All in on IL-11, Fra­zier un­veils lat­est start­up with dual fo­cus on fi­bro­sis and can­cer

In late 2017, a team of Sin­ga­pore­an sci­en­tists pub­lished a Na­ture pa­per high­light­ing what they call a “ground­break­ing” and “out­stand­ing” new tar­get for fi­bro­sis. In­ter­leukin-11, a cy­tokine down­stream of the well-known TGFβ1 path­way, had been over­looked but ac­tu­al­ly plays an even more cen­tral role in the fi­brot­ic process, they wrote.

“The dis­cov­ery that IL11 is a crit­i­cal fi­brot­ic fac­tor is the type of break­through that the sci­en­tists and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies have been search­ing for,” Stu­art Cook, a se­nior au­thor and the di­rec­tor of the Na­tion­al Heart Re­search In­sti­tute Sin­ga­pore, said then.

Cook and Se­bas­t­ian Schäfer, a co-au­thor, had found­ed a biotech named En­le­ofen that would go on to score a ma­jor al­liance with Boehringer In­gel­heim. Now, Fra­zier Health­care is de­but­ing its own ef­fort to drug the tar­get — aim­ing not just at var­i­ous types of fi­bro­sis but al­so can­cer.

Mark Bar­rett

With Mark Bar­rett, Sanofi Gen­zyme vet and now Fra­zier en­tre­pre­neur-in-res­i­dence, at the helm, Lassen Ther­a­peu­tics has $31 mil­lion to find out which in­di­ca­tions they’d like to start with and reach IND next year.

The Na­ture pa­per had piqued their in­ter­est in IL-11, Bar­rett told End­points News, just as he and co-founder David King were search­ing for a new con­cept that would play to King’s ex­per­tise in an­ti­body dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment.

“We be­lieved that there’s such a great pro­lif­er­a­tion of re­al­ly high-qual­i­ty and high-ca­pa­bil­i­ty an­ti­body gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies avail­able that a biotech com­pa­ny to­day can be high­ly suc­cess­ful lever­ag­ing those tech­nolo­gies for the right ap­pli­ca­tions,” he said.

King, who had had a com­pa­ny cre­ation ex­er­cise with Fra­zier at Anap­tys­Bio, brought over a few sci­en­tists to the found­ing team and built it out to a group of 10 based out of San Diego. Bar­rett re­mains in Boston, where he’s been based for the past decade — not that it had made a dif­fer­ence for the last few months as his West Coast col­leagues found them­selves chat­ting with him and one an­oth­er over video calls amid a statewide shut­down.

David King

They be­gan by scour­ing the patent lit­er­a­ture on IL-11 block­ade and dis­cov­ered an IP es­tate that CSL had cre­at­ed around a suite of an­ti­bod­ies hit­ting the IL-11 re­cep­tor. The Aus­tralian phar­ma gi­ant had done some work with them in COPD and asth­ma but it was, af­ter all, not a great fit for their core plas­ma and vac­cines busi­ness.

“They had worked on the pro­gram but had kind of parked it at the stage where it need­ed more fo­cus and in­vest­ment,” Bar­rett said. “We hap­pened to come in at just the right mo­ment” last year to li­cense it all.

Through the deal CSL be­came an eq­ui­ty hold­er in Lassen along­side Fra­zier (with its lat­est, $617 mil­lion fund), Al­ta Part­ners and Long­wood Fund. An­drew Nash, the SVP of re­search at CSL, is al­so join­ing the biotech’s sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board.

Bar­rett has been around long enough to re­mem­ber that IL-11 does have a past in on­col­o­gy. Cam­bridge, MA-based Ge­net­ics In­sti­tute had ush­ered a re­com­bi­nant IL-11 to the mar­ket as a sup­port ther­a­peu­tic to chemother­a­py be­fore get­ting ac­quired by Wyeth, which in time rolled up in­to Pfiz­er.

“But the fur­ther bi­ol­o­gy in terms of its role in fi­bro­sis or can­cer just wasn’t well enough un­der­stood, I guess, for peo­ple to be suc­cess­ful to de­vel­op block­ing ther­a­peu­tics like IL-6, al­though IL-11 and IL-6 are in the same fam­i­ly of cy­tokines,” he said. “It’s just one of those things; bi­ol­o­gy is hard. Fig­ur­ing out the right ap­pli­ca­tion takes time — decades, some­times.”

Lassen now has its foot on the gas ped­al, look­ing to ac­cel­er­ate the R&D work by part­ner­ing with both aca­d­e­m­ic in­ves­ti­ga­tors and Fu­ji­film Diosynth, which will man­u­fac­ture clin­i­cal-grade ma­te­r­i­al for them once they de­cide on the fi­brot­ic con­text and or­gan sys­tem to tar­get first.

There’s plen­ty of room for both Boehringer and Lassen to bring forth new treat­ments in the broad space, Bar­rett added, es­pe­cial­ly as “we may di­verge in the way we fo­cus.”

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; 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.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Giovanni Caforio, Bristol Myers Squibb CEO (Nicolas Messyasz/Sipa via AP Images)

Bris­tol My­ers turns at­ten­tion to new prod­ucts in wake of Revlim­id patent loss

Bristol Myers Squibb CEO Giovanni Caforio is shifting his focus to newer products as generic sales continue to gnaw at the company’s blockbuster myeloma drug Revlimid.

Both Revlimid and Abraxane sales took a dive last year thanks to generic rivals, BMS reported in its Q4 and full-year results on Thursday. As a result, Q4 sales dipped 5% and full-year sales remained flat. However, Caforio sees a silver lining — or rather, two of them.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

FTC makes an ex­am­ple of GoodRx, bans dis­counter from shar­ing pri­vate health da­ta with ad­ver­tis­ers

Prescription drug discount provider GoodRx will no longer be allowed to share its users’ sensitive health data with advertisers after the Federal Trade Commission charged the online coupon provider with failing to notify consumers of such disclosures to Facebook, Google, and other companies.

GoodRx agreed to pay a $1.5 million civil penalty for violating the FTC’s Health Breach Notification Rule after the FTC said it repeatedly violated a 2017 promise to not share sensitive personal health information. The FTC alleged that the company shared users’ prescription medications and personal health conditions with third party advertisers and platforms like Facebook, Google, Criteo, Branch and Twilio.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Mer­ck’s Keytru­da nears $21B in sales, dou­bles down on com­bo tri­als

Merck’s cancer immunotherapy Keytruda notched sales of $20.9 billion in 2022, cementing its status as one of the world’s top-selling drugs. However, it’s far from resting on that accomplishment.

Merck executives touted nine ongoing trials in its annual earnings call on Thursday, including five studies in Phase III, for Keytruda (pembrolizumab) in combination with other immuno-oncology drugs. The trials include combinations with Merck’s own developments as well as other pharma companies’ candidates, including its melanoma collaboration with Moderna and its mRNA technology plus Keytruda, aimed at creating a personalized vaccine treatment to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence or death.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 158,600+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.