Jacques Ravel, via Ravel Lab

Biotech start­up joins quest to har­ness mi­cro­bio­me to un­teth­er re­liance on an­tibi­otics in wom­en's health

Har­ness­ing da­ta gath­ered as part of the Na­tion­al In­sti­tutes of Health (NIH) Hu­man Mi­cro­bio­me Pro­ject, the co-ed­i­tor-in-chief of the jour­nal Mi­cro­bio­me, Jacques Rav­el, has formed a biotech­nol­o­gy com­pa­ny fo­cused on women’s health.

The com­pa­ny, chris­tened Lu­ca Bi­o­log­ics, has leaned on 15 years of Rav­el’s vagi­nal mi­cro­bio­me re­search to de­vel­op a pipeline of ther­a­peu­tics de­signed to treat uri­nary tract in­fec­tions (UTI), preterm birth and bac­te­r­i­al vagi­nosis.

The WHO es­ti­mates that UTIs im­pact half of all women, and is the most com­mon bac­te­r­i­al in­fec­tion in the Unit­ed States. An­tibi­otics are the first and on­ly line of de­fense, but drug re­sis­tance has bur­geoned and su­per­bugs are all-per­va­sive. But the path to an­tibi­ot­ic ap­proval is long, ar­du­ous and ex­pen­sive — it of­fers lit­tle fi­nan­cial gain as treat­ments must be priced cheap­ly, and of­ten lose po­ten­cy over time as mi­crobes grow re­sis­tant to them. Mean­while, doc­tors pre­fer to use old­er, in­fi­nite­ly cheap­er an­tibi­otics in their first re­sponse, re­serv­ing fresh al­ter­na­tives for acute cas­es. Con­se­quent­ly, there has been no new class of an­tibi­otics ap­proved since the 1980s — and to­day, rough­ly 700,000 deaths an­nu­al­ly are at­trib­uted to drug-re­sis­tant bac­te­ria, ac­cord­ing to the WHO. Mean­while, the in­dus­try play­ers con­tribut­ing to the ar­se­nal of an­timi­cro­bials are fast dwin­dling as fee­ble sales frus­trate growth.

How­ev­er, last month the FDA sanc­tioned the ap­proval of Mer­ck’s $MRK com­bi­na­tion an­tibac­te­r­i­al for the treat­ment of com­pli­cat­ed uri­nary tract and in­tra-ab­dom­i­nal in­fec­tions.

Lu­ca’s mi­cro­bio­me-de­rived UTI tri­al is ex­pect­ed to be­gin en­rolling pa­tients this fall.

Lu­ca’s pipeline emerged from a vagi­nal mi­cro­bio­ta li­brary of 1,000+ strains and gene cat­a­log as­sem­bled by a re­search group led by Rav­el and fund­ed by the NIH and the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion. That da­ta were screened to iso­late genes that main­tain and pro­tect the sta­bil­i­ty of vagi­nal com­mu­ni­ties over time — and those in­sights were used to de­vel­op ex­per­i­men­tal com­pounds.

“While our re­search start­ed with metage­nom­ic se­quenc­ing to gen­er­ate large com­par­a­tive da­ta sets, we can now trans­late our find­ings in­to safe and ef­fec­tive treat­ments for wide­spread con­di­tions that stig­ma­tize and dev­as­tate mil­lions of women each year,” Rav­el said in a state­ment.

George Church Har­vard

Mi­cro­bial sci­ences com­pa­ny Seed Health, which counts Har­vard ge­neti­cist George Church and Rav­el on its sci­en­tif­ic ad­vi­so­ry board, spawned Lu­ca as part of its mis­sion to de­vel­op mi­cro­bial ther­a­pies for con­di­tions that are un­der­served by cur­rent stan­dard-of-care. Seed Health part­ners with sci­en­tists to pro­vide cap­i­tal in­vest­ment, reg­u­la­to­ry and IP guid­ance, bio-fer­men­ta­tion scale-up, and as­sis­tance with clin­i­cal tri­als through its aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships.

Mi­cro­bio­me-based ther­a­peu­tics to­day is a fe­cund field for drug de­vel­op­ers — big and small — cap­i­tal­iz­ing on sci­ence that sug­gests flush­ing ‘good’ gut bac­te­ria in­to the sys­tem can treat a pletho­ra of con­di­tions — from C. diff in­fec­tions to obe­si­ty — us­ing dif­fer­ent ther­a­peu­tic modal­i­ties, some of which are de­signed to side­step the “ick” fac­tor as­so­ci­at­ed with tra­di­tion­al stool trans­fer or fe­cal mi­cro­bio­ta trans­plan­ta­tion (FMT).

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn at the White House (AP Images)

Un­der fire, FDA to is­sue stricter guid­ance for Covid-19 vac­cine EUA this week — re­port

The FDA has been insisting for months that a Covid-19 vaccine had to be at least 50% effective – a measure of transparency meant to shore public trust in the agency and in a vaccine that had been brought forward at record speed and record political pressure. But now, with concerns of a Trump-driven authorization arriving before the election, the agency may be raising the bar.

