Manny Simons, Akouos CEO (Harvard Business School via YouTube)

Add ear gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny Ak­ou­os to the ever-grow­ing list of IPOs amid Covid-19

For in­vestors look­ing to cash in on a bur­geon­ing ear ther­a­py space, the lat­est biotech an­gling for a pub­lic de­but could be mu­sic to their ears.

Fresh off a $105 mil­lion raise in March, ear gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny Ak­ou­os is look­ing for an­oth­er $100 mil­lion for a chance to dance on the Nas­daq well be­fore its lead prod­uct en­ters the clin­ic.

Hear­ing aids and cochlear im­plants do ad­dress ear dam­age caused by ge­net­ics, noise, ag­ing, or drugs, but noth­ing quite cures or in­deed tar­gets the bi­o­log­i­cal un­der­pin­nings of hear­ing loss — this is the gap Ak­ou­os and a hand­ful of oth­ers in the space want to bridge.

“I think some of the ear­ly ef­forts in the hear­ing space have been drawn to the largest af­fect­ed pop­u­la­tions where there hap­pens to be less clar­i­ty on the un­der­ly­ing bi­ol­o­gy mech­a­nism,” chief Man­ny Si­mons said in a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view with End­points News. “So we’re fo­cus­ing our at­ten­tion on forms of hear­ing loss that we feel are well-un­der­stood, well-char­ac­ter­ized, where we can po­ten­tial­ly ad­dress the un­der­ly­ing cause.”

The com­pa­ny’s lead ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py AK-OTOF is en­gi­neered to treat hear­ing loss due to mu­ta­tions in the gene that en­codes otofer­lin, a pro­tein that en­ables the sen­so­ry cells to ac­ti­vate au­di­to­ry neu­rons that car­ry elec­tron­i­cal­ly en­cod­ed acoustic in­for­ma­tion to the brain, which al­lows us to hear. Ak­ou­os plans to sub­mit an ap­pli­ca­tion to take the drug in­to hu­man stud­ies next year, and gen­er­ate ear­ly-stage da­ta in 2022.

Si­mons, who found­ed the com­pa­ny in 2016, ini­tial­ly flirt­ed with the idea of be­com­ing a mu­si­cian, grow­ing up play­ing the pi­ano and the trum­pet. He met his wife at a glee club at Har­vard. For his bach­e­lor’s de­gree, he had the op­por­tu­ni­ty to es­sen­tial­ly cre­ate his own course of study: to un­der­stand how the brain process­es mu­sic, on the ba­sis of imag­ing stud­ies. That path led to the ear — to de­ci­pher how sound is en­cod­ed in­to a neur­al im­pulse that can ex­tend deep in­to the brain.

Af­ter get­ting his first taste of en­tre­pre­neur­ship in the pro­lif­ic lab of drug de­liv­ery re­searcher Bob Langer, he got his bio­phar­ma train­ing wheels off with stints at Third Rock backed-Warp Dri­ve Bio and Voy­ager Ther­a­peu­tics (nei­ther of which were ear fo­cused). But when he learned that AAV vec­tors with po­ten­tial ap­pli­ca­tions for the ear were be­ing de­vel­oped in a lab­o­ra­to­ry at Mass­a­chu­setts Eye and Ear, Si­mons seized the op­por­tu­ni­ty to get a hear­ing-fo­cused gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny off the ground.

Af­ter se­cur­ing a sweet $7.5 mil­lion in seed fund­ing in 2018, Ak­ou­os scored $50 mil­lion in a Se­ries A round in 2018, led by 5AM and New En­ter­prise As­so­ci­ates.

Ak­ou­os, akin to some oth­ers in the gene and cell ther­a­py space, is in­vest­ing heav­i­ly in man­u­fac­tur­ing in­fra­struc­ture — hav­ing tak­en note that the com­plex man­u­fac­tur­ing process for these kinds of ther­a­pies has be­come some­thing of an Achilles heel in the field when it comes to adop­tion if the pro­duc­tion ap­pa­ra­tus is not up to scratch. For in­stance, the up­take of CAR-T ther­a­pies — No­var­tis’ Kym­ri­ah and Gilead’s Yescar­ta — un­der­whelmed ini­tial ex­pec­ta­tions, de­spite their abun­dant promise. The up­take of Kym­ri­ah was plagued by man­u­fac­tur­ing prob­lems, and de­spite No­var­tis’ at­tempt to ex­pand its ca­pac­i­ty, sales have dis­ap­point­ed com­mer­cial­ly, giv­ing Yescar­ta an edge in the mar­ket.

Ak­ou­os is build­ing its own in­fra­struc­ture to man­u­fac­ture vec­tors for its slate of ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­pies, which al­so in­clude ge­net­ic med­i­cines for the most com­mon forms of hear­ing loss, such as age-re­lat­ed and noise-in­duced hear­ing loss. The com­pa­ny is al­so plan­ning on build­ing a plant to process gene ther­a­py batch­es to sup­port ac­tiv­i­ties through Phase I/II clin­i­cal tri­als for prod­uct can­di­dates be­yond AK-OTOF — part­ner Lon­za will help man­u­fac­ture AK-OTOF while it is shep­herd­ed through clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment.

