New U.K. biotech bags £15.5M, Forbion plans €200M fund, Serono strikes oncology deal

Welcome to the latest edition of our weekly EuroBiotech Report. In a week during which politicians in the United Kingdom trumpeted about the turnaround of bioscience, London did its part to ensure the region's strong performance over the first six months of 2014 is more than a blip. Another £15.5 million ($24.9 million) flowed into the capital to help Magnus Life Science get started with its biotech-cum-incubator model for science emerging from University College London. Across the city, Merck Serono struck a deal with the Institute of Cancer Research and the Wellcome Trust to bolster an oncology drug discovery program. While London is attracting investment, VC shops in the Netherlands are on a fundraising roll. Forbion Capital Partners became the third Dutch VC firm in recent weeks to raise money for a new biotech investment fund. In Belgium, Cardio3 Biosciences began putting its business development strategy into action by striking a deal to access regenerative medicines discovered at Mayo Clinic. Acacia Pharma brought in strategic advisors after its Phase III trial reported positive data. And more. Nick Taylor (email | Twitter)

1. Magnus sets up shop with £15.5M, UCL tech and a novel business plan
2. Forbion plans €200M fund to top off bumper month for biotech VCs
3. Merck Serono strikes cancer drug discovery pact with London-based duo
4. Cardio3 begins pipeline-fattening plan with Mayo Clinic deal
5. Acacia Pharma mulls strategic options after PhIII success

And more >>

Magnus sets up shop with £15.5M, UCL tech and a novel business plan

The U.K. has a new biotech-cum-incubator, Magnus Life Science. With £15.5 million ($24.9 million) in seed funding in the bank and tech from UCL, Magnus looks like a typical university spin-out, but its model is a little different. Each of its five preclinical programs are separate companies.

Magnus CEO David Campbell

The idea, a spokesperson told FierceBiotech, is to motivate each of the founder scientists and give the group greater flexibility when it comes to finding partners and raising additional capital. At the same time, making the companies part of a broader organization--Magnus--instead of setting them up as stand-alone startups, means each entity can draw on a shared management team and business development capabilities. "Synergy without dependency" is the mantra. The company's operational and R&D teams are based at UCL.

The three most advanced firms in Magnus' stable are Oxygen, Flow and Growth, each of which is in preclinical. Magnus Oxygen is developing an injectable to treat reperfusion injury--a form of tissue damage stemming from a lack of oxygen--while Flow and Growth are respectively developing a biomagnetic stent and a fetal growth restriction therapy. The other two programs are in discovery. Magnus Life is working on a new approach to immuno-oncology--starting with melanoma--and Metabolic is trying to help diabetics by stopping fat from accumulating in muscle and other tissues.

With £15.5 million in funding from an anonymous private equity investor--and €11.5 million from the European Commission for two of the programs--Magnus thinks it can take three of the companies to clinical proof-of-concept. If the data are good, management will search for fresh funding or a partner before tackling late-stage trials. - read the release

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Forbion plans €200M fund to top off bumper month for biotech VCs

Forbion managing partner Sander Slootweg

The past few weeks have brought lots of encouraging news for European biotechs that need money. With Aglaia Biomedical Ventures and LSP having already gathered €145 million ($181 million) for new biotech investment funds, Forbion Capital Partners has now raised €92 million for its latest pool.

Forbion, based in Naarden, the Netherlands, will use the fund--which could swell to €200 million by the time it closes--to invest in 12 to 15 developers of drugs, diagnostics and medical devices. The VC shop has previously reserved around three-quarters of its cash for biotechs--a practice that is likely to be kept for the new fund--and lists BioVex and Santaris Pharma among its high-profile exits. The two firms sold to Amgen ($AMGN) and Roche ($RHHBY), respectively, in deals worth $675 million upfront.

This track record helped Forbion convince the European Investment Fund, Dutch Venture Initiative and other groups from Europe and North America to invest in its fund. The re-emergence of IPOs as a popular exit strategy has given investors another route to returns, but raising the cash was still a "hard slog" Forbion managing partner Sander Slootweg told BioWorld Today. "Most funds are pretty much on the road all of the time," Slootweg said.

If Forbion, Aglaia and LSP all hit their targets, they will collectively have €450 million to invest in European biotechs. Each VC shop plans to use their cash to invest in up to 15 companies, meaning a sizable pool of startups and more advanced biotechs are set to receive financing. Slootweg expects Forbion to make the first investments from the new fund before the end of 2014. - read Forbion's release and BioWorld's take

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Merck Serono strikes cancer drug discovery pact with London-based duo

Merck Serono has struck a deal with the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and the Wellcome Trust to add external science and expertise to its tankyrase inhibitor program. The German biopharma is chipping in funding with the Wellcome Trust to combine its research into tankyrase inhibitors with a similar program already underway at ICR in London.

ICR and Merck Serono were both independently working on inhibitors of tankyrase--an enzyme linked to WNT signaling pathways--and have now decided to collaborate in the field. The Wellcome Trust was funding ICR's research through its Seeding Drug Discovery Award and will continue to contribute money to the collaborative program. If a candidate for further development emerges by the end of the alliance, Merck Serono will take full control and move the drug through the clinic.

Merck Serono thinks the scale created by pooling the programs' resources will increase the chances of success. "We will build on a joint compound base of potent tankyrase inhibitors and will leverage both sites' scientific knowledge about the WNT pathway that plays a major role in signal transduction for tumor growth," Merck KGaA's Dr. Andree Blaukat said in a statement. In return for access to ICR's assets, Merck Serono has agreed to undisclosed milestones and royalties.

