital, and other investors that took part include Novo Holdings, Lundbeckfonden BioCapital, INKEF Capital, and the Roche Venture Fund.

T-Therapeutics £48 million series A to expedite cancer treatment

British company T-Therapeutics has secured £48 million ($60.12 million) in a series A funding round, which will be used to develop next generation T cell receptor (TCR). 

The University of Cambridge spinout, has created a transgenic mouse platform that can produce a number of TCRs, which can then further be incorporated in therapies for cancers. It will also develop medicines to target various auto-immune disorders.

“By engineering a mouse that makes human TCRs, we are able to discover anti-cancer TCRs that are quantitatively and qualitatively better than those that can currently be isolated from humans or using display technologies,” said  Allan Bradley, chief executive officer (CEO) of T-Therapeutics, in a press release. “Our OpTiMus platform provides an unbeatable starting point, a vast repertoire of unique, fully human TCRs, with the properties to make them ideal to develop into drugs.”

The funding round was led by Sofinnova Partners, F-Prime Capital, Digitalis Ventures and Cambridge Innovation Capital, with participation from Sanofi Ventures and the University of Cambridge Venture Fund.

Quotient Therapeutics emerges from stealth with $50 million

Life sciences venture capital company Flagship Pioneering, which is located in the biotech hub of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the U.S., has founded Quotient Therapeutics. Investing $50 million to advance the company’s platform, which was in development at Flagship Labs for two years, it now aims to develop a pipeline that covers a range of therapeutic areas.

Its Somatic Genomics platform is based on a single molecule, genome sequencing technology, which can reveal the extensive variation encoded in somatic cells. With the help of this technology, disease targets can be identified, which, in turn, helps develop target-specific therapies. Quotient aims to address immune disease, cardiometabolic disease, infectious disease, cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and rare diseases, through its platform.

NTx bags $47.5 million to make strides in mRNA production 

mRNA manufacturing company NTx was awarded $47.5 million in a series B round last week. The funds will go towards its biomanufacture platforms, NTxscribe and NTxpress.

The NTxscribe is a cell-free, true continuous flow manufacturing system that delivers scalable RNA in a small footprint. Currently being evaluated in the Vaccines-on-Demand contract, which is a part of BARDA’s pandemic preparedness initiative, it aims to tackle the challenges of conventional mRNA production, like cost, and efficiency. The NTxpress platform is a fully recombinant cell-free expression system that aids in protein production while minimizing unwanted cellular metabolism.

The fundraise was led by investor RA Capital Management.

Alto Neuroscience closes oversubscribed series C financing

U.S.-based Alto Neuroscience has received more than it bargained for in a series C round. Securing $45 million, these funds will go towards the development of Alto’s central nervous system (CNS) candidates. This will be done through placebo-controlled clinical trials that are set to end in 2025. 

Investment was led by InVivium Capital, and had participation from new investors like Franklin Templeton, Point72, Eli Lilly and Company, and Alexandria Venture Investments, as well as old ones like Alpha Wave Ventures, Lightswitch Capital, partners of Alkeon Capital, WhatIf Ventures, and Windham Venture Partners.

Along with the news of the fundraise, the company also introduced Michael Liang, managing director of InVivium Capital, who has now joined the board of directors at Alto.

Reviva secures $30 million to conduct clinical trials

Clinical-stage company Reviva closed a $30 million registered direct offering on Monday, which will allow the company to continue its phase 3 trial of brilaroxazine in schizophrenia. 

Brilaroxazine is a chemical with potent affinity and selectivity against key serotonin and dopamine receptors. Topline results revealed that the candidate met all primary and secondary endpoints in the phase 3 RECOVER trial.

The funds will also be used to strengthen other research and development (R&D) projects as well as possibly make “acquisitions or investments in businesses, products or technologies that are complementary to its own.”

LENZ Therapeutics merges with Graphite Bio

American biotechs LENZ Therapeutics and Graphite Bio, have entered into a merger agreement to combine the companies in an all-stock transaction. 

With money from a private investment in public equity (PIPE) financing, the combined company is worth around $225 million. Graphite Bio is expected to contribute $115 million to the merged company along with dividends of around $60 million to Graphite Bio shareholders at the close of the transaction.

The merger will aid in the development of LENZ’s product candidates that are focused on treating the eye condition presbyopia, which results in blurry vision up close, often owing to aging. This includes, LNZ100 and LNZ101, which are single-use, once-daily eye drops that contain aceclidine, and aceclidine and brimonidine, respectively.

Astellas to acquire Propella Therapeutics

Japanese company Astellas is set to acquire oncology biotech Propella Therapeutics, according to a press release, last week. The acquisition will hand over the rights of Propella’s PRL-02, an androgen biosynthesis inhibitor which contains abiraterone decanoate, for the treatment of prostate cancer, to Astellas. Currently in phase 1 clinical trials, PRL-02 is expected to enter phase 2a trials in 2024.

