Portfolio Scorecard: Atlas’ Biotech Seed Class of 2013

Four years ago, in December 2013, I highlighted Atlas’ seed-led venture creation model by walking through our Fund IX Seed Class of 2013.  Only a short 1400 days ago, reading it again last week made it seem like an eternity. In the spirit of transparency around the mystery of venture fund portfolio construction, here’s a scorecard on the evolution of that Fund IX portfolio.

Seed-led investing remains a core part of our strategy. As described in that 2013 post, and true today, this is the essence:

Our seed strategy takes nascent substrate around new drug discovery platforms or therapeutic assets and incrementally but materially derisks them before committing significant capital and reserves.  This derisking process is a “search for signal” – what can we glean about the underlying science/technology/asset, the founding team, and the market’s responsiveness to the concept that gives us the confidence to press forward.

Continue reading "Portfolio Scorecard: Atlas’ Biotech Seed Class of 2013"

Operating Systems For Living Medicines

This blog was written by Mike Gilman, CEO of Obsidian Therapeutics and Atlas Advisor, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Consider the leech – the first living medicine. In its heyday in the 19th century – France imported forty million leeches a year for medical use in the 1830s– bloodletting by leeches was the go-to treatment for whatever ailed you. It may not have helped much, but it probably didn’t do much harm either.

Now consider the CAR-T cell. As leeches packaged up a bunch of complex biology that early physicians put to questionable use for their patients, CAR-T cells bottle all of the powerful biology of a living T cell and unleash it on a patient’s tumor. Unlike leeches, though, which are basically gross and useless, CAR-T cells are elegant and breathtakingly powerful. But they exist on a therapeutic knife edge, teetering between profound efficacy

Continue reading "Operating Systems For Living Medicines"

In Search Of Novelty: 2017’s New FDA Drug Approvals

It’s been an exciting year for new drug approvals, with the FDA on a similar pace to the gangbuster year of 2015. Many of these new medicines address significant and meaningful needs, or offer additional therapeutic choices for patients and physicians.

These new drugs also cover a broad range of indications: for example, in immuno-oncology (Imfinzi and Bavencio), Parkinson’s (Xadago), eczema (Dupixent), psoriasis (Siliq and Tremfya), multiple sclerosis (Ocrevus), and a number of different types of lymphomas/leukemias (Idhifa, Aliqopa, Calquence, and Besponsa).  Several important ultra-orphan medicines were approved, too, including in mucopolysaccharidosis type VII (Mepsevil) and Batten’s Disease (Brineuria). All of this is good news for patients.

Even before the final month of the year, 2017 has by all accounts been a great vintage regarding the number of new FDA approvals.  Beyond CDER’s conventional list of approvals (which most folks look at, sitting at 40 right now), CBER

Continue reading "In Search Of Novelty: 2017’s New FDA Drug Approvals"

Brexit – Own Goal Or Overhead Kick?

This blog was written by Ros Deegan, CBO of Bicycle Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

On June 27, 2016 England’s soccer team was knocked out of the European Championships by Iceland – a tiny island nation with a team coached by a dentist. This national embarrassment would have remained front page news for days except for the fact that 72 hours earlier, the country had knocked itself out of a more significant European club, taking its less than united kingdom with it. 18 months on, and viewed through the lens of biotech and pharma, I ask myself: was the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union a sloppy own goal or a spectacular overhead kick?

Own goal

England’s Cambridge city center (Market Ward) includes some of the most pro-EU constituents in the nation. More than 87% of its voters chose to remain in Europe,

Continue reading "Brexit – Own Goal Or Overhead Kick?"

Painful Truth: Successful Failure Of A Biotech Startup

Back in the summer, I got the call that no biotech venture investor wants to get. On the morning of August 8th, I received an urgent text of “can you talk now?” quickly followed with a call. I learned then of very troubling news regarding a major preclinical safety concern, a “tox signal” in industry parlance, in one of our lead programs. Fast forward three months later, and we’re in the final steps of winding down the company. R.I.P. Quartet Medicine.

