Rajesh Devraj, Rectify Pharmaceuticals CEO

At­las backs a long­time Ver­tex em­ploy­ee’s quest to bring CF suc­cess to nu­mer­ous oth­er dis­eases

One of Ver­tex’s longest-tenured em­ploy­ees be­lieves he can take the biotech’s biggest med­ical and sci­en­tif­ic ac­com­plish­ments and use it to de­vel­op treat­ments for more than just cys­tic fi­bro­sis.

Three years ago, Jonathan Moore, a sci­en­tist and then ex­ec­u­tive at Ver­tex from 1990 to 2018, found­ed a com­pa­ny to de­vel­op treat­ments for dis­eases that, like CF, are caused by mu­ta­tions in a “su­per fam­i­ly” of pro­teins known as ABC trans­porters.

Jonathan Moore

He’s since man­aged to con­vince a few in­vestors. On Thurs­day, Moore, At­las Ven­ture and a hand­ful of oth­er blue-chip funds de­buted Rec­ti­fy Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, backed with $100 mil­lion in Se­ries A funds to find small mol­e­cules that can cor­rect such mu­ta­tions in a broad suite of ge­net­ic dis­or­ders. They’ll start in the liv­er, but even­tu­al­ly plan to hit dis­eases in near­ly every or­gan in the body.

“These are ex­pressed in all dif­fer­ent or­gans, liv­er, lungs, brain, and they play an im­por­tant role in the body,” CEO Ra­jesh De­vraj told End­points News. “You can imag­ine the amount of tar­gets that are avail­able and de­liv­ered for us to go af­ter.”

The new com­pa­ny builds off Ver­tex’s suc­cess in de­vel­op­ing a type of drug that es­sen­tial­ly had nev­er been built be­fore, a small mol­e­cule that can take a mu­tant, dys­func­tion­al pro­tein and morph it back in­to a func­tion­al one.

That work, con­ceived of and fund­ed in part by the CF Foun­da­tion, ul­ti­mate­ly led to four it­er­a­tions of mol­e­cules and com­bi­na­tions of mol­e­cules that over a decade turned one of the most com­mon ge­net­ic dis­eases from a like­ly death sen­tence in­to a treat­able con­di­tion for most pa­tients.

The pro­tein be­hind CF, known as CFTR, is not unique, though. It’s a trans­port pro­tein, shep­herd­ing salts in­to and out of cells. And the con­stant­ly whirling, busy, huffy place that is the hu­man body has many such trans­port pro­teins — 48 to be ex­act. Ac­cord­ing­ly, hu­mankind has many dis­eases as­so­ci­at­ed with mu­ta­tions in those pro­teins.

There are nu­mer­ous ben­e­fits to go­ing af­ter this class of dis­ease, De­vraj points out: They are mono­genic and re­searchers can be cer­tain that, if they suc­cess­ful­ly cor­rect the pro­tein, they can slow or re­verse the dis­ease; and it’s been done be­fore, in­clud­ing by Rec­ti­fy’s founder.

Small mol­e­cules are al­so eas­i­er to de­vel­op, make and de­liv­er than gene ther­a­py or oth­er bi­o­log­ic drugs, es­pe­cial­ly for rare dis­eases that of­ten get over­looked by drug de­vel­op­ers.

“We are — I think we are the foun­da­tion,” De­vraj said. “We are the lead­ers in ABC trans­porter bi­ol­o­gy.”

But there are al­so key hur­dles. Al­though Ver­tex proved that one could de­vel­op a small mol­e­cule to trans­form a mu­tant pro­tein, no one has yet done it suc­cess­ful­ly for any oth­er dis­ease. The big biotech has had its own trou­bles ap­ply­ing the strat­e­gy to a new con­di­tion.

Among the biggest chal­lenges with these dis­eases, De­vraj ac­knowl­edged, is that of­ten dif­fer­ent pa­tients with a sin­gle dis­ease have dif­fer­ent ge­net­ic mu­ta­tions. Like words, genes can be mis­pelled in any num­ber of ways.

That means Rec­ti­fy will po­ten­tial­ly need dif­fer­ent drugs or dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of drugs to fix all or most of the mu­ta­tions in a giv­en dis­ease. It took Ver­tex a decade to find the right tri­ad of mol­e­cules that work for 90% of pa­tients’ CF and it could be even hard­er, both sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly, to do the same for dis­or­ders that are even more rare — as the ones Rec­ti­fy pur­sues will al­most cer­tain­ly be.

To over­come those chal­lenges, Rec­ti­fy is ap­ply­ing some of the same tricks Ver­tex did, in­clud­ing de­vel­op­ing tests that, in the­o­ry, could al­low them to quick­ly tell in a lab whether a mol­e­cule is hav­ing its in­tend­ed ef­fect and restor­ing ship­ping lanes in­to and out of cells. De­vraj said they have al­ready de­vel­oped the first as­says but de­clined to de­scribe them.

The com­pa­ny is keep­ing its in­di­ca­tions undis­closed for now, too, ex­cept that they will start in the liv­er, be­fore hope­ful­ly ex­pand­ing to the lung and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem. The cur­rent fi­nanc­ing, co-led by Omega, For­bion and Long­wood, should get them through proof-of-con­cept clin­i­cal tri­als for the first mol­e­cule.

“Noth­ing is go­ing to be easy,” De­vraj said. That’s “why we do this job.”