The $175million buyout is set to fully close by March 2024.

“The acquisition fits with Astellas’ strategy to provide patients with therapeutic options for diseases with high unmet medical needs. Propella has a promising program, PRL-02, targeting prostate cancer,” said Naoki Okamura, president and CEO of Astellas.

Merck to pay up to $610 million in Caraway Therapeutics buyout

Caraway Therapeutics has entered into an agreement with Merck, where it will receive up to $610 million in an acquisition. While terms of the upfront and milestone payments weren’t broken down and disclosed, it was announced that Merck would make the upfront payment by the end of this year.

This move will help broaden Merck’s focus on neurodegenerative diseases, as Caraway’s pipeline was built around four small-molecule-based drug candidates that aim to treat Parkinson’s disease and rare diseases, which are all presently in preclinical stages.

Kite and Arcellx continue oncology partnership

Gilead-owned Kite Pharma and cell therapy company Arcellx are expanding their ongoing partnership for CART-ddBCMA, to include lymphomas to its roster. 

As part of the collaboration, Arcellx will be endowed with an $85 million upfront payment. On top of that, it will receive $200 million in equity investment. Furthermore, Kite has exercised its option to negotiate a license for Arcellx’s ARC-SparX program, ACLX-001, in multiple myeloma. ACLX-001 comprises ARC-T cells and SparX proteins that target the B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA).

“We are pleased to see the momentum with the CART-ddBCMA multiple myeloma program, enabling Kite to enter an area of high unmet need and bring a new, potentially best-in-class cell therapy to patients,” said Cindy Perettie, executive vice president of Kite Pharma, in a press release.

PostEra enters research collaboration with Amgen

A collaboration between artificial intelligence (AI)-based drug discovery company PostEra and American multinational pharmaceutical Amgen, will see PostEra’s AI platform Proton and Amgen’s drug discovery expertise being harnessed to advance small molecule programs. While the terms of the agreement are undisclosed, it was agreed upon that Amgen will be allowed to access some of PostEra’s AI technologies for its in-house programs, outside of the collaboration.

Connect Biopharma to partner with Simcere for drug commercialization in China

Clinical-stage T cell therapy company Connect Biopharma, which has branches in San Diego in the U.S., and China, has partnered with pharmaceuticals manufacturing company Simcere. This collaboration gives Simcere exclusive rights to develop, manufacture, and commercialize rademikibart for all indications in mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

Rademikibart is a human monoclonal antibody that targets IL-4Rα, a common subunit for IL-4R and IL-13 receptors, and aims to treat certain inflammatory diseases. Connect Biopharma is set to complete clinical trials for the candidate in China, early next year. 

Connect Biopharma will receive ¥150 million ($21 million) as an upfront payment, and would be eligible to receive up to ¥875 million ($120 million) upon achieving certain development and commercial milestones, in addition to royalties.

BeiGene and Ensem Therapeutics to advance CDK2 inhibitor together

Global biotech BeiGene is set to acquire an exclusive global license to an investigational new drug (IND) application-ready oral CDK2 inhibitor from precision medicine company Ensem Therapeutics.

“This CDK2 inhibitor from ENSEM complements our internally discovered phase 1 CDK4 inhibitor, which has the potential to improve upon current CDK4/6 inhibitors in some breast cancer patients, and strengthens our early development pipeline in breast cancer and other solid tumors,” said Lai Wang, global head of R&D at BeiGene, in a press release on Tuesday.

ENSEM will be able to receive up to $1.33 billion, in upfront, development, regulatory, and commercial milestone payments.

Myricx Bio partners with WuXi Biologics

Antibody drug conjugates (ADCs) have been making headlines of late. ADC company Myricx Bio has partnered with WuXi Biologics, a contract research, development and manufacturing organization (CRDMO). 

Myricx will gain exclusive access to an antibody that was discovered based on WuXi Bio’s integrated technology platforms, so that Myricx can develop an ADC using the antibody, to target solid tumors, through its NMT-1 platform. NMT-1 is an enzyme that adds a specific lipid modification to several protein targets key to cancer cell survival, according to the press release. The terms of the partnership were undisclosed.

Genentech and NVIDIA to accelerate drug discovery

Genentech’s artificial intelligence (AI) technology and NVIDIA’s computing capabilities will be taken advantage of, in a partnership involving the two companies, to speed up drug discovery across therapeutic areas. The American companies aim to do this by optimizing Genentech’s machine learning (ML) algorithms and models on NVIDIA DGX Cloud.