Chalk up Quartet as one of biotech venture investing’s “successful failures” – with that adjective providing an essential distinction. Yes, we and our co-investors lost all of our invested capital, and that hurts. But it was “successful” because we stayed disciplined to the investment thesis and focused on revealing the scientific truth. In the end, the team determined the probability of making a new

Continue reading "Painful Truth: Successful Failure Of A Biotech Startup"

Living Medicines With Curative Intent: Small N’s Go Viral

The field of gene and cell therapy has witnessed an unprecedented few months, almost unimaginable only a few years ago. It’s worth pausing to reflect on some of the recent highlights:

  • FDA approval of two chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy products, Kymriah from Novartis and Yescarta from Kite/Gilead, that have repeatedly shown profound efficacy
  • Positive unanimous recommendation from a group of FDA advisors (and patients) for Luxturna, an adeno-associated virus (AAV2) gene therapy from Spark Therapeutics, for a rare form of blindness, delivered via subretinal injection
  • Continued positive results from ex vivo lentiviral therapy in cerebral adrenoleukodystrophy (CALD) from bluebird bio’s STARBEAM trial, published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine
  • Striking improvements on survival and motor function from a single dose of AveXis’ AAV9 encoding SMA1 in children with spinal muscular atrophy, according to another NEJM paper published this month

These are indeed exciting times

Continue reading "Living Medicines With Curative Intent: Small N’s Go Viral"

Drugging The Undruggable: Kymera’s Targeted Protein Degradation

The term “undruggable” has entered common industry vernacular over the past two decades to describe biologic targets that couldn’t be addressed via narrow conventional pharmacologies involving catalytic-site inhibitors and antibodies.

The “druggable genome” historically included intracellular catalytic proteins, (e.g., enzymes like kinases) and extracellular or transmembrane targets (e.g., ion channels, receptors, secreted proteins), representing only a small fraction of the human proteome – maybe 10 percent. But new therapeutic modalities have emerged that offer the potential to open the rest of the proteome to exploration, including targets like transcription factors, scaffolds in protein complexes, and signaling adaptor molecules.

Targeted protein degradation is one of the most compelling of these new modalities: this approach works by creating heterobifunctional chemistries which are able to simultaneously bind to proteins inside of cells and tag them for degradation by hijacking the cell’s normal protein disposal machinery, the ubiquitin-proteasome system. It’s

Continue reading "Drugging The Undruggable: Kymera’s Targeted Protein Degradation"

To IPO or Not To IPO

This blog was written by Sam Truex, former CBO of Padlock and Synlogics, and current Atlas EIR, as part of the From the Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

Funding for biotech companies has been abundant this year. As covered the first week in October by Timmerman Report and Meg Tirrell on cnbc, biotech IPOs are pricing at a steady pace.   Q3 2017 also saw the largest quarterly injection of VC funding into biopharma ever in the history of our industry, at $3.6B according to LifeSciVC.

It is positive, welcome news that interest in biotech investment is solid, particularly given that the outlook for the 2017 funding environment was quite uncertain a year ago. Yet even with eager investors, companies have important decisions to make about the form and pace of financing to pursue. Financing transactions, particularly those beyond Series A, are built on strategic considerations, including:

Transplant Tailwinds and Momentum

This blog was written by Jason Gardner, CEO and co-founder of Magenta Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.           

There’s a proverb that goes like this, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together; but if you want momentum, go with tailwinds.

The first two parts of this proverb apply to many young biotechs that move quickly by being focused and the need for an array of partnerships and long-term investors to go much farther.

Gaining momentum, however, is the elusive amplifier of a company’s mission. From our early learnings in building Magenta as a therapeutics company with the aim of transforming stem cell transplant medicine, catching tailwinds to harness momentum is critical.

Momentum. The essential ingredient for any company that blends data, people, and the plan with multiple elements synergizing

Continue reading "Transplant Tailwinds and Momentum"

Launching Science2Startup: Connecting Academics With Venture

We’re excited to announce the launch of Science2Startup, an invitation-only university-focused biotech entrepreneurship event aimed at building connectivity across the academic, tech transfer, and venture communities.

This event is in many ways a relaunch of the successful URES (University Research & Entrepreneurship Symposium) event, which Atlas helped organize from 2006-2013. URES was widely viewed as a great event for connecting entrepreneurial academic investigators from all of the country with experienced venture investors in the Cambridge/Boston startup ecosystem.  Over the years, hundreds of proposals were reviewed from universities around the world, and dozens selected to present at URES events. An early 2011 blog post highlighted some of the projects that were being presented at URES 2011. There are more than dozen examples of startups that emerged from presentations at URES.

