Elvire Gouze, InnoSkel CEO

Af­ter scor­ing big Pfiz­er buy­out, a Ther­a­chon co-founder turns once again to dwarfism with $24M Se­ries A

Less than two years af­ter sell­ing her first biotech to Pfiz­er for a hefty $810 mil­lion, a French re­searcher has launched a new gene ther­a­py out­fit that’s fo­cus­ing on the same tar­get — dwarfism — but tak­ing a dif­fer­ent path to treat­ment.

The sci­en­tist is Elvire Gouze and the com­pa­ny is In­noSkel, which launched with €20 mil­lion in Se­ries A fi­nanc­ing (about $24.2 mil­lion) ear­ly Mon­day. Though In­noSkel is aim­ing to treat a whole host of rare skele­tal dis­eases that af­fect the body’s col­la­gen, it’s first go­ing af­ter what’s known as spondy­loepi­phy­seal dys­pla­sia con­geni­ta (SEDc), the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of dwarfism that stunts the growth of a pa­tient’s car­ti­lage.

Mon­day’s fundraise was co-led by Jeito Cap­i­tal and Arie Bellde­grun’s team at Vi­da Ven­tures. Ré­gion Sud In­vestisse­ment and The Turenne Group al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed in the round.

Gouze had been work­ing on skele­tal dys­pla­sia at In­serm, the French equiv­a­lent of the NIH, and helped launch the new­ly Pfiz­er-owned Ther­a­chon. She kept her aca­d­e­m­ic lab while work­ing there and came up with the idea for a gene ther­a­py in type 2 col­lagenopathies, which in­cludes SEDc.

“That’s how we start­ed In­noSkel, it’s a spin-out of my In­serm lab,” Gouze told End­points News. 

There are two main caus­es of dwarfism, Gouze said, the first of which was a lead­ing tar­get for Ther­a­chon. While the biotech’s re­search cen­ters al­so re­volve around rare mus­cu­loskele­tal dis­or­ders, Ther­a­chon’s mis­sion was to treat the com­pli­ca­tions of achon­dropla­sia like those in the body’s car­dio­vas­cu­lar, neu­ro­log­i­cal and meta­bol­ic sys­tems.

Achon­dropla­sia af­fects bone growth and aris­es from a sep­a­rate ge­net­ic mu­ta­tion, re­sult­ing in a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent mech­a­nism but sim­i­lar char­ac­ter­is­tics of dwarfism as SEDc. Ther­a­chon’s ex­per­i­men­tal drug is an FGFR3 de­coy, which they be­lieve will cor­rect a sig­nal­ing path­way that trig­gers the ab­nor­mal growth.

Though both con­di­tions re­sult in in­di­vid­u­als with dwarfism hav­ing the same phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, Gouze says the com­pli­ca­tions in this car­ti­lage-based dis­or­der are quite dif­fer­ent. Rather than their bones grow­ing ab­nor­mal­ly, pa­tients with SEDc see ef­fects in their growth plates — the car­ti­lage “tem­plate” of bones in chil­dren that haven’t formed yet — es­sen­tial­ly ne­ces­si­tat­ing treat­ment be­fore pu­ber­ty.

This can lead to reti­nal de­tach­ments and pa­tients hav­ing trou­ble breath­ing, Gouze said. Fur­ther dif­fi­cul­ties hold­ing up their heads and necks can re­sult in paral­y­sis.

“In this case, the pa­tients are very short and have se­vere com­pli­ca­tions,” Gouze said. “What we’re try­ing to achieve is to re­pair the ex­o­cyclic ma­trix of the car­ti­lage.”

In­noSkel isn’t ready to di­vulge how their pro­gram treats the con­di­tion, nor can Gouze pre­dict when they’ll first hit the clin­ic as the com­pa­ny is still await­ing the pub­li­ca­tion of a peer-re­viewed pa­per. Mon­day’s fund­ing will go to­ward ad­vanc­ing to hu­man tri­als, how­ev­er, and any prod­uct will look like a typ­i­cal gene-ther­a­py in­jec­tion to pro­vide pro­teins that help the car­ti­lage be­have nor­mal­ly, she said.

Try­ing to treat dwarfism is a cause that’s drawn sig­nif­i­cant op­po­si­tion from some cor­ners of the com­mu­ni­ty. It’s one Gouze is all too fa­mil­iar with giv­en her pre­vi­ous role as sci­en­tif­ic founder of Ther­a­chon, and now she’s back for more with In­noSkel. There have al­so been ef­forts by a promi­nent phar­ma, Bio­Marin, to get an achon­dropla­sia drug across the fin­ish line. The FDA ac­cept­ed Bio­Marin’s pitch for the pro­gram just last month, with an ac­tion date com­ing next Au­gust.

But Gouze says she “ful­ly re­spects” the ar­gu­ment from ad­vo­cates that dwarfism is not some­thing meant to be “cured.” Mak­ing every­one taller is not Gouze’s main goal, she says, rather it’s try­ing to pre­vent the com­pli­ca­tions that re­sult from achon­dropla­sia and now SEDc.

