Kristin Fortney, BioAge Labs CEO

An­ti-ag­ing biotech up­start plucks a drug from Am­gen's dis­card pile, piv­ot­ing from heart fail­ure to mus­cle con­di­tions

Back in April 2019, Am­gen qui­et­ly shut down a Phase I tri­al for a drug named AMG 986. There was no safe­ty con­cern; the mol­e­cule just didn’t hit the mark on help­ing the small band of heart fail­ure pa­tients who re­ceived it.

A small biotech, though, be­lieves it would stand a chance in the bur­geon­ing an­ti-ag­ing field.

BioAge Labs has li­censed AMG 986 — now re­named BGE-105 — with plans to par­lay the ex­ist­ing IND in­to a quick Phase I tri­al teas­ing out the phar­ma­co­dy­nam­ic ef­fects and set the stage for mid-stage tests fo­cused on acute mus­cle in­di­ca­tions.

BGE-105 mim­ics the ef­fect of apelin, an en­doge­nous lig­and that boosts the pro­duc­tion of APJ, a re­cep­tor that tends to be down­reg­u­lat­ed as peo­ple grow old­er. By comb­ing through decades of health da­ta from thou­sands of healthy vol­un­teers tracked by their biobank part­ners, the biotech had ze­roed in on the apelin/APJ path­way as one key mol­e­c­u­lar dri­ver of ag­ing, CEO Kris­ten Fort­ney said.

“Our longevi­ty map iden­ti­fies prob­a­bly sev­er­al dozen path­ways that mat­ter for hu­man ag­ing, and we’re choos­ing strate­gi­cal­ly to fo­cus first on the ones that are the most well known,” she added, “where there is as­set avail­able to go im­me­di­ate­ly in­to the clin­ic.”

She imag­ines there are about 10 such pro­grams out there, rep­re­sent­ing a range of mech­a­nis­tic bets, that they can bring in be­fore turn­ing to dis­cov­ery ef­forts. The apelin/APJ one is the third, lin­ing up af­ter two oth­ers tar­get­ing the hy­pox­ia-in­ducible fac­tor and PGD2 DP1.

Along the search for as­sets BioAge con­nect­ed with Cedric Dray at France’s IN­SERM, who had found that in­ject­ing mice with apelin pep­tide en­hanced mus­cle func­tion con­sid­er­ably, but that nat­ur­al mol­e­cule has a short half-life of on­ly 5 min­utes. He helped test the Am­gen mol­e­cule in his mouse mod­els, ce­ment­ing the li­cens­ing deal.

Like most of the an­ti-ag­ing out­fits, Fort­ney ex­pects to start with acute in­di­ca­tions where BioAge can quick­ly gen­er­ate clin­i­cal da­ta and get reg­u­la­to­ry ap­provals — one ex­am­ple is pre­vent­ing mus­cle at­ro­phy for im­mo­bi­lized pa­tients in hos­pi­tals — be­fore mov­ing on to long-term chron­ic use in things like mus­cle re­gen­er­a­tion and frailty.

“Ide­al­ly our drugs would fol­low a de­vel­op­ment path like a statin, where they’re first ap­proved for a nar­row in­di­ca­tion and widen over time” un­til they’re pre­scribed to any­one over a cer­tain age with risk fac­tors, Fort­ney said.

There’s a lot to prove in the young an­ti-ag­ing space, with lofty goals that have been well-doc­u­ment­ed and well-sat­i­rized. Backed by high-pro­file in­vestors like An­dreessen Horowitz and se­r­i­al en­tre­pre­neur Elad Gil of Airbnb fame, BioAge Labs has re­cent­ly brought its to­tal fund­ing to $127 mil­lion and grown the team to 35.

“Frankly very few mech­a­nisms have even been tried in the clin­ic,” she said. “We’re sort of at the very be­gin­ning.”

ZS Per­spec­tive: 3 Pre­dic­tions on the Fu­ture of Cell & Gene Ther­a­pies

The field of cell and gene therapies (C&GTs) has seen a renaissance, with first generation commercial therapies such as Kymriah, Yescarta, and Luxturna laying the groundwork for an incoming wave of potentially transformative C&GTs that aim to address diverse disease areas. With this renaissance comes several potential opportunities, of which we discuss three predictions below.

Allogenic Natural Killer (NK) Cells have the potential to displace current Cell Therapies in oncology if proven durable.

Despite being early in development, Allogenic NKs are proving to be an attractive new treatment paradigm in oncology. The question of durability of response with allogenic therapies is still an unknown. Fate Therapeutics’ recent phase 1 data for FT516 showed relatively quicker relapses vs already approved autologous CAR-Ts. However, other manufacturers, like Allogene for their allogenic CAR-T therapy ALLO-501A, are exploring novel lymphodepletion approaches to improve persistence of allogenic cells. Nevertheless, allogenic NKs demonstrate a strong value proposition relative to their T cell counterparts due to comparable response rates (so far) combined with the added advantage of a significantly safer AE profile. Specifically, little to no risk of graft versus host disease (GvHD), cytotoxic release syndrome (CRS), and neurotoxicity (NT) have been seen so far with allogenic NK cells (Fig. 1). In addition, being able to harness an allogenic cell source gives way to operational advantages as “off-the-shelf” products provide improved turnaround time (TAT), scalability, and potentially reduced cost. NKs are currently in development for a variety of overlapping hematological indications with chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-Ts) today, and the question remains to what extent they will disrupt the current cell therapy landscape. Click for more details.

