Welcome to Kendall Squared, a twice-weekly newsletter bringing you exclusive news and analysis from biotech’s hotbed in Cambridge, Mass. Last week, I accidentally sent you two broken links. Rest assured I have been adequately punished. If you like this newsletter, subscribe here.
The biotech boom begets two more bankruptcies
What do Martin Shkreli and Bob Langer have in common? Both the most reviled man in pharma and the most cited engineer in history have been linked to drug companies that went public only to file for bankruptcy in the past year.
Langer’s Bind Therapeutics announced its plans to file for Chapter 11 yesterday, capping off a whirlwhind few years for the cancer nanotech company. The Cambridge drug maker went public at a $237 million valuation back in 2013. But after an aborted partnership with Amgen (AMGN), some disappointing clinical results, and a deep round of layoffs, Bind is worth about 3 percent of that today.
Since the start of 2013, more than 140 biotech companies have gone public. A few have failed, becoming parties in reverse mergers, but just three have filed for bankruptcy protection.
The first was KaloBios Pharmaceuticals, briefly run by Shkreli, which entered Chapter 11 last year in a move quite likely designed to protect itself from federal prosecutors who may come after the former CEO’s holdings. The second was Bind. And the third was NephroGenex, which also announced its bankruptcy yesterday.
An ‘800-pound gorilla’ with 140 characters and a dog
Adam Feuerstein is many things. “The Col. Jessup of biotech/drug stocks,” according to himself. An “800-pound gorilla,” according to a PR professional. And a guy whose often profane tweets about biotech reverberate on Wall Street.
That’s all in this excellent profile of Feuerstein written by my colleague Rebecca Robbins — a story that, in addition to being enjoyable to read, also features the most profanity STAT has ever published.
(Full disclosure: I have met Adam, and he was nice to me.)
Here’s something Rebecca learned that didn’t make the story: Feuerstein is “the ringmaster” of something called the Lord Hobo Biotech, Beer, and Bourbon Appreciation Society, according to a member of the group. The LHBBBAS(?) is a rotating cast of biotech types who meet at Cambridge’s Lord Hobo, a bar just north of Kendall Square, which is also where Feuerstein conducts interviews when he can.
Which is to say that if you have a penny-stock biotech to hype, maybe try Cambridge Brewing Company.
Moderna (MRNA), your neighborhood unicorn, is taking résumés
Moderna Therapeutics, a superlatively well-funded biotech company, is planning to add 125 employees to its staff of more than 300 this year.
The Cambridge company is among 28 local biotechs in line for tax incentive awards through the state’s Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. Moderna is in line for about $1.9 million in tax breaks.
Since its foundation in 2011, Moderna has raised more than $1 billion in investments and partnering fees. Its science promises to transform human cells into ersatz drug factories, producing therapeutic proteins inside the body to treat an array of diseases.
Working at Moderna, if you take the requisite heap of salt that comes with reading anonymous comments on Glassdoor, is apparently not for everyone. The majority of recent reviews on the site are uniformly positive, but older entries accuse management of arrogance, aimlessness, and running a “soul-destroying sweat shop where employees are disposable assets.”
Anyway, here’s its careers page.
A behind-the-scenes biotech power broker retires after 30 years
For the past three decades, every pharmaceutical company, venture capitalist, or tech entrepreneur with sights on an MIT invention has had to deal with Lita Nelsen, head of the university’s technology-transfer office.
Now, after 30 years and thousands of deals, she’s retiring. I talked to her about how the relationship between business and academia has changed in that time, and you can read about it here.
At the end of our conversation, Nelsen asked me to make sure STAT spelled her name correctly, which, as the recipient of hundreds of emails that begin “Dear Damien,” I was certain to do.
Kendall conversation: Foundation Medicine goes to the Vatican
Last week, cancer diagnostics outfit Foundation Medicine was among the sponsors for the Vatican’s annual conference on regenerative medicine. The focus this year was oncology, and among the featured speakers were Vice President Joe Biden, tech billionaire Sean Parker, biotech entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong, and, of course, Pope Francis.
Foundation Medicine President Steven Kafka was among the presenters. I asked him about his experience at the Holy See.
So what’s it like getting an audience with the Pope?
It’s truly an inspirational experience because this pope in particular has communicated such a humanitarian mission, and that was the focus of his talk. And I think, regardless of your religious background, to be in this place that is such a hub for Western civilization — you really feel that when you’re at the Vatican, that it’s thousands of years old and this office that he holds is so representative of so much of how our culture has been shaped over time.
For him to talk about the need to really focus on research, focus on access to healthcare, and focus on what he called the globalization of empathy was very powerful.
Is that the most famous human being with whom you’ve ever shared a room?
He’s probably the most prominent global figure, although I did have the privilege about a year ago to be at the White House and in the same room with President Obama when he kicked off his Precision Medicine Initiative in February 2015. So, I don’t know — I don’t want to take sides.
Biotech Devil’s Dictionary
There’s a lot of jargon, coded language, and outright nonsense in biotech, and I want to clear up — and celebrate — as much of it as I can through this glossary, updated weekly. Have a phrase to contribute? Email me.
Electroceutical (n.): a word used to describe non-drug technologies that can treat disease, presumably invented because “medical device,” which means exactly the same thing, is not as elegant. [STAT is not immune to its allure.]
“What if electroceuticals could be as effective as drugs? What if electroceuticals could be one-hundredth as effective as drugs? It would mean that electroceuticals are going to change the world.” — Marom Bikson, City College of New York professor
The greater Boston area again topped Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News’ list of biopharma clusters in the United States. (GEN)
Kendall’s getting a new coffee shop: Next month, Barismo will take over the former Voltage Coffee & Art space at 295 Third St. (Boston Business Journal)
Thanks for reading! Until Thursday,
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