Jim O'Mara, Neurogastrx CEO

Af­ter pan­dem­ic de­lay and a South Ko­re­an deal, Boston-area biotech rais­es Se­ries B with sights on IPO

Two years af­ter snar­ing a $45 mil­lion Se­ries A from a cou­ple of top-flight in­vestors, Neu­ro­gas­trx was fi­nal­ly ready to put its lead mol­e­cule in­to the clin­i­cal tri­als when the world shut down in March 2020.

The small, GI-fo­cused biotech’s plans were, like many that spring, de­railed.

“A lot of in­sti­tu­tions were not al­low­ing pa­tients in­to hos­pi­tals or test­ing cen­ters,” CEO Jim O’Mara said. “That de­layed us for months.”

Even­tu­al­ly, though, the com­pa­ny was able to re­jig the tri­al to min­i­mize pa­tients’ doc­tors vis­its, shift­ing with much of the in­dus­try to a re­mote-as-much-as-pos­si­ble mod­el. At the same time, one of those in­vestors looped them in with Vi­vo Cap­i­tal, which was try­ing to de­vel­op a South Ko­re­an GI drug in the US.

Now, three and a half years af­ter launch, Neu­ro­gas­trx has a new Phase III-ready drug in a deal with Dae­woong Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal bro­kered by Vi­vo and a new $60 mil­lion crossover Se­ries B led by Vi­vo. Orig­i­nal blue-chip in­vestors 5AM Ven­tures, ven­Bio and Or­biMed joined Thurs­day’s round, among oth­ers.

The moves will give Neu­ro­gas­trx, a 12-per­son biotech based out­side Boston, two clin­i­cal can­di­dates and po­si­tion it for an IPO. The deal with Dae­woong, an­nounced in June, in­clud­ed an eq­ui­ty in­vest­ment that will con­vert to a 13.5% stake if the com­pa­ny goes pub­lic. Ac­cord­ing to the Ko­rea Her­ald, that was an ini­tial 5% stake, plus an ad­di­tion­al 8.5% when the com­pa­ny files.

“If we are for­tu­nate enough to be suc­cess­ful over the next six months, we may have two Phase III as­sets next year, and we have to make sure that they’re fund­ed ap­pro­pri­ate­ly,” O’Mara said. “So we’ll find the right mech­a­nism to raise mon­ey and move for­ward.”

The first as­set is NG101, the mol­e­cule the com­pa­ny launched around. A dopamine D2 an­tag­o­nist, it is de­signed to treat gas­tro­pare­sis, a com­mon con­di­tion — 10 mil­lion Amer­i­cans, by some es­ti­mates — where the stom­ach can’t prop­er­ly clear food. The pan­dem­ic-de­layed Phase II tri­al is still re­cruit­ing, al­though O’Mara said the com­pa­ny planned to have da­ta in the first half of next year.

The sec­ond is fex­uprazan, a drug Dae­woong al­ready brought through Phase III tri­als in Ko­rea for ero­sive esophagi­tis, a sub­set of acid re­flux caused by in­flam­ma­tion dam­ag­ing the esoph­a­gus. The goal is for it to be an al­ter­na­tive to the pro­ton-pump in­hibitors that have long dom­i­nat­ed re­flux treat­ment but don’t work for all pa­tients.

It is part of a class of drugs called potas­si­um-com­pet­i­tive acid block­er, or P-CABs. Take­da spin­out Phath­om Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals is de­vel­op­ing its own P-CAB for a sub­set of GI dis­or­ders, in­clud­ing ero­sive esophagi­tis, called vono­prazan.

“Even though PPIs are ter­rif­ic drugs, there are still some­where be­tween 7 and 9 mil­lion pa­tients who suf­fer from symp­tom break­through,” O’Mara said, re­fer­ring to pro­ton-pump in­hibitors. “And P-CABs are just bet­ter drugs. We don’t think P-CABs are go­ing to re­place PPIs. But for those pa­tients who have break­through symp­toms, there’s def­i­nite­ly a need for more ef­fi­ca­cious ther­a­pies.”

Neu­ro­gas­trx will run Phase III tri­als to try to prove fex­uprazan is no worse or just as good — non-in­fe­ri­or — than pro­ton-pump in­hibitors at treat­ing the dis­ease’s ini­tial symp­toms and pre­vent­ing them from re­cur­ring.

If those prove suc­cess­ful, the com­pa­ny will then try to mar­ket the drug it­self in the US. The strat­e­gy amounts to a bet they can suc­ceed in an area, com­mer­cial­iza­tion, where many oth­er small biotechs have failed.

But O’Mara thinks GI dis­or­ders, a spe­cial­ty mar­ket, will prove more tractable for a com­pa­ny of his size than, say, heart dis­ease. He not­ed that on­ly about 7,000 GI spe­cial­ists write 85% of GI pre­scrip­tions in the US.

“And that is a group that we can very ef­fi­cient­ly mar­ket to as a small com­pa­ny,” he said. “That is very dif­fer­ent than pri­ma­ry care.”

Biotech Half­time Re­port: Af­ter a bumpy year, is biotech ready to re­bound?

The biotech sector has come down firmly from the highs of February as negative sentiment takes hold. The sector had a major boost of optimism from the success of the COVID-19 vaccines, making investors keenly aware of the potential of biopharma R&D engines. But from early this year, clinical trial, regulatory and access setbacks have reminded investors of the sector’s inherent risks.

