A new in­ter­leukin tar­get for NASH spawns Sin­ga­pore­an biotech steered by well known play­ers

A Sin­ga­pore­an biotech look­ing to break in­to the big NASH field has of­fered a glimpse of the pre­clin­i­cal da­ta that’s stoked its con­fi­dence in tar­get­ing an oft-over­looked cy­tokine.

Anis­sa Wid­ja­ja Twit­ter

Re­searchers from Duke-NUS Med­ical School and Na­tion­al Heart Cen­tre Sin­ga­pore start­ed with he­pat­ic stel­late cells, which “are piv­otal in the patho­gen­e­sis of NASH and give rise to up to 95%” of dis­ease dri­ving cells known as liv­er my­ofi­brob­lasts. Here’s how they sum­ma­rized the cur­rent NASH land­scape, from their new pa­per in Gas­troen­terol­o­gy:

A num­ber of fac­tors are im­pli­cat­ed in HSC ac­ti­va­tion and trans­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing the canon­i­cal pro-fi­brot­ic fac­tors trans­form­ing growth fac­tor-B1 (TGFB1) and platelet de­rived growth fac­tor (PDGF) and al­so pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry fac­tors such as CCL2, TN­FA and CCL5.. Per­haps re­flect­ing this com­plex­i­ty and im­plic­it re­dun­dan­cy, no sin­gle up­stream ini­ti­at­ing fac­tor has been tar­get­ed suc­cess­ful­ly in NASH and there are no ap­proved NASH drugs. Cur­rent­ly, there are a num­ber of drugs in clin­i­cal tri­als for NASH but many of these tar­get me­tab­o­lism and it is not clear if they will im­prove liv­er fi­bro­sis, which pre­dicts clin­i­cal out­comes.

To si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly get at the fat ac­cu­mu­la­tion, in­flam­ma­tion and scar­ring present in NASH, they need a bet­ter tar­get. And the sci­en­tists be­lieve they have found the an­swer in in­ter­leukin 11, or IL11.

By in­hibit­ing the pro­tein in mice that have been fed a di­et full of fat­ty food and sug­ary drinks, the sci­en­tists found that they were able not on­ly to pre­vent fat­ty liv­er dis­ease but al­so re­verse its course, ac­cord­ing to first au­thor Anis­sa Wid­ja­ja.

Stu­art Cook A*Star

“In­trigu­ing­ly, ge­net­ic or phar­ma­co­log­ic in­hi­bi­tion of IL11 is as­so­ci­at­ed with low­er serum triglyc­erides, cho­les­terol and glu­cose,” the re­searchers added. “This as­pect of IL11 in­hi­bi­tion is a de­sir­able fea­ture for a po­ten­tial NASH ther­a­py, as pa­tients with NASH of­ten suf­fer from car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases.”

It will take years for En­le­ofen, the biotech spin­out en­trust­ed to bear this the­o­ry out, to catch up with fron­trun­ners like In­ter­cept (armed with mixed Phase III da­ta) and NGM (sup­port­ed by a deep-pock­et­ed Mer­ck). But un­til — or even when — a new drug is ap­proved, you can be sure to see big and small play­ers an­gling for a slice of the enor­mous mar­ket. Last month, Gilead pun­gled up $50 mil­lion to kick­start a part­ner­ship with the AI ex­perts at In­sitro, which in­volves as many as 5 new NASH drugs — and that’s in ad­di­tion to sev­er­al as­sets it’s al­ready blend­ing to­geth­er in a cock­tail.

Stu­art Cook, an au­thor of the study and a pro­fes­sor in car­dio­vas­cu­lar med­i­cine at Duke-NUS, is a co-founder at En­le­ofen along­side Se­bas­t­ian Schäfer. Like him, An­drew Khoo of Tes­sa Ther­a­peu­tics and Jef­frey Lu of En­gine Bio­sciences are al­so di­rec­tors, adding some star pow­er from two of the small coun­try’s biotech stars. Tim Lu, a pi­o­neer in the syn­thet­ic bi­ol­o­gy field who’s had plen­ty of ex­pe­ri­ence launch­ing his own star­tups, is al­so on board as an ad­vis­er.