The com­pa­ny plans to list on the Nas­daq un­der the sym­bol ‘AKUS’ amid a broad­er rush of bio­phar­ma com­pa­nies that are mak­ing their way to the pub­lic mar­kets de­spite the dis­rup­tion of Covid-19. In­deed, in­vestor ap­petites have ap­peared seem­ing­ly in­sa­tiable giv­en the raft of splashy IPOs in re­cent weeks, in­clud­ing a $424 mil­lion de­but for a J&J-part­nered Chi­nese biotech Leg­end Biotech, mark­ing one of the largest pub­lic rais­es in biotech his­to­ry.

Mean­while, there are a host of ri­vals in the broad­er ear-fo­cused space. Al­so in Boston, Ak­ou­os’ home, is Deci­bel Ther­a­peu­tics, work­ing on re­gen­er­a­tion by tar­get­ing tiny hairs that grow in the in­ner ear to ad­dress con­gen­i­tal hear­ing loss or age-re­lat­ed bal­ance dis­or­ders. Fre­quen­cy Ther­a­peu­tics has a mid-stage hair cell re­gen­er­a­tion pro­gram us­ing prog­en­i­tor cells.

Across the At­lantic, UK-based Rin­ri Ther­a­peu­tics is work­ing on treat­ing hear­ing loss by trans­plant­i­ng ot­ic neur­al prog­en­i­tor cells in­to the in­ner ear. Am­s­ter­dam-based Au­dion Ther­a­peu­tics has a com­pound in-li­censed from Eli Lil­ly, which is de­signed to turn on a chem­i­cal switch to pro­duce new sen­so­ry hair cells from oth­er cells in the in­ner ear to im­prove hear­ing.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

FDA chief Stephen Hahn on Capitol Hill earlier this week (Getty Images)

As FDA’s work­load buck­les un­der the strain, Trump again ac­cus­es the agency of a po­lit­i­cal hit job

Peter Marks appeared before a virtual SVB Leerink audience yesterday and said that his staff at FDA’s CBER is on the verge of working around the clock. Manufacturing inspections, policy work and sponsor communications have all been pushed down the to-do list so that they can be responsive to Covid-related interactions. And the agency’s objective right now? “To save as many lives as we can,” Marks said, likening the mortality on the current outbreak as equivalent to “a nuclear bomb on a small city.”

The win­dow is wide open as four more biotechs join the go-go IPO class of 2020

It’s another day of hauling cash in the biopharma world as four more IPOs priced Friday and a fifth filed its initial paperwork.

The biggest offering comes from PMV Pharma, an oncology biotech focusing on p53 mutations, which raised $211.8 million after pricing shares at $18 apiece. Prelude Therapeutics, developing PRMT5 inhibitors for rare cancers, was next with a $158 million raise, pricing shares at $19 each. Graybug Vision raised $90 million after pricing at $16 per share for its wet AMD candidates, and breast cancer biotech Greenwich Lifesciences brought up the rear with a small, $7 million raise after pricing shares at $5.75.

On­ly five months af­ter a Se­ries A launch, Taysha goes pub­lic with $157M IPO

As has been the trend in 2020, Taysha Gene Therapies has become the latest biotech to make a quick ascent from a small, privately-funded company to enjoying its very own Nasdaq ticker.

The Dallas-based biotech raised $157 million for its IPO after pricing shares at $20 apiece Thursday, the high-point of its expected range. Initially pegging $100 million in financing, Taysha offered a little less than 8 million shares and will trade under the $TSHA symbol.

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David Berry (Flagship)

Flag­ship's next big tech­no­log­i­cal bet? The cloud

Earlier this month, Flagship announced their big bet on the software half the industry is talking about, launching the AI and machine learning startup. Now, they and a couple other investors are gambling $100 million on a software that much of the public generally thinks of as a cool, IT afterthought: cloud computing.

The idea, says founder and Flagship partner David Berry, is one of scale: The sheer magnitude of biological data that you can store on cloud technology is unprecedented. And that size, when leveraged properly, can allow you to ask questions and form insights that are similarly unprecedented.

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Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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J&J of­fers PhI/IIa da­ta show­ing its sin­gle-dose vac­cine can stir up suf­fi­cient im­mune re­sponse

Days after J&J dosed the first participants of its Phase III ENSEMBLE trial, the pharma giant has detailed the early-stage data that gave them confidence in a single-dose regimen.

Testing two dose levels either as a single dose or in a two-dose schedule spaced by 56 days in, the scientists from Janssen, the J&J subsidiary developing its vaccine, reported that the low dose induced a similar immune response as the high dose. The interim Phase I/IIa results were posted in a preprint on medRxiv.

Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Play-by-play of Gilead­'s $21B Im­munomedics buy­out de­tails a fren­zied push — and mints a new biotech bil­lion­aire

Immunomedics had not really been looking for a buyout when the year began. Excited by its BLA for Trodelvy, submitted to the FDA in late 2019, executive chairman Behzad Aghazadeh started off looking for potential licensing deals and zeroed in on four potential partners, including Gilead, following January’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Such talks advanced throughout the year, with discussions advancing to the second round in mid-August.

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