RBC Capital Markets recently surveyed investors to take the temperature of the market, a mix of specialists/generalists and long-only/ long-short investment strategies. Heading into the second half of the year, investors mostly see the sector as undervalued (49%), a large change from the first half of the year when only 20% rated it as undervalued. Around 41% of investors now believe that biotech will underperform the S&P500 in the second half of 2021. Despite that view, 54% plan to maintain their position in the market and 41% still plan to increase their holdings.

How to col­lect and sub­mit RWD to win ap­proval for a new drug in­di­ca­tion: FDA spells it out in a long-await­ed guid­ance

Real-world data is messy. There can be differences in the standards used to collect different types of data, differences in terminologies and curation strategies, and even in the way data is exchanged.

While acknowledging this somewhat controlled chaos, the FDA is now explaining how biopharma companies can submit study data derived from real-world data (RWD) sources in applicable regulatory submissions, including new drug indications.

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David Lockhart, ReCode Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er throws its weight be­hind LNP play­er eye­ing mR­NA treat­ments for CF, PCD

David Lockhart did not see the meteoric rise of messenger RNA and lipid nanoparticles coming.

Thanks to the worldwide fight against Covid-19, mRNA — the genetic code that can be engineered to turn the body into a mini protein factory — and LNPs, those tiny bubbles of fat carrying those instructions, have found their way into hundreds of millions of people. Within the biotech world, pioneers like Alnylam and Intellia have demonstrated just how versatile LNPs can be as a delivery vehicle for anything from siRNA to CRISPR/Cas9.

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Leen Kawas (L) has resigned as CEO of Athira and will be replaced by COO Mark Litton

Ex­clu­sive: Athi­ra CEO Leen Kawas re­signs af­ter in­ves­ti­ga­tion finds she ma­nip­u­lat­ed da­ta

Leen Kawas, CEO and founder of the Alzheimer’s upstart Athira Pharma, has resigned after an internal investigation found she altered images in her doctoral thesis and four other papers that were foundational to establishing the company.

Mark Litton, the company’s COO since June 2019 and a longtime biotech executive, has been named full-time CEO. Kawas, meanwhile, will no longer have ties to the company except for owning a few hundred thousand shares.

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Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL, foreground) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

Sen­a­tors back FDA's plan to re­quire manda­to­ry pre­scriber ed­u­ca­tion for opi­oids

Three Senate Democrats are backing an FDA plan to require mandatory prescriber education for opioids as overdose deaths have risen sharply over the past decade, with almost 97,000 American opioid-related overdose deaths in the past year alone.

While acknowledging a decline in overall opioid analgesic dispensing in recent years, the FDA said it’s reconsidering the need for mandatory prescriber training through a REMS given the current situation with overdoses, and is seeking input on the aspects of the opioid crisis that mandatory training could potentially mitigate.

Suresh Katta, Saama CEO (via YouTube)

As AI con­tin­ues to en­tice Big Phar­ma, a Car­lyle-led drug­mak­er syn­di­cate shells out $430M for cloud com­put­ing play­er

The AI revolution permeating Big Pharma took a big financial step forward Wednesday, with VCs and major drugmakers coming together to acquire a cloud-focused company.

Led by the Carlyle Group, the investors will put up $430 million for a majority stake in Saama, a company that collects patient data to help speed along the drug development process. The investment arms of Pfizer, Merck, Amgen and McKesson all participated in the financing, in addition to other prominent life sciences VCs like Northpond.

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Raju Mohan, Ventyx Biosciences CEO

Ven­tyx sprints to Wall Street less than a year af­ter emerg­ing from stealth

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

It took seven months from exiting “quiet mode” for Ventyx Biosciences to land its very own stock ticker, raising $165 million in venture funds along the way.

Now, after pricing a massive $151.5 million IPO, the Encinitas, CA-based biotech is gunning for Phase II.

Ventyx priced close to 9.5 million shares at $16 apiece on Wednesday, the midpoint of its $15 to $17 range. CEO Raju Mohan filed the S-1 papers at the end of September, just over a week after unveiling a $114 million Series B round. He penciled in the standard figure of $100 million at first, likely knowing that in the last year, it’s been common for biotechs to raise much more than those initial estimates.

Bris­tol My­ers pledges to sell its Ac­celeron shares as ac­tivist in­vestors cir­cle Mer­ck­'s $11.5B buy­out — re­port

Just as Avoro Capital’s campaign to derail Merck’s proposed $11.5 billion buyout of Acceleron gains steam, Bristol Myers Squibb is leaning in with some hefty counterweight.

The pharma giant is planning to tender its Acceleron shares, Bloomberg reported, which add up to a sizable 11.5% stake. Based on the offer price, the sale would net Bristol Myers around $1.3 billion.

To complete its deal, Merck needs a majority of shareholders to agree to sell their shares.

Ep­i­darex, Sofinno­va dou­ble down on a par­al­lel take on 3rd-gen CAR-T — aim­ing straight at ovar­i­an can­cer

When John Maher treated the first head and neck cancer patient at Guy’s Hospital in London with his pan-ErbB CAR-T back in 2015, he was among a small club of researchers convinced they had an answer to the challenges that had kept those engineered T cells — wildly successful in hematological cancers — either too dangerous or out of reach for patients with solid tumors.

The field has blossomed since then, with a proliferation of technologies that promise to address any number of challenges identified as unique to solid tumors. And Maher himself has rethought his approach and come up with a new CAR-T platform to generate the next slate of candidates.