As NLRP3 players head for first clinical face-off, Novo, Sanofi fuel trans-Atlantic contender with $55M
In the relative short history of inflammasome research, Adam Keeney sees two time points marking major breakthroughs: the early 2000s, when the role of inflammasomes as a major innate immunity node was elucidated; and 2015, when scientists observed that an old Pfizer compound they thought were blocking IL-1 actually targeted NLRP3. Keeney’s biotech, NodThera, was founded the year after alongside several others to create its own superior small molecule drugs.
“It was a relatively good NLRP3 inhibitor, just not a good drug in terms of PK and PD — it needed to be given 3, 4 times a day at very high doses — but it is a good tool compound,” the CEO told Endpoints News.
Having made some breakthroughs on the chemistry side on the back of $40 million in Series A cash, NodThera is now ready to harvest Phase I data on its lead compound, push a second one toward the clinic, and evaluate several more, all based on the same starting point.
Novo Ventures is leading the $55 million funding, with both new investors (Cowen Healthcare Investments and Sanofi Ventures) and old supporters (5AM Ventures, F-Prime Capital, Sofinnova Partners and founding investor Epidarex Capital) chiming in.
If nothing else, NodThera is “certainly equal” to elite peers like IFM, Inflazome, Roche’s Jecure and Olatec, said Novo Ventures partner Nanna Lüneborg. But given the broad application of this mechanism of action in inflammatory conditions, the top team — with Keeney leading a growing clinical group in Boston, CSO Alan Watt manning the headquarters in Cambridge, UK and a lab in Seattle, WA — is perhaps a more important part of the bet.
While Novo had known NodThera since its founding and considered NLRP3 a worthy target, the firm waited until the C-suite was in place and the pipeline was more mature.
“It’s not just about the molecules here, it’s very much about finding a clever clinical development path as well,” she said.
With quite a sophisticated understanding of how the target interacts chemically, Keeney said, NodThera also boasts of a platform that allows its scientists to design drugs with new properties to cater to different diseases. The second candidate, for example, makes for a good neuro drug because of its ability to penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
The coming months, though, will be dedicated to finishing the healthy volunteer study of NT-0167, the lead drug, through clinical proof of concept.
“It’s a very rich, biomarker-driven Phase I program that I think will build confidence in the molecule (and) that will have dose selection data available for it to launch into a comprehensive clinical program,” he said.
The resulting data could position NodThera for a public offering, perhaps to be preceded by a crossover round — hopefully one where due diligence and other discussions aren’t done in a pandemic-stricken, locked-down world.