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. 

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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