Backed by neu­ro en­thu­si­ast Arch, up­start Black­Thorn tack­les some tough tar­gets with $40M round

Mark Cor­ri­g­an

Arch Ven­ture Part­ners has fos­tered a new neu­ro­sciences biotech com­pa­ny that will now fol­low a sim­i­lar trail to the one be­ing blazed by the high-pro­file start­up De­nali. Work­ing with John­son & John­son In­no­va­tion, Al­ti­tude Life Sci­ence Ven­tures, Mer­cury Fund, Alexan­dria Re­al Es­tate Eq­ui­ties as well as an “undis­closed crossover fund,” the VC is un­veil­ing Black­Thorn Ther­a­peu­tics to­day, which will now have a $40 mil­lion Se­ries A to play with as it looks to help re­vive a com­plex and chal­leng­ing field.

Black­Thorn in­tends to tar­get neu­robe­hav­ioral dis­or­ders such as autism spec­trum dis­or­der, ob­ses­sive com­pul­sive dis­or­der, de­pres­sion and schiz­o­phre­nia, fields that de­fied a gen­er­a­tion of Big Phar­ma clin­i­cal ef­forts and saw many of the biggest play­ers like As­traZeneca or Glax­o­SmithK­line ei­ther drop out or scale far back.

Big Phar­ma’s re­treat, though, was fol­lowed by rapid progress in ge­nomics. And Black­Thorn, de­scribed by Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man Mark Cor­ri­g­an as a “broth­er com­pa­ny to De­nali,” plans to fol­low up on that progress by ad­vanc­ing new tech­nolo­gies that can help iden­ti­fy spe­cif­ic pa­tient pop­u­la­tions that can be helped by spe­cif­ic ther­a­pies. And it’s start­ing out with a well ad­vanced pro­gram, pick­ing up a failed drug from Eli Lil­ly with plans to launch Phase II study.

The treat­ment – a no­ci­ceptin re­cep­tor an­tag­o­nist – is now dubbed BTRX- 246040.

Lil­ly “had put it in a cou­ple of ear­ly Phase II pro­grams,” says Cor­ri­g­an. “It failed in ma­jor de­pres­sive dis­or­ders,” but there were al­so in­trigu­ing re­sults to fol­low up on.

Cor­ri­g­an is care­ful to note, though, that this is just the be­gin­ning of build­ing a se­ri­ous pipeline of new drugs for neu­robe­hav­ioral con­di­tions. The big idea at the com­pa­ny is that they can ad­vance new tools for imag­ing and as­sess­ment that will al­low the biotech to do a much bet­ter job at track­ing the im­pact of a new drug on pa­tients. Done the right way, Black­Thorn ex­pects it can skirt the pit­falls that claimed so many projects be­fore.

At the same time, Cor­ri­g­an says that reg­u­la­tors will be asked to look at these dis­eases and the ways they can be treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly, adapt­ing to the progress in or­der to avoid see­ing a re­peat of the same mis­takes. But at this stage, he adds, “I think the FDA is open to some of these dis­cus­sions.”

The biotech has a cast of sci­en­tif­ic ad­vis­ers in its cor­ner with an im­pres­sive set of re­sumes. The Scripps team of Ed­ward Roberts, PhD, and Hugh Rosen, MD, PhD, who co-found­ed Re­cep­tos, are on board. And the ad­vi­so­ry group in­cludes Steven Hy­man, MD, di­rec­tor of the Stan­ley Cen­ter for Psy­chi­atric Re­search and core mem­ber at the Broad In­sti­tute of MIT and Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, and Matt State, MD, PhD, chair of the UCSF De­part­ment of Psy­chi­a­try and di­rec­tor of the Lan­g­ley Porter Psy­chi­atric In­sti­tute.

For­mer Cel­gene re­search ex­ec Tom Daniel is ad­vis­ing the com­pa­ny.

Cor­ri­g­an says you can ex­pect to see Black­Thorn start adding staffers to the 13-mem­ber team which has al­ready signed on. And there are plans afoot to link up with tech part­ners, much like De­nali has done, as it builds its plat­form. That’s some­thing that Daniel al­so knows some­thing about.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

The End­points 11: They've got mad mon­ey and huge am­bi­tions. It's time to go big or go home

These days, selecting a group of private biotechs for the Endpoints 11 spotlight begins with a sprint to get ahead of IPOs and the M&A teams at Big Pharma. I’ve had a couple of faceplants earlier this year, watching some of the biotechs on my short list choose a quick leap onto Nasdaq or into the arms of a buyer.

Vividion, you would have been a great pick for the Endpoints 11. I’m sorry I missed you.

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Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

So what hap­pened with No­var­tis Gene Ther­a­pies? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

FDA+ roundup: Bs­U­FA III ready for show­time, court tells FDA to re-work com­pound­ing plan, new guid­ance up­dates and more

The FDA has now spelled out what exactly will be included in the third iteration of Biosimilar User Fee Act (BsUFA) from 2023 through 2027, which similarly to the prescription drug deal, sets fees that industry has to pay for submitting applications, in exchange for firm timelines that the agency must meet.

This latest deal includes several sweeteners for the biosimilar industry, which has yet to make great strides in the US market, with shorter review timelines for safety labeling updates and updates to add or remove an indication that does not contain efficacy data.

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Joshua Liang, Clover Biopharmaceuticals CEO

With world still in sore need of dos­es, Clover says its Covid-19 vac­cine is 67% ef­fec­tive in Phase III

With concerns about the Delta variant rising and much of the world still in desperate need of vaccine doses, a Chinese biotech announced Wednesday that a new shot has shown positive results in a large trial against Covid-19, including new variants.

Clover Biopharmaceuticals announced Wednesday that its vaccine candidate showed 79% efficacy against the Delta variant in a Phase II/III trial dubbed Spectra, and 67% effective against Covid-19 overall.

Jean Bennett (Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP Images)

Lux­tur­na in­ven­tor Jean Ben­nett starts a new gene ther­a­py com­pa­ny to tack­le rare dis­eases left be­hind by phar­ma, VCs

A few years ago Jean Bennett found herself in a surprising place for a woman who invented the first gene therapy ever approved in the United States: No one, it seemed, wanted her work.

Bennett, who designed and co-developed Luxturna, approved in 2018 for a rare form of blindness, had kept building new gene therapies for eye diseases at her University of Pennsylvania lab. But although the results in animals looked promising, pharma companies and investors kept turning down the pedigreed ophthalmology professor.

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Maureen Hillenmeyer, Hexagon Bio CEO

Hexa­gon Bio rais­es $61M to con­tin­ue ef­forts to turn fun­gi in­to drugs

A year after raising a $47 million launch round, the fungi-loving drug hunters at Hexagon Bio have more than doubled their coffers.

Hexagon announced today that it raised another $61 million for its efforts to design cancer and infectious disease drugs based on insights mined from the DNA in millions of species of fungi. The new financing brings Hexagon’s committed funding to over $108 million.