“When you’re an adult with dwarfism you have to live with your con­di­tion any­way, and it’s not to make them like every­body; the treat­ments are not try­ing to ‘stan­dard­ize’ them,” Gouze said. “It’s not so much to make every­body look the same, which would be use­less and ab­solute­ly not in­ter­est­ing any­way. It’s try­ing to pre­vent the com­pli­ca­tions and de­crease the pain.”

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.

Covid-19 vac­cine boost­ers earn big thumbs up, but Mod­er­na draws ire over world sup­ply; What's next for Mer­ck’s Covid pill?; The C-suite view on biotech; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

You may remember that at the beginning of this year, Endpoints News set a goal to go broader and deeper. We are still working towards that, and are excited to share that Beth Snyder Bulik will be joining us on Monday to cover all things pharma marketing. You can sign up for her weekly Endpoints MarketingRx newsletter in your reader profile.

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No­var­tis de­vel­op­ment chief John Tsai: 'We go deep in the new plat­form­s'

During our recent European Biopharma Summit, I talked with Novartis development chief John Tsai about his experiences over the 3-plus years he’s been at the pharma giant. You can read the transcript below or listen to the exchange in the link above.

John Carroll: I followed your career for quite some time. You’ve had more than 20 years in big pharma R&D and you’ve obviously seen quite a lot. I really was curious about what it was like for you three and a half years ago when you took over as R&D chief at Novartis. Obviously a big move, a lot of changes. You went to work for the former R&D chief of Novartis, Vas Narasimhan, who had his own track record there. So what was the biggest adjustment when you went into this position?

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Susan Galbraith, Executive VP, Oncology R&D, AstraZeneca

As­traZeneca on­col­o­gy R&D chief Su­san Gal­braith: 'Y­ou're go­ing to need or­thog­o­nal com­bi­na­tion­s'

 

Earlier in the week we broadcast our 4th annual European Biopharma Summit with a great lineup of top execs. One of the one-on-one conversations I set up was with Susan Galbraith, the oncology research chief at AstraZeneca. In a wide-ranging discussion, Galbraith reviewed the cancer drug pipeline and key trends influencing development work at the pharma giant. You can watch the video, above, or stick with the script below. — JC

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Amit Etkin, Alto Neuroscience CEO (Alto via Vimeo)

A star Stan­ford pro­fes­sor leaves his lab for a start­up out to re­make psy­chi­a­try

About five years ago, Amit Etkin had a breakthrough.

The Stanford neurologist, a soft-spoken demi-prodigy who became a professor while still a resident, had been obsessed for a decade with how to better define psychiatric disorders. Drugs for depression or bipolar disorder didn’t work for many patients with the conditions, and he suspected the reason was how traditional diagnoses didn’t actually get at the heart of what was going on in a patient’s brain.

Roche's Tecen­triq cross­es the fin­ish line first in ad­ju­vant lung can­cer, po­ten­tial­ly kick­ing off gold rush

While falling behind the biggest PD-(L)1 drugs in terms of sales, Roche has looked to carve out a space for its Tecentriq with a growing expertise in lung cancer. The drug will now take an early lead in the sought-after adjuvant setting — but competitors are on the way.

The FDA on Friday approved Tecentriq as an adjuvant therapy for patients with Stage II-IIIA non small cell lung cancer with PD-(L)1 scores greater than or equal to 1, making it the first drug of its kind approved in an early setting that covers around 40% of all NSCLC patients.

Susan Galbraith speaking at Endpoints News' virtual EUBIO21 summit

Imfinzi/treme­li­mum­ab com­bo scores As­traZeneca an­oth­er OS win — this time in liv­er can­cer

Is the tide turning on AstraZeneca’s battered PD-L1/CTLA4 combo?

A single priming dose of the experimental tremelimumab, followed by Imfinzi every four weeks, beat Nexavar (sorafenib) in helping a group of liver cancer patients live longer in a Phase III study, the company reported, meeting the primary endpoint.

Specifically, the two drugs extended overall survival for patients with unresectable hepatocellular carcinoma who had not received prior systemic therapy and were not eligible for localized treatment.

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FDA ad­comm votes unan­i­mous­ly in sup­port of a J&J Covid-19 boost­er two months af­ter one-dose shot

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) on Friday voted 19-0 in favor of authorizing a second shot of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine to follow at least two months after the initial dose.

Regulators don’t have to follow VRBPAC’s recommendation, but they almost always do. Considering that the CDC’s advisory committee has already been set to review the expanded EUA, VRBPAC’s recommendation is likely to be adopted.

FDA+ roundup: Marks on Wood­cock­'s tenure as act­ing com­mis­sion­er; FDA lead­ers of­fer per­spec­tive on bar­ri­ers to di­ver­si­ty in re­search

CBER director Peter Marks praised Janet Woodcock’s work as acting FDA commissioner, and while noting that Biden needs to nominate someone to fill the role permanently by Nov. 16, he said he has “no idea” when that actually might occur.

“Dr. Woodcock has been at the agency for over three decades and she, during that time, has proven herself to be a remarkably capable manager,” Marks said at the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine’s meeting Tuesday. “And she’s been managing as if she’s commissioner, unlike some previous acting [commissioners] who are afraid to actually do things. She doesn’t appear to be afraid to do things. I have not felt any different now from when we had a commissioner in place,” he added.

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