Working with our friends at SV Health Investors and F-Prime Capital, we’ve modeled Science2Startup (S2S) after some of the

Continue reading "Launching Science2Startup: Connecting Academics With Venture"

Nimbus Therapeutics Reaches Summit For Deal With Celgene

Today Nimbus and Celgene announced a significant partnership focused on autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

The alliance includes two pre-clinical autoimmune-focused programs in various stages of drug discovery. The most advanced program is a highly selective inhibitor of Tyk2, an immunokinase of the JAK family, which plays a central role in the inflammatory response (triggering IL-23, IL-12, and Type-I interferon). Human genetics, including both loss- and gain-of-function changes, validate Tyk2 as perhaps the most critical JAK family member to attenuate in many major autoimmune diseases.  Given Tyk2’s proximal role in regulating both Th17 and Th1 responses, the target is one of the most sought after by immunology R&D groups.  BMS has a competing Tyk2 program in early clinical development. The figure below illustrates why a safe, well tolerated oral Tyk2 inhibitor has enormous potential: it would not only replicate the efficacy of multiple blockbuster mAbs, but also explore a

Continue reading "Nimbus Therapeutics Reaches Summit For Deal With Celgene"

VC-Backed Biotech Financings: Boom Or Bubble?

Private biotech funding numbers are in for the third quarter and on an absolute capital basis they are huge: $3.6B flowed into private biotechs, the largest quarter of VC-funding into biopharma ever in the history of our industry, according to a preliminary view of Pitchbook data.

The news has been full of financing announcements of late.  Just this morning, KSQ announced a $76M financing.  In September, Intarcia topped up its Series EE financing, reaching $650M, which should help it navigate its regulatory situation. Many other firms also came in with strong financings, e.g., SpringWorks raising $103M, Gritstone $93M, Homology $84M, etc. Our portfolio at Atlas Venture was busy too, with Replimune raising $55M, Disarm at $30M, Rodin at $27M, and few stealth ones to be announced soon.

Here’s the aggregate quarterly data where you can see the massive jump in financings in the third quarter:

Continue reading "VC-Backed Biotech Financings: Boom Or Bubble?"

Building Community: One Stride At A Time

Building a shared sense of community helps create the relationships and interactions that bring people together and make teams and sector ecosystems successful. Community is a core part of building a distinctive culture.

With a portfolio of related investments, industry networks, and need for constant idea flow, venture firms are natural conveners of and catalysts for this kind of community connectivity.

Most successful VC firms have invested in a wide range of ways of cultivating these relationships, from executive industry events, CxO gatherings across their portfolio, topical bootcamps, social functions, academic conferences, etc…  Atlas has certainly invested heavily in the breadth of these efforts over time, and continues to do so.

In addition, in a world where our time is limited and we have a thousand things to do, it’s often difficult to maintain any balance in life. Healthy activities like exercise routines are often the first thing to get

Continue reading "Building Community: One Stride At A Time"

Venturing Boldly Into Neuroscience

Neuroscience has quietly become a hot space for startups. Across a range of neurologic conditions, contrarian investors have been fueling entrepreneurs to discover and develop novel therapeutic strategies.

Earlier this week, two Atlas-founded companies, Rodin Therapeutics and Disarm Therapeutics, both announced new financings aimed at advancing their programs in synaptic resilience and axonal protection, respectively. Another portfolio company, Lysosomal Therapeutics (LTI), did a transformative deal with Allergan earlier this year to bring its Parkinson’s through early clinical studies. And beyond our investment portfolio, there’s plenty of activity: CNS-focused Denali Therapeutics raised a monster round of financing rumored to have closed at an eye-popping $1.2B valuation. Many other venture-backed biotechs addressing neurologic diseases were able to raise significant rounds of venture funding, including Cortexyme, Cavion, Blackthorn, Axial Biotherapeutics, and many others. Its clear neuroscience is getting investors excited.

These anecdotes of heightened investment activity

Continue reading "Venturing Boldly Into Neuroscience"

Alternative Perspectives On The Biotech M&A Environment

Last month, Bloomberg bemoaned the dearth of biotech M&A, and pundits echoed the sentiment (here, here), citing concerns about tax rates and drug pricing.

The top line numbers in Bloomberg’s graph certainly paint a dim view of 2017’s global biotech acquisition activity, though I might quibble with the underlying data if I got a chance to engage on it. For instance, they show “global biotech” M&A activity in 2016 at ~$35B and 2017 at $11.5B. Where’s Actelion’s $30B takeout by J&J, announced in 2016 and closed in 2017? It appears, after connecting with the author, that part of this discrepancy involves what industry classifications define as “biotech” and what’s not. For data geeks, Pharma and Biotech have different GICS/SIC codes, which is of course more archeology about the fields decades ago than reality today. After all, Actelion Pharmaceuticals called itself a “Pharma” company in its moniker.