The FDA is set to release new guidance that would raise safety and efficacy requirements for a vaccine EUA above earlier guidance and above the criteria used for convalescent plasma or hydroxychloroquine, The Washington Post reported. Experts say this significantly lowers the odds of an approval before the election on November 3, which Trump has promised despite vocal concerns from public health officials, and could help shore up public trust in the agency and any eventual vaccine.

Secretary of health and human services Alex Azar speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House (Photo: AFP)

Trump’s HHS claims ab­solute au­thor­i­ty over the FDA, clear­ing path to a vac­cine EUA

The top career staff at the FDA has vowed not to let politics overrule science when looking at vaccine data this fall. But Alex Azar, who happens to be their boss’s boss, apparently won’t even give them a chance to stand in the way.

In a new memorandum issued Tuesday last week, the HHS chief stripped the FDA and other health agencies under his purview of their rule making ability, asserting all such power “is reserved to the Secretary.” Sheila Kaplan of the New York Times first obtained and reported the details of the September 15 bulletin.

Isaac Veinbergs, Libra CEO

With $29M in Se­ries A, Boehringer-backed Li­bra looks to tack­le neu­rode­gen­er­a­tion through cel­lu­lar clean­ing

Can the natural process by which cells clean out toxic proteins be harnessed to create potential treatments for neurodegenerative disorders?

That’s the question Libra Therapeutics will be trying to answer, as the new biotech officially launched Wednesday morning with $29 million in Series A financing. The company has three preclinical programs at the ready, with its lead candidate targeting ALS and frontotemporal dementia. But CEO Isaac Veinbergs said he hopes to develop therapies for a wide range of diseases, including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s.

Vas Narasimhan (AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Still held down by clin­i­cal hold, No­var­tis' Zol­gens­ma falls fur­ther be­hind Bio­gen and Roche as FDA asks for a new piv­otal study

Last October, the FDA slowed down Novartis’ quest to extend its gene therapy to older spinal muscular atrophy patients by slapping a partial hold on intrathecal administration. Almost a year later, the hold is still there, and regulators are adding another hurdle required for regulatory submission: a new pivotal confirmatory study.

The new requirement — which departs significantly from Novartis’ prior expectations — will likely stretch the path to registration beyond 2021, when analysts were expecting a BLA submission. That could mean more time for Biogen to reap Spinraza revenues and Roche to ramp up sales of Evrysdi in the absence of a rival.

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Gene Wang, Immetas co-founder and CEO (file photo)

Im­metas Ther­a­peu­tics nabs $11M Se­ries A to nar­row their bis­pe­cif­ic work tar­get­ing in­flam­ma­tion in age-re­lat­ed dis­eases

How does a biotech celebrate its two-year anniversary? For Immetas Therapeutics, it’s with an $11 million Series A round and a game plan to fight age-related disease.

Co-founders Gene Wang and David Sinclair came together years ago around the idea that inflammation is the ultimate process driving age-related illnesses, including cancer. The duo launched Immetas in 2018 and packed the staff with industry experts. Wang, who says he’s always had an entrepreneurial spirit, has held lead roles at Novartis, GSK, Bristol Myers Squibb and Merck. He’s worked on blockbuster drugs like Humira, Gardasil, Varubi and Zolinza. And now, he’s channeling that spirit as CEO.

Scoop: ARCH’s Bob Nelsen is back­ing an mR­NA up­start that promis­es to up­end the en­tire man­u­fac­tur­ing side of the glob­al busi­ness

For the past 2 years, serial entrepreneur Igor Khandros relied on a small network of friends and close insiders to supply the first millions he needed to fund a secretive project to master a new approach to manufacturing mRNA therapies.

Right now, he says, he has a working “GMP-in-a-box” prototype for a new company he’s building — after launching 3 public companies — which plans to spread this contained, precise manufacturing tech around the world with a set of partners. He’s raised $60 million, recruited some prominent experts. And not coincidentally, he’s going semi-public with this just as a small group of pioneers appears to be on the threshold of ushering in the world’s first mRNA vaccines to fight a worldwide pandemic.

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Patrick Enright, Longitude co-founder (Longitude)

As its biotechs hit the pan­dem­ic ex­it, Lon­gi­tude rais­es $585M for new neu­ro, can­cer, ag­ing and or­phan-fo­cused fund

The years have been kind to Longitude Capital. This year, too.

A 2006 spinout of Pequot Capital, its founders started their new firm just four years before the parent company would go under amid insider trading allegations. Their first life sciences fund raised $325 million amid the financial crisis, they added a second for $385 million and then in, 2016, a third for $525 million. In the last few months, the pandemic biotech IPO boom netted several high-value exits from those funds, as Checkmate, Vaxcyte, Inozyme and Poseida all went public.

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Can a mag­net­ic cell ther­a­py re­place corneal trans­plan­ta­tion? As eight-year jour­ney leads to the clin­ic, two broth­ers un­veil bold vi­sion

Jeff Goldberg was getting acquainted with a brand new way to do corneal transplants when an even newer, even bolder idea hit him.

It was almost 10 years ago, and Goldberg was in his first faculty position at Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami. Scientists had developed a new way to do cornea transplants where instead of sewing a whole donor cornea — a decades-old practice — they were just engrafting the inner layer of cells.