PJ Anand, Alcyone Therapeutics CEO

A gene ther­a­py biotech is burst­ing on­to the scene with 12 pro­grams in tow. An ul­tra-rare neu­ro dis­ease is up first

In down­town Low­ell, MA, tucked in­to one of the coun­try’s old­est sur­viv­ing tex­tile mill com­plex­es is a new biotech toil­ing away on next-gen CNS ther­a­pies for se­vere neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. And it’s start­ing with Rett syn­drome — a rare neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal con­di­tion that al­most ex­clu­sive­ly af­fects girls.

Kathrin Mey­er

Al­cy­one Ther­a­peu­tics emerged from stealth mode Wednes­day with $23 mil­lion from RTW In­vest­ments and 12 new gene ther­a­py pro­grams in the works. The com­pa­ny was cre­at­ed last sum­mer, short­ly af­ter founder and CEO PJ Anand met Kathrin Mey­er, a prin­ci­pal in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the gene ther­a­py unit at the Abi­gail Wexn­er Re­search In­sti­tute at Na­tion­wide Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal.

“We de­cid­ed that there was so much mu­tu­al syn­er­gy,” Anand told End­points News, lead­ing them to ex­e­cute a col­lab­o­ra­tion last year.

The com­pa­ny is in pre-IND en­abling stud­ies for one of its lead can­di­dates, AC­TX-101 — a Rett syn­drome treat­ment us­ing X-re­ac­ti­va­tion tech­nol­o­gy. Its oth­er lead can­di­date, AC­TX-401, is a gene ther­a­py for spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy with res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­tress type 1 (SMARD1), for which it will file an IND this year.

Re­searchers at the Bay­lor Col­lege of Med­i­cine iden­ti­fied mu­ta­tions in a gene called MECP2 as the cause of Rett syn­drome back in 1999. The dis­or­der caus­es se­vere im­pair­ments that af­fect a child’s abil­i­ty to speak, walk, eat and breathe eas­i­ly, a com­mon sign be­ing con­stant repet­i­tive hand move­ments. The chal­lenge with con­ven­tion­al trans­gene re­place­ment, Anand ex­plained, is that over­pro­duc­tion of MECP2 is just as bad as un­der­pro­duc­tion.

“It is one of those Goldilocks in­di­ca­tions where you want to have the right amount of pro­tein,” he said. “The po­ten­tial of this plat­form is to in­crease the ef­fi­cien­cy of gene ther­a­py not by 1 time or 2 times, but by mul­ti­ple times.”

Al­cy­one is cou­pling its pre­cise CNS de­liv­ery plat­form with X-chro­mo­some re­ac­ti­va­tion tech­nol­o­gy, so in­stead of just re­plac­ing the gene in the ac­tive X-chro­mo­some (and risk­ing over­ex­pres­sion of MECP2), they’re se­lec­tive­ly re­ac­ti­vat­ing ar­eas in the in­ac­tive X-chro­mo­some to get MECP2 pro­duc­tion.

Anand has big plans to make this pro­gram a “pipeline in a prod­uct,” where the same gene prod­uct can be ap­plied to oth­er X-chro­mo­some-re­lat­ed syn­dromes. Pri­or to this, he found­ed Anun­cia, a spin­off look­ing to treat hy­dro­cephalus and cere­brospinal flu­id dys­func­tions, and co-found­ed the med­ical de­vice com­pa­ny Arthrome­da.

Al­cy­one’s join­ing a host of oth­er com­pa­nies on the hunt for the first Rett syn­drome ther­a­py, in­clud­ing New York biotech Anavex, which got fast track sta­tus for its blar­came­sine back in 2020. Aca­dia Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, mak­er of the Parkin­son’s dis­ease drug Nu­plazid, en­tered its trofine­tide in a piv­otal Phase III study for Rett syn­drome in late 2019. Newron Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals dropped out of the race last May, culling its Rett syn­drome pro­gram af­ter sari­zotan failed a Phase II/III tri­al.

The 35-per­son team at Al­cy­one is al­so de­vel­op­ing can­di­dates us­ing con­ven­tion­al trans­gene re­place­ment, vec­tor­ized ex­on skip­ping and pro­mo­tor mod­u­la­tion.

“Our next-gen­er­a­tion pre­ci­sion de­liv­ery plat­form shows strong po­ten­tial in over­com­ing the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge in CNS ther­a­py de­vel­op­ment,” Anand said.

Cor­rec­tion: Al­cy­one plans on fil­ing an IND this year for AC­TX-401, not AC­TX-101. 

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the Type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way Type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (Endpoints News)

Hal Bar­ron gam­bles $625M cash on high-wire TIG­IT act, throw­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line in­to heat­ed race and com­plet­ing next-gen I/O trin­i­ty

Count Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline in for the TIGIT fight.

The stakes are as high as the risks: While a growing pack of Big Pharma rivals is lending credence to the hypothesis that TIGIT will be the next big immune checkpoint and cancer drug target, the first clinical trials have shown response rates that can be described as modest at best. But Barron’s bet is on the whole “axis” that the receptor sits on, with an eye on testing its new anti-TIGIT antibody not just in combo with PD-1 but also in triplets.

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As Covid-19 shifts the world's at­ten­tion to biotech, Noubar Afeyan's Flag­ship builds $3.4B fund to fu­el new in­ven­tions. Here's the plan

A little more than a year ago, Flagship Pioneering rolled out a monster fund with $1.1 billion in it to bankroll the platform companies they were creating inside their own labs. But it turns out, that was just the prelude to a much, much larger raise, as both current investors — who’ve been reaping the rewards of some booming biotech stocks — join in with new investors betting on more in the years to come.

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An­oth­er busy week for IPOs be­gins with an off-the shelf cell ther­a­py play­er sniff­ing around uni­corn sta­tus

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A flurry of biotechs are expected to hit Nasdaq this week, with two companies, Ambrx Biopharma and Century Therapeutics, setting the terms for their public debuts, with expected raises at $126 million and $200 million, respectively. Alzamend Neuro is also joining in with a $12.5 million raise and two preclinical Alzheimer’s treatments in tow.

Alexander Vos, VectorY CEO

Start­ing fresh in man­u­fac­tur­ing, For­bion start­up re­fu­els to steer next-gen gene ther­a­py ap­proach for ALS, Alzheimer's in­to clin­ic

Forbion laid out its case for a next-generation gene therapy approach when it took the wraps off VectorY Therapeutics and its vectorized antibody tech in February. Now, the Dutch VC has tapped an experienced hand at cell and gene therapy manufacturing to steer the ship — and pulled a marquee syndicate for a €31 million ($37.6 million) seed round.

Alexander Vos, the new CEO, is a venture partner at BioGeneration Ventures and jumps immediately from VarmX, a BGV portfolio company developing an anticoagulant. But before that, he had led Dutch CDMO PharmaCell for eight years until it was bought out by Lonza.