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Bill Haney’s latest startup scores deal from Sanofi its newest Big Pharma partner, with $54M upfront

Paul Schloesser – Associate Editor, Endpoints


A heavily financed biotech looking to drug RNA with small molecules is adding yet another company to its Big Pharma shortlist.

Skyhawk Therapeutics, the biotech headed by serial entrepreneur and documentary filmmaker Bill Haney, announced an exclusive, back end-heavy collab deal Tuesday with Sanofi, which will primarily focus on yet-undisclosed targets in both immunology and oncology. Sanofi agreed to pay $54 million upfront, and if all the milestones are reached, that could add up to over $2 billion.

Haney, also the CEO and founder of cancer checkpoint therapy startup Dragonfly Therapeutics, tells Endpoints News that there may be an opportunity to expand beyond immunology and oncology targets, but there is an “initial research term” with an unspecified duration.

Sanofi CSO Frank Nestle said in a statement that the Big Pharma is looking forward to the collaboration with Skyhawk.

Skyhawk has made a habit of securing deals with Big Pharma since the biotech emerged from stealth back in 2018. So far, it’s partnered with Merck, Bristol Myers Squibb, Biogen, Takeda, Genentech and Vertex, which put down $40 million upfront to jumpstart a deal in December 2020.

Going after RNA with small molecules has been a more recent aspiration, going down a less-traveled road compared to mRNA and RNAi drugs. So far, only a few biotechs have emerged to tackle drugging RNA with small molecules, such as Arrakis and Expansion Therapeutics.

Haney said that part of the inspiration behind going into small molecules and RNA ranges back to Phil Sharp’s work, who he’s currently making a movie with. Sharp, a co-founder of both Biogen and Alnylam, is a geneticist who won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1993 and co-discovered RNA splicing. After his discoveries and work in the field, the first wave of RNA-targeting drugs came out: antisense oligonucleotides, also known as ASOs.

“They offered a lot of benefits to people, and proved that you can drug RNA. But they’re expensive, they’re difficult to manufacture, difficult to deliver, and don’t get you the kind of bioavailability that you would like to get in a lot of target organs,” Haney added.

Skyhawk was later inspired by co-founder Kathleen McCarthy’s work on Roche’s drug Evrysdi, an RNA-targeting small molecule drug approved back in 2020 for spinal muscular atrophy in adults and children.

Skyhawk lead’s candidate, so far, is a neurodegeneration program currently in the IND-enabling stage. While another neurodegenerative candidate is just starting the IND-enabling process, according to its website, the biotech has more than a dozen other candidates in autoimmune, cancer and neuromuscular targets at varying preclinical stages.

Tuesday’s deal is the newest development for the biotech, which has been well-funded after raising more than $700 million, Haney said. The biotech secured $133 million in private financing last September.

Haney added at the time of the financing that the round would most likely be the last one before the biotech goes public, estimating last year that he could see filing S-1 papers sometime in the next 12 to 18 months if the IPO window was open.

While an IPO is still in the cards as of today, the timeline is in a bit of limbo as Haney said Skyhawk still has a “high percentage” of the money it’s raised so far.

“So I still think our next financing will be a public offering … depending on how the markets look. And the markets don’t look very good today. I’m sorry for my friends in biotech. For us in SkyHawk, Dragonfly, we’re very well-financed, and we’re not concerned about the financing environment at all,” Haney added.

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Maura McCarthy


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