Im­age: Shut­ter­stock

UP­DAT­ED: In sur­prise switch, Bris­tol-My­ers is sell­ing off block­buster Ote­zla, promis­ing to com­plete Cel­gene ac­qui­si­tion — just lat­er

Apart from revealing its checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo blew a big liver cancer study on Monday, Bristol-Myers Squibb said its plans to swallow Celgene will require the sale of blockbuster psoriasis treatment Otezla to keep the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at bay.

The announcement — which has potentially delayed the completion of the takeover to early 2020 — irked investors, triggering the New York-based drugmaker’s shares to tumble Monday morning in premarket trading.

Celgene’s Otezla, approved in 2014 for psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis, is a rising star. It generated global sales of $1.6 billion last year, up from the nearly $1.3 billion in 2017. Apart from the partial overlap of Bristol-Myers injectable Orencia, the company’s rival oral TYK2 psoriasis drug is in late-stage development, after the firm posted encouraging mid-stage data on the drug, BMS-986165, last fall. With Monday’s decision, it appears Bristol-Myers is favoring its experimental drug, and discounting Otezla’s future.

The move blindsided some analysts. Credit Suisse’s Vamil Divan noted just days ago:

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Novotech CEO Dr. John Moller

Novotech CRO Award­ed Frost & Sul­li­van Best Biotech CRO Asia-Pa­cif­ic 2019

Known in the in­dus­try as the Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO, Novotech is now lead CRO ser­vices provider for the grow­ing num­ber of in­ter­na­tion­al biotechs se­lect­ing the re­gion for their stud­ies.

Re­flect­ing this Asia-Pa­cif­ic growth, Novotech staff num­bers are up 20% since De­cem­ber 2018 to 600 in-house clin­i­cal re­search peo­ple across a full range of ser­vices, across the re­gion.

Novotech’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been rec­og­nized by an­a­lysts like Frost & Sul­li­van, most re­cent­ly with the pres­ti­gious Asia-Pa­cif­ic CRO Biotech of the year award for best prac­tices in clin­i­cal re­search for biotechs for the fifth year. See oth­er awards here.

Suf­fer­ing No­var­tis part­ner Cona­tus is pack­ing it in on NASH af­ter a se­ries of un­for­tu­nate tri­al events

The NASH par­ty is over at No­var­tis-backed Cona­tus. And this time they’re turn­ing off the lights.

More than 2 years af­ter No­var­tis sur­prised the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty with its $50 mil­lion up­front and promise of R&D sup­port to part­ner with the lit­tle biotech on NASH — ig­nit­ing a light­ning strike for the share price — Cona­tus $CNAT is back with the lat­est bit­ter tale to tell about em­ri­c­as­an, which once in­spired con­fi­dence at the phar­ma gi­ant.

Dean Hum. Nasdaq via YouTube

Gen­fit goes to Chi­na with a deal worth up to $228M for NASH drug

Fresh off the high of its Nas­daq IPO de­but, and the low of com­par­isons to Cymabay — whose NASH drug re­cent­ly stum­bled — Gen­fit on Mon­day un­veiled an up to $228 mil­lion deal with transpa­cif­ic biotech Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals to de­vel­op its flag­ship ex­per­i­men­tal liv­er drug — elafi­bra­nor — in Greater Chi­na.

The deal comes more than a week af­ter Gen­fit $GN­FT is­sued a fiery de­fense of its dual PPAR ag­o­nist elafi­bra­nor, when com­peti­tor Cymabay’s PPARδ ag­o­nist, se­ladel­par, fiz­zled in a snap­shot of da­ta from an on­go­ing mid-stage tri­al. The main goal at the end of 12 weeks was for se­ladel­par to in­duce a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in liv­er fat con­tent, but da­ta showed that pa­tients on the place­bo ac­tu­al­ly per­formed bet­ter.

Evotec CEO Werner Lanthaler, File Photo

Ox­ford, Evotec ramp up LAB10x with AI ex­perts at Sen­syne — fo­cused on biotech spin­outs

Ox­ford is al­ly­ing it­self with Evotec and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence out­fit Sen­syne Health to ramp up some new biotech spin­outs while look­ing to “ac­cel­er­ate da­ta-dri­ven drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.”