The alliance will also expedite Genentech’s ‘lab in a loop,’ according to the press release. This is a method where experimental data feeds computational models that uncover patterns and make new, experimentally testable predictions. Scientists are able to evaluate these predictions, which are then fed back into the model to further improve it.

“By harnessing the power of AI models and algorithms, with our unique data and experiments, we’re unlocking scientific discoveries with incredible speed, and generating insights at an unprecedented scale,” said Aviv Regev, head of Research and Early Development (gRED) at Genentech.

Mixed phase 3 trial results affect Morphosys stocks 

Global biopharma Morphosys had announced that its blood cancer drug pelabresib, an investigational BET inhibitor, had met all primary endpoints, earlier this week. This was owing to patients having at least a 35% reduction in spleen volume – a measure for spleen response in myelofibrosis studies.

However, the trial missed its secondary endpoint. It was revealed that pelabresib and ruxolitinib – a JAK inhibitor anti-cancer drug available in the market – caused a 50% reduction in total symptom score (TSS50), in 52% of patients as opposed to in 46% in the placebo group.

The news has led to a 22% plummet in stocks.

Rare disease trial by SpringWorks Therapeutics shows promise

SpringWorks Therapeutics has announced encouraging topline results from a phase 2b trial evaluating mirdametinib an oral, allosteric small molecule MEK inhibitor, for the treatment of a rare genetic disorder, last week.

The disorder, neurofibromatosis type 1-associated plexiform neurofibromas (NF1-PN), is characterized by benign tumors called plexiform neurofibromas (PN) that develop along nerve sheaths throughout the body.

Mirdametinib had an objective response rate of 52% in children and 41% in adult patients. The company aims to file a new drug application (NDA) for the drug with the FDA, next year.

VISEN’s hereditary disease drug proves efficacy in phase 2 trial

Achondroplasia is the most common form of short-limbed dwarfism, caused by the ossification of cartilage that restricts the growth of long bones. Chinese company VISEN Pharmaceuticals conducted a phase 2 trial in children with achondroplasia, which reaped encouraging topline results.

The drug candidate TransCon CNP demonstrated a greater annualized growth velocity (AGV) – a growth parameter in achondroplasia treatment – of 5.939 cm/year for the cohort dosed at 100 µg CNP/kg/week, compared to 4.760 cm/year for placebo. 

Poor results for eye disease trial, Oxurion files for bankruptcy

Belgian eye disease therapies company Oxurion failed to meet its primary endpoint in a phase 2b trial for the treatment of the eye disease, diabetic macular edema, which is caused by retinal thickening.

As the candidate THR-149, a PKal inhibitor, was not successful in the trial, the company plans to file for bankruptcy soon.

Cancer drug combats tuberculosis

Tuberculosis (TB) accounts for more than 1.6 million deaths across the world, per year. A new cancer therapy aims to cut these figures, as it has proven to dramatically reduce TB growth, even for bacteria that are drug-resistant, scientists at Texas Biomedical Research Institute (Texas Biomed) in the U.S. have found.

The therapy consists of two molecules, one of which has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating cancers, and the other is being tested in the clinic in oncology trials. As it aids in the process of cell death in target cells – like cancer cells – by inhibiting two proteins MCL-1 and BCL-2, it can potentially kill cells infected with the tuberculosis bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The inhibitors combined with antibiotics controlled TB up to 98%, which is very exciting,” says Dr. Arnett, the first paper author, in a press release. “But even more exciting is the inhibitors were just as effective at controlling drug-resistant TB as drug-susceptible TB. That is the power of a host-directed therapy targeting the human’s immune response, versus trying to attack the pathogen directly.”

The team hopes to move the candidate to the clinic soon.

Breakthrough in pancreatic cancer research

A major discovery in pancreatic cancer gives way to a new clinical trial. Researchers at the University Of Rochester Medical Center in the U.S., learnt that there are certain changes – with regards to the gene Netrin-1 – that occur during tumor migration. A drug could help prevent these changes. 

The scientists aim to take the drug NP137 to the clinic next year, in hopes to potentially improve the survival rate for pancreatic cancer, which is at a mere 12% in the U.S., this year. In preclinical trials, the drug candidate was found to suppress Netrin-1, and thereby limit the spread of cancer.

Newly founded company to develop class of drugs against cancer and fibrosis

Amalus Therapeutics, established in Belgium, spun out of Ghent University, as it develops a new class of drugs that selectively target corrupt fibroblast cells.

With a focus on treating fibrosis and difficult-to-treat cancers, the company was recently nominated for the One-to-Watch Award, by the Oxford Business Network in the U.K.. The company is funded by BioInnovation Institute’s Venture Lab acceleration program, an initiative that helps early-stage startups gain access to facilities as well as a network of investors.

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