Pfizer inks a $911M discovery pact with Greg Verdine’s WaVe Life Sciences

Greg Verdine
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Yesterday, Harvard professor and serial biotech entrepreneur Greg Verdine officially joined Wuxi’s venture arm as a partner. Today, one of the biotechs he co-founded announced a $911 million discovery pact with Pfizer, which includes a $40 million upfront.

Most of that upfront, $30 million, is coming through an equity investment in the Cambridge, MA-based WaVe Life Sciences at $16 a share. WaVe is now committed to finding up to 5 drugs for Pfizer to take into the clinic. The pact starts out with two declared targets--including WaVe’s apolipoprotein C-III program--and allows another 18 months for identifying the rest. And if the maximum number of drugs makes it all the way through the clinic, an unlikely prospect at best, the biotech can score up to $871 million in milestones.

The big idea at WaVe, which captured Pfizer’s attention, is that they can use new technology to create simple, effective nucleic acid therapies that modulate RNA to treat genetically defined rare diseases. WaVe went public ($WVE) last November, raising a little more than $100 million. Verdine is chairman at WaVe.

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WaVe has been going through some landmark changes over the past year, says CEO Paul Bolno. The staff quadrupled in size in 2015 and there are now 75 employees on payroll, big by biotech standards. WaVe has also been working with at least one other unnamed pharma partner, and the CEO enthusiastically confirms to me that more deals are in the works.

The collaborations with Pfizer and others have extended the company’s cash runway into 2019, says Bolno. And after adding to its expertise in chemistry WaVe is now beefing up its manufacturing operations in preparation for two planned INDs for Huntington’s disease later in the year. After that comes an in-house program for an exon 51-skipping Duchenne drug aimed at increasing levels of dystrophin.

The plan is to partner on a variety of programs, but keep its neuromuscular drugs and push them all the way through to commercialization.

WaVe’s whole reason for being, says Bolno, is to produce single drugs with high potency. Even if Sarepta makes it through a controversial approval process and wins an accelerated OK, Bolno believes their drug has a good shot at proving its potency and distinguishing itself in the field. Eteplirsen, he says, is “not potent in pushing dystrophin expression.”

RA Capital Management joined Kagoshima Shinsangyo Sosei Investment to lead an $18 million round for WaVe early last year with the original seed investor, SNBL. That money was used to back an R&D platform based on the scientific insights of Verdine and Japan's Takeshi Wada, from Tokyo University.

- here's the release

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