The big idea here is that Ox­ford sci­en­tists — some of the best drug hunters in the world — can uti­lize Sen­syne’s AI plat­form for their work, re­ly­ing on the chemists and hands-on de­vel­op­ers at Evotec to push ahead to a crit­i­cal proof of con­cept mo­ment. And they’ll do it through a project leader called LAB10x, which gets £5 mil­lion over the next three years to fund the work.

Fol­low­ing news of job cuts in Eu­ro­pean R&D ops, Sanofi con­firms it’s of­fer­ing US work­ers an 'ear­ly ex­it'

Ear­li­er in the week we learned that Sanofi was bring­ing out the bud­get ax to trim 466 R&D jobs in Eu­rope, re­tool­ing its ap­proach to car­dio as re­search chief John Reed beefed up their work in can­cer and gene ther­a­pies. And we’re end­ing the week with news that the phar­ma gi­ant has al­so been qui­et­ly re­duc­ing staff in the US, tar­get­ing hun­dreds of jobs as the com­pa­ny push­es vol­un­tary buy­outs with a fo­cus on R&D sup­port ser­vices.

Alex­ion wins pri­or­i­ty re­view for Ul­tomiris' aHUS in­di­ca­tion; FDA ex­pands ap­proval of Ver­tex's Symdeko

→ Alex­ion $ALXN has scored a speedy re­view for Ul­tomiris for pa­tients with atyp­i­cal he­molyt­ic ure­mic syn­drome (aHUS) af­ter post­ing pos­i­tive da­ta from a piv­otal study in Jan­u­ary. The drug is the rare dis­ease com­pa­ny’s shot at pro­tect­ing its block­buster blood dis­or­der fran­chise that is cur­rent­ly cen­tered around its flag­ship drug, Soliris, which is a com­ple­ment in­hibitor typ­i­cal­ly ad­min­is­tered every two weeks. Ul­tomiris has a sim­i­lar mech­a­nism of ac­tion but re­quires less-fre­quent dos­ing — every eight weeks. The de­ci­sion date has been set to Oc­to­ber 19. Late last year, Ul­tomiris se­cured ap­proval for noc­tur­nal he­mo­glo­bin­uria (PNH) pa­tients.

Bet­ter than Am­bi­en? Min­er­va soars on PhI­Ib up­date on sel­torex­ant for in­som­nia

A month af­ter roil­ing in­vestors with what skep­tics dis­missed as cher­ry pick­ing of its de­pres­sion da­ta, Min­er­va is back with a clean slate of da­ta from its Phase IIb in­som­nia tri­al.

In a de­tailed up­date, the Waltham, MA-based biotech said sel­torex­ant (MIN-202) hit both the pri­ma­ry and sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points, ef­fec­tive­ly im­prov­ing sleep in­duc­tion and pro­long­ing sleep du­ra­tion. In­ves­ti­ga­tors made a point to note that the ef­fects were con­sis­tent across the adult and el­der­ly pop­u­la­tions, with the lat­ter more prone to the sleep dis­or­der.

Gene ther­a­py biotech sees its stock rock­et high­er on promis­ing re­sults for rare cas­es of but­ter­fly dis­ease

Shares of Krys­tal Biotech took off this morn­ing $KRYS af­ter the lit­tle biotech re­port­ed promis­ing re­sults from its gene ther­a­py to treat a rare skin dis­ease called epi­der­mol­y­sis bul­losa.

Fo­cus­ing on an up­date with 4 new pa­tients, re­searchers spot­light­ed the suc­cess of KB103 in clos­ing some stub­born wounds. Krys­tal says that of 4 re­cur­ring and 2 chron­ic skin wounds treat­ed with the gene ther­a­py, the KB103 group saw the clo­sure of 5. The 6th — a chron­ic wound, de­fined as a wound that had re­mained open for more than 12 weeks — was par­tial­ly closed. That brings the to­tal so far to 8 treat­ed wounds, with 7 clo­sures.