PACT Pharma bags $75M for neoantigen TCR work, manufacturing; Bayer grabs experimental contraceptive from Dar

? With a new president and chief technical officer in place, next-gen T cell therapy player PACT Pharma has $75 million in fresh financing to expand the scope of its nascent clinical programs and open its own manufacturing facility in South San Francisco. By isolating specific neoantigen receptors in patients that appear to be driving an immune response, PACT promises to tackle some of the toughest solid tumors previously impenetrable to cell therapies. Vida Ventures, which has close ties to prominent cell therapy biotechs such as Kite and Allogene, led the Series C round. CTO Tim Moore, who jumped from Kite last October, will supervise efforts to automate some production and analytics process ?to reduce cycle time and manufacturing costs.?

? Large CRO Charles River is entering a multi-year drug discovery collaboration with Takeda, focusing on four areas the Japanese drugmaker champions ? oncology, gastroenterology, neuroscience and rare disease. Under the deal, Charles River gets an undisclosed upfront fee from Takeda, and is eligible to receive development payments of up to $50 million per candidate as well as potential commercial milestones of up to $120 million plus royalties on launched products.

? Bayer has inked a licensing agreement with Dar? Bioscience for commercialization rights of an investigational hormone-free monthly vaginal contraceptive, Ovaprene, in the US. San Diego-based Dar? will receive an undisclosed upfront and $20 million if Bayer decides to exercise its option, plus milestones that add up to $310 million. The biotech expects to launch a pivotal study in the second half of 2020.

? After touting interim Phase II results on its lead COPD drug last March, Verona Pharma has chalked up another win in the next stage. The company reported positive data in the 4-week Phase IIb study evaluating nebulized ensifentrine (0.375 mg, 0.75 mg, 1.5 mg and 3.0 mg) or placebo as an add-on treatment to tiotropium (Spiriva Respimat), a long-acting anti-muscarinic (?LAMA?) bronchodilator marketed by Boehringer Ingelheim. The primary endpoint was met at all doses, with statistically significant improvement in lung function at week 4.

? Allogene and SpringWorks Therapeutics ? two noted startups developing portfolios of drugs flowing from Pfizer?? are teaming up to evaluate Allogene?s BCMA AlloCAR T therapy, ALLO-715, in combination with SpringWorks? gamma secretase inhibitor (GSI), nirogacestat, in patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma. Under the terms of agreement, Allogene will sponsor and conduct the Phase I study ? which is expected to commence in the second half of 2020.

? Back in November 2018, Eli Lilly showed their faith in NextCure by dropping $40 million in upfront and equity cash. Now, Lilly is terminating the deal, effective as of March 3, 2020.

? For his latest company creation, Vivek Ramaswamy?is look to serve the people who serve drugmakers. Lokavant?s?stated goal is to centralize data from over 1,000 trials ?to power a machine learning model that anticipates trial risk, provides risk mitigation strategies, and predicts the impact of mitigation strategy implementation. Rhit Nambisan, head of digital product at Roivant, will serve as president. The new company has also entered its first multi-year enterprise license agreement with Parexel, which recently inked a real world evidence pact with another Roivant subsidiary, Datavant.

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