Hal Barron, Endpoints UKBIO20 (Jeff Rumans)

'Al­tos was re­al­ly a once-in-a-life­time op­por­tu­ni­ty': Hal Bar­ron re­flects on his big move

By all accounts, Hal Barron had one of the best jobs in Big Pharma R&D. He made more than $11 million in 2020, once again reaping more than his boss, Emma Walmsley, who always championed him at every opportunity. And he oversaw a global R&D effort that struck a variety of big-dollar deals for oncology, neurodegeneration and more.

Sure, the critics never let up about what they saw as a rather uninspiring late-stage pipeline, where the rubber hits the road in the Big Pharma world’s hunt for the next big near-term blockbuster, but the in-house reviews were stellar. And Barron was firmly focused on bringing up the success rate in clinical trials, holding out for the big rewards of moving the dial from an average 10% success rate to 20%.

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Executive Director of the EMA Emer Cooke (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment signs off on strength­en­ing drug reg­u­la­tor's abil­i­ty to tack­le short­ages

The European Parliament on Thursday endorsed a plan to increase the powers of the European Medicines Agency, which will be better equipped to monitor and mitigate shortages of drugs and medical devices.

By a vote of 655 to 31, parliament signed off on a provisional agreement reached with the European Council from last October, in which the EMA will create two shortage steering groups (one for drugs, the other for devices), a new European Shortages Monitoring Platform to facilitate data collection and increase transparency, and on funding for the work of the steering groups, task force, working parties and expert panels that are to be established.

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Kenneth Galbraith, incoming Zymeworks CEO

Zymeworks re­places half its C-suite, aims to lay off 25% of to­tal work­force as new CEO takes over

New Zymeworks CEO Kenneth Galbraith is aiming to hit the ground running when his tenure officially begins next month, but he’ll be doing so with a much different looking team.

In a lengthy press release outlining the biotech’s 2022 goals, Galbraith said Zymeworks will be laying off at least 25% of its staff over the course of the year. Half of its C-suite will also be replaced immediately as Galbraith looks to remake the company in his image after Ali Tehrani, Zymeworks’ founder and CEO since 2003, stepped down two weeks ago.

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Graphic: Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

What kind of biotech start­up wins a $3B syn­di­cate, woos a gallery of mar­quee sci­en­tists and re­cruits GSK's Hal Bar­ron as CEO in a stun­ner? Let Rick Klaus­ner ex­plain

It started with a question about a lifetime’s dream on a walk with tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the beginning of the great pandemic, former NCI chief and inveterate biotech entrepreneur Rick Klausner and the Facebook billionaire would traipse Los Altos Hills in Silicon Valley Saturday mornings and talk about ideas.

Milner’s question on one of those mornings on foot: “What do you want to do?”

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Crit­ics push back on Alzheimer’s As­so­ci­a­tion ad blitz to get Medicare to change its Aduhelm rul­ing: 'Dead wrong'

The latest Alzheimer’s Association advertising campaign encourages people to fight.

Not against the disease or for more research or treatments, but against the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. More specifically, CMS’ recent reimbursement decision to only pay for Biogen and Eisai’s controversial Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm for patients in clinical trials.

With CMS’ preliminary decision now in a 30-day comment period, patient advocates’ goal is to convince CMS to reverse its decision with a marketing blitz and public pressure.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Fail­ing to con­firm clin­i­cal ben­e­fit, Gilead pulls 2 ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval in­di­ca­tions for can­cer drug

Gilead recently decided to pull two indications for its cancer drug Zydelig — in relapsed follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (FL) and relapsed small lymphocytic leukemia (SLL) — after failing to complete the confirmatory trials required as part of the accelerated approvals from 2014.

“As the treatment landscape for FL and SLL has evolved, enrollment into the confirmatory study has been an ongoing challenge,” Gilead said in a statement, noting it formally notified the FDA of its decision to voluntarily withdraw these indications.

Richard Pazdur (via AACR)

Time lim­its on ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­provals? FDA's on­col­o­gy chief Rick Paz­dur eyes po­ten­tial re­forms via in­ter­na­tion­al ap­proach­es

The spotlight on the accelerated approval pathway continues to shine bright, with the FDA’s top oncology official writing in an opinion that the pathway may be strengthened with bits and pieces of what other regulators in Europe and elsewhere have done with their expedited approval pathways, such as adding expiration dates for these faster approvals to ensure they confirm clinical benefit in a timely manner.

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Covid-19 roundup: HHS may strug­gle to ab­sorb Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed; Eu­rope has no plans for a fourth vac­cine dose

Operation Warp Speed, perhaps the greatest achievement of the former Trump administration, promptly delivered Covid-19 vaccine supplies nationwide when they became available, thanks to collaborations between HHS and the Department of Defense, while helping to fund and aid the manufacture of billions of doses.

But since the Biden administration took over a year ago, acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock transitioned out of her role as the therapeutics lead in Warp Speed, which has been converted into a new operation without the fancy name (now known as the “HHS-DOD COVID-19 Countermeasures Acceleration Group”), and as of the start of 2022, the Department of Defense is no longer helping HHS on the program.