Continue reading "Alternative Perspectives On The Biotech M&A Environment"

New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure

It’s all about people, it always is.

Human capital is a company’s most important asset. Successful companies have human capital management strategies that excel at talent recruitment, and prioritize career development and retention.

But human capital is never static, and change is an important part of talent management in an organization. Changes in leadership often increase executive entropy, with both positive and negative consequences. For instance, a new head of R&D often precipitates a series of both voluntary and forced departures, and the important new additions, that change the composition and dynamic of leadership teams. This is all part of the natural evolution of organizations (both directed and more random).

High-performing teams often bring a mix of individuals with past experiences of different corporate cultures, normative behaviors, and approaches to managing both risk mitigation and resource allocation.

With this context in mind, I was struck by a thought-provoking recent analysis

Continue reading "New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure"

New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure

It’s all about people, it always is.

Human capital is a company’s most important asset. Successful companies have human capital management strategies that excel at talent recruitment, and prioritize career development and retention.

But human capital is never static, and change is an important part of talent management in an organization. Changes in leadership often increase executive entropy, with both positive and negative consequences. For instance, a new head of R&D often precipitates a series of both voluntary and forced departures, and the important new additions, that change the composition and dynamic of leadership teams. This is all part of the natural evolution of organizations (both directed and more random).

High-performing teams often bring a mix of individuals with past experiences of different corporate cultures, normative behaviors, and approaches to managing both risk mitigation and resource allocation.

With this context in mind, I was struck by a thought-provoking recent analysis

Continue reading "New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure"

New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure

It’s all about people, it always is.

Human capital is a company’s most important asset. Successful companies have human capital management strategies that excel at talent recruitment, and prioritize career development and retention.

But human capital is never static, and change is an important part of talent management in an organization. Changes in leadership often increase executive entropy, with both positive and negative consequences. For instance, a new head of R&D often precipitates a series of both voluntary and forced departures, and the important new additions, that change the composition and dynamic of leadership teams. This is all part of the natural evolution of organizations (both directed and more random).

High-performing teams often bring a mix of individuals with past experiences of different corporate cultures, normative behaviors, and approaches to managing both risk mitigation and resource allocation.

With this context in mind, I was struck by a thought-provoking recent analysis

Continue reading "New Blood Needed: Pharma R&D Leadership Tenure"

Crossing The Sea: Adventures In Transatlantic Biotech Operations

This blog was written by Ros Deegan, CBO of Bicycle Therapeutics, as part of the From The Trenches feature of LifeSciVC.

On my first morning as a US-based employee, I took advantage of the hotel’s shopping service by ordering the ingredients for a spaghetti Bolognese. That evening, I unpacked a can of tomato sauce, a raw onion, a tube of dried spaghetti, a bulb of garlic, an assortment of fresh herbs and one supersize jar of dried fruit, the label for which read Mincemeat. Mince – British English for ground beef – does not translate. I’d love to know what my personal shopper thought I was cooking.

This is only one of multiple misunderstandings I have experienced during my transition from Britain to America. A barman once served me a glass of Porter instead of the requested glass of water. Most Americans like my accent but automated voice response systems

Continue reading "Crossing The Sea: Adventures In Transatlantic Biotech Operations"

Innately Innovative: IFM Therapeutics Acquired By BMS

Today BMS announced the acquisition of IFM Therapeutics, an emerging biotech focused on modulating core innate immune pathways to treat cancer and autoimmune disease. As described in the press release, BMS will acquire the company for $300M upfront, with potentially up to $1.01 B in future milestones for each of the two lead programs. In addition, the non-oncology related assets and the IFM team are being spun out into a new company. With the ever-increasing competition in the immuno-oncology (I/O) space, working with the best clinical and commercial partners is critical to the success of early stage I/O programs. Finding great dedicated partners is very enabling, as they provide access to both checkpoint foundational and novel combo therapy candidates, as well as deep clinical expertise and significant resources to execute on clinical development (and commercialization). IFM consciously pursued that BD strategy, as the company understood that its
Continue reading "Innately Innovative: IFM Therapeutics Acquired By BMS"