Northern Biologics merges with Mosaic Bio as Versant, Celgene boost involvement

The deal comes amid a flurry of activity in the Canadian life sciences space in recent years.

Canadian biotech Northern Biologics has signed a “transformative” merger deal with Spain’s Mosaic Biomedicals as the new player looks to become a global cancer company, eyeing 2017 in-human testing for its lead candidate.

The early-stage, newly formed company gains more money, Big Biotech backing and a new exec. On the money side, investment firm Versant Ventures has expanded its Series A to Northern Biologics, while Celgene has also exercised an option to buy into certain rights to its lead MSC-1 cancer med program under a deal it already had with Northern Biologics.

Given these boosts, Northern Biologics “has full funding for the early clinical development of MSC-1, in addition to its preclinical portfolio of therapeutic antibodies,” according to a press release.

This drug, a humanized antibody, is slated to start human tests in several cancerous tumor types next year.

MSC-1 is a first-in-class antibody that targets leukemia inhibitory factor (LIF), a pleiotropic cytokine that is overexpressed in certain solid tumors. LIF promotes cancer progression by regulating the tumor microenvironment and by inducing self-renewal in tumor-initiating cells.

Joan Seoane, a co-founder of Mosaic and director of translational research at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology within the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital, Barcelona, led the work on the role of LIF in oncogenesis, as well as the discovery of MSC-1.

Dr. Seoane has now joined Northern Biologics’ board of directors, while Mosaic co-founder Dr. José Baselga will serve as chair and senior medical adviser to the scientific advisory board (SAB). Dr. Guido Magni, a partner at Versant Ventures and former global head of the medical science department of Roche Pharmaceuticals, will serve as a lead clinical adviser to the SAB.

“I’m pleased to welcome Dr. Seoane to the board of Northern Biologics and excited for Dr. Baselga and Dr. Magni to lead our SAB efforts,” said Brad Bolzon, chair of the board and managing director at Versant Ventures, in the release.

“This deal, along with additional financing, is a critical step in building Northern into a world-class oncology company that can deliver new therapies for patients with difficult-to-treat cancers.”

Meanwhile, Covance, Merck, Novartis and Roche vet Dr. Robert Wasserman has signed up to serve as chief medical officer of the newly merged company and will lead the clinical development of MSC-1.

Celgene handed over $30 million up front last April to Northern to support the company's efforts to craft first-in-class antibody treatments, focusing on oncology and fibrosis.

Versant unveiled Northern Biologics in 2014, investing $10 million in Series A funding to help the nascent company grow out of a Canadian incubator called Blueline Bioscience. And Celgene has been in the biotech's orbit since its inception, intrigued by the company's approach to antibody development.