ICR and Merck Serono are far from the first developers to go after the WNT pathway. The pathway was considered undruggable for years, but OncoMed Pharmaceuticals' OMP-18R5--which was put on clinical hold temporarily by the FDA this year--Novartis' ($NVS) LGK974 and other WNT-targeting drugs have all made it as far as human trials. Novartis and others also have programs looking specifically at tankyrases. - read the release and FierceBiotechResearch's coverage

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Cardio3 begins pipeline-fattening plan with Mayo Clinic deal

Cardio3 CEO Christian Homsy

Last week Cardio3 Biosciences (EBR:CARD) shared an overview of how it intends to fatten its pipeline through deals relating to cellular therapies and cardiovascular diseases. Now, Cardio3 has begun to put the plan into action by striking a deal to get an early look at technologies developed at the Mayo Clinic Center for Regenerative Medicine.

The pathway from discovery at Mayo Clinic to human trials run by Cardio3 is already established. Mont-Saint-Guibert, Belgium-based Cardio3's lead clinical candidate--the heart failure cell therapy C-Cure--originated at Mayo Clinic. The team behind the discovery of C-Cure has since set up the regenerative medicine hub at Mayo Clinic, making it an obvious choice to serve as a piece of Cardio3's de facto R&D engine.

Cardio3 CEO Christian Homsy framed the arrangement as part of the company's rethought business development strategy. "[The deal] enables our company to rapidly and significantly enlarge its product portfolio with high quality research programs across multiple therapeutic areas," Homsy said in a statement. As it stands, Cardio3 has C-Cure in Phase III but is lacking other clinical candidates. Heart damage drug C3BS-GQR-4 is due to start first-in-human trials by the end of 2015. - read the release

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Acacia Pharma mulls strategic options after PhIII success

Acacia Pharma CEO Dr. Julian Gilbert

Acacia Pharma's postoperative nausea & vomiting (PONV) drug APD421 has outperformed a placebo in a Phase III trial. And having generated positive data, the company has engaged J.P. Morgan Cazenove to advise the board on its strategic options.

Cambridge, England-based Acacia Pharma began the 689-person, 19-center trial in September 2013, shortly after it raised £15 million ($24 million) from Fidelity Biosciences, Novo A/S and other investors in a Series B round. Top-line data from the trial link APD421 to a 19.4% relative risk reduction in the incidence of PONV compared to placebo. The result was strong enough for the trial to show APD421 was significantly better than placebo.

While antiemetics are already routinely used to prevent PONV, Acacia Pharma CEO Dr. Julian Gilbert thinks complementary products are needed now that side effects have stopped the use of dopamine antagonists. "There is a clear need for an efficacious, safe antiemetic with a different mechanism of action for use in combination prophylaxis in the highest risk patients, and to rescue patients who suffer PONV despite receiving prophylaxis," Gilbert said in a statement.

The challenge now is to convince others there is a need and that it is met by APD421. As part of this process, the Acacia Pharma board has engaged J.P. Morgan Cazenove--the British subsidiary of the U.S. bank--to advise it on its options. Acacia Pharma has a relatively well stocked clinical pipeline, with drugs for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, dry mouth syndrome in advanced oncology patients and cancer-related wasting syndrome all at Phase II or beyond. - read the press release and FierceBiotech's coverage

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Of Note:

Shares in Alcobra Pharma ($ADHD) sunk more than 50% after data from a Phase III trial of its ADHD drug disappointed investors. Alcobra said the drug was significantly better than placebo, but only after results from four "extreme" responders were removed from the analysis. FierceBiotech

Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approved ThromboGenics' Jetrea. Alcon is responsible for commercializing the vitreomacular traction treatment in Australia. Release

Teva ($TEVA) made deep cuts to its R&D operations, dropping 14 clinical programs and exiting women's health and oncology in an attempt to save more than $500 million (€400 million) over the next few years. FierceBiotech

FDA granted Nabriva Therapeutics' treatment for community-acquired bacterial pneumonia and acute bacterial skin infections fast-track status and named it a Qualified Infectious Disease Product. Release

Molecular Partners set a price range and a date for its upcoming IPO. The well-connected company is aiming to raise CHF 151 million ($159 million) at the top end of the range when it goes public on October 22 in Switzerland's first biotech IPO since 2009. Reuters

An Ernst & Young report calculated life sciences companies in the United Kingdom raised £734 million ($1.2 billion) in the first half of 2014, far more than the total for all of last year. Financial Times

GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) venture unit SR One invested in Atopix Therapeutics. Oxford, England-based Atopix will use the Series A extension to complete an evaluation of its lead candidate in atopic dermatitis. Release

Hyperion Therapeutics ($HPTX) and Clal Biotech agreed a temporary truce to their fight over what Andromeda Biotech did or didn't do in its diabetes trial. Both companies have paused their plans to pursue legal action while an independent team reviews the situation. FierceBiotech

XTL Biopharmaceuticals' ($XTLB) shares spiked after Eli Lilly ($LLY) dropped out of the race to bring a drug for lupus to market. Shares in XTL were briefly up as much as 200%, but came back to earth quickly. Reuters

FDA awarded fast-track status to BrainStorm Cell Therapeutics' ($BCLI) amyotrophic lateral sclerosis candidate. The drug, NurOwn, is currently being tested in a Phase II trial. Reuters

Imperial Innovations invested £1.85 million ($3.00 million) in Kesios Therapeutics, a new British oncology biotech. Kesios was founded to commercialize technology developed at Imperial College London. Release

The city of Lyon, France entered into an alliance with Boston, MA startup accelerator MassChallenge. "It's basically a general framework for cooperation between the entrepreneurial ecosystems of Lyon and Boston," Amir Eldad, MassChallenge's international expansion "evangelist," told BizSmart. BizSmart

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