Giuseppe Mazza, Engitix CEO

British bil­lion­aire Mike Platt hops on board a Lon­don start­up look­ing at drug dis­cov­ery from a dif­fer­ent an­gle

Back in 2016, up­on grad­u­at­ing with his PhD from Uni­ver­si­ty Col­lege Lon­don, Giuseppe Maz­za and his pro­fes­sor Mas­si­mo Pin­zani spun out En­gi­tix to un­der­stand dis­ease from a slight­ly dif­fer­ent an­gle. Now they’re ready to build out a pipeline — and they’ve piqued the in­ter­est of British bil­lion­aire hedge fund man­ag­er Mike Platt.

Mike Platt

En­gi­tix un­veiled a $54 mil­lion Se­ries A round ear­ly Wednes­day morn­ing, on top of a new col­lab­o­ra­tion deal with Ital­ian bio­phar­ma com­pa­ny Dom­pé. The fo­cus is on the hu­man ex­tra­cel­lu­lar ma­trix (ECM) — the net­works of pro­teins and car­bo­hy­drates that pass be­tween cells, com­mu­ni­cat­ing and as­sur­ing the whole sys­tem func­tions.

If cells are like the bricks of a build­ing, the ECM is the scaf­fold­ing that sup­ports them, Maz­za ex­plained. The En­gi­tix CEO be­lieves un­der­stand­ing the ECM is im­por­tant to fig­ur­ing out how dis­eases progress — and new ways of tack­ling them. To do so, they’ve built ECM mod­els by tak­ing re­sect­ed tis­sues, “de­cel­lu­lar­iz­ing” them (re­mov­ing the cells) and then lat­er grow­ing cell lines in what’s left over. They source the hu­man tis­sue from an es­tab­lished net­work of biobanks.

“If you think that we live in a 3D en­vi­ron­ment, cells, in or­der to grow and de­vel­op tis­sue and de­vel­op or­gans, they need a frame­work, they need the in­fra­struc­ture,” Maz­za told End­points News. 

En­gi­tix has sev­er­al in-house pro­grams in the works, for pri­ma­ry scle­ros­ing cholan­gi­tis (PSC), ade­no­car­ci­no­ma (PDAC) and liv­er metas­ta­sis, and he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma (HCC), as well as part­nered dis­cov­ery pro­grams in fi­bro­sis and sol­id tu­mors. Back in 2020, Take­da plumped down an up­front plus up to $500 mil­lion in biobucks for a dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment pact in fi­brot­ic liv­er dis­eases, in­clud­ing non-al­co­holic steato­hep­ati­tis (NASH).

“We start­ed as a plat­form busi­ness. We have an ex­cel­lent part­ner­ship with Take­da and of course, this is ob­vi­ous­ly a top pri­or­i­ty in the busi­ness to ex­pand ob­vi­ous­ly oth­er po­ten­tial part­ner­ships, but the pri­or­i­ty is to move the in­ter­nal pipeline from val­i­dat­ed tar­gets to pre-IND stage,” Maz­za said.

That’s where the Se­ries A fund­ing comes in. The lat­est round was co-led by Nether­ton In­vest­ments, a fund in­vest­ing on be­half of Platt, who’s join­ing the team’s board of di­rec­tors. It’ll be used to push to­ward the clin­ic and ex­pand the team from 38 to 80 by year’s end. If all goes well, they’ll be in the clin­ic in 2025, Mas­sa said.

“I am pre­pared to take a risk and in­vest in in­no­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy ear­ly, back­ing high­ly pas­sion­ate teams with strong lead­er­ship,” Platt said in a state­ment. “Hav­ing in­vest­ed from the start, En­gi­tix’s progress and achieve­ments with­in less than two years from its seed fi­nanc­ing have been im­pres­sive.”

Un­der the new deal with Dom­pé, En­gi­tix will get di­rect ac­cess to the Ital­ian bio­phar­ma’s fa­cil­i­ties and re­sources, in­clud­ing its struc­ture-based drug de­sign plat­form that lever­ages the Ital­ian su­per­com­put­er cen­ter CINECA. En­gi­tix will re­tain full con­trol over its pro­grams — and though the com­pa­nies aren’t shar­ing the fi­nan­cial terms of the deal, Dom­pé will be el­i­gi­ble for cer­tain mile­stones and roy­al­ties.

“I think that strate­gi­cal­ly we need to ad­dress un­met med­ical needs. At the end of the day, biotech is re­al­ly chal­leng­ing, so at least you need to try to ad­dress big chal­lenges. That’s my ap­proach,” Maz­za said, adding that the team has dis­cussed go­ing af­ter