IDC: Life Sci­ences Firms Must Em­brace Dig­i­tal Trans­for­ma­tion Now

Pre-pandemic, the life sciences industry had settled into a pattern. The average drug took 12 years and $2.9 billion to bring to market, and it was an acceptable mode of operations, according to Nimita Limaye, Research Vice President for Life Sciences R&D Strategy and Technology at IDC.

COVID-19 changed that, and served as a proof-of-concept for how technology can truly help life sciences companies succeed and grow, Limaye said. She recently spoke about industry trends at Egnyte’s Life Sciences Summit 2022. You should watch the entire session, free and on-demand, but here’s a brief recap of why she’s urging life sciences companies to embrace digital transformation.

Geoffrey Porges, new Schrödinger CFO

Long­time an­a­lyst Ge­of­frey Porges de­parts SVB to lead fi­nances at a drug dis­cov­ery shop

Geoffrey Porges has ended his two-decade run as a biotech analyst, as the former SVB Securities vice chair began as CFO of Schrödinger on Thursday.

The long-running analyst, who previously headed up vaccines marketing at Merck before the turn of the millennium, will lead the financial operations of the 700-employee company as Schrödinger broadens its focus from a drug discovery partner to also building out an in-house pipeline, with clinical trial No. 1 set to begin next quarter.

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FDA ap­proves one of the prici­est new treat­ments of all time — blue­bird's gene ther­a­py for be­ta tha­lassemia

The FDA on Wednesday approved the first gene therapy for a chronic condition — bluebird bio’s new Zynteglo (beti-cel) as a potentially curative treatment for those with transfusion-dependent thalassemia.

The thumbs-up from the FDA follows a unanimous adcomm vote in June, with outside experts pointing to extraordinary efficacy, with 89% of subjects with TDT who received beti-cel having achieved transfusion independence.

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Joel Dudley, new partner at Innovation Endeavors (Bosch Health Campus)

For­mer Google CEO’s VC is mak­ing a big­ger push in­to the biotech world, hir­ing promi­nent Ther­a­nos skep­tic

Venture capital firm Innovation Endeavors has mainly had its focus on investments across the tech space, but it has been slowly turning its attention to the biotech world. Now, a new partner is coming into the fold showing that its interest in biotech is likely to grow further.

The Silicon Valley-based company, which is headed up by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, has brought on Joel Dudley as a partner. According to Dudley’s LinkedIn page, he is joining Innovation Endeavors after serving as the chief science officer of biotech startup Tempus Labs since 2020.

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James Sabry, Roche global head of pharma partnering

Roche, Genen­tech plunk down $60M up­front to part­ner with Chi­nese phar­ma on PRO­TAC-based prostate can­cer drug

Roche and Genentech are always on the hunt for deals, and on Thursday they found their newest partner.

The pair will team up with the Chinese pharma company Jemincare to push forward a new program for prostate cancer, the companies announced. Roche is ponying up $60 million upfront to get its hands on the candidate and promising up to $590 million in biobucks, plus royalties, down the line.

In return, Genentech will get a worldwide license to develop the program, known as JMKX002992, and bring it to market.

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Andrew Hopkins, Exscientia CEO

Ex­sci­en­tia ter­mi­nates Bay­er pact half a year ear­ly, col­lect­ing small por­tion of €240M promised

Bayer and Exscientia are winding down their three-year collaboration, leaving the big German pharma to take the AI-designed compounds born out of the pact further.

London-based Exscientia revealed in its Q2 update that the partners have “mutually agreed to end” their collaboration, which kicked off in early 2020, after recently achieving a drug discovery milestone. In an SEC filing, Exscientia said it terminated the pact on May 30, about six months early.

Bayer's first DTC ad campaign for chronic kidney disease drug Kerendia spells out its benefits

Bay­er aims to sim­pli­fy the com­plex­i­ties of CKD with an ABC-themed ad cam­paign

Do you know the ABCs of CKD in T2D? Bayer’s first ad campaign for Kerendia tackles the complexity of chronic kidney disease with a play on the acronym (CKD) and its connection to type 2 diabetes (T2D).

Kerendia was approved last year as the first and only non-steroidal mineralocorticoid receptor antagonist to treat CKD in people with type 2 diabetes.

In the TV commercial launched this week, A is for awareness, B is for belief and C is for cardiovascular, explained in the ad as awareness of the connection between type 2 and kidney disease, belief that something can be done about it, and cardiovascular events that may be reduced with treatment.

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James Mock, incoming CFO at Moderna

Mod­er­na taps new CFO from PerkinElmer af­ter for­mer one-day CFO oust­ed

When Moderna hired a new CFO last year,  it didn’t expect to see him gone after only one day. Today the biotech named his — likely much more vetted — replacement.

The mRNA company put out word early Wednesday that after the untimely departure of then brand-new CFO Jorge Gomez, it has now found a replacement in James Mock, the soon-to-be former CFO at diagnostics and analytics company PerkinElmer.

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Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division

GSK lands first-ever UNICEF con­tract for malar­ia vac­cine worth $170M

GSK has landed a new first from UNICEF the first-ever contract for malaria vaccines, worth up to $170 million for 18 million vaccine doses distributed over the next three years.

The vaccine, known as Mosquirix or RTS,S, won WHO’s backing last October after a controversial start, but UNICEF said these doses will potentially save thousands of lives every year.

“We hope this is just the beginning,” Etleva Kadilli, director of UNICEF’s supply division, said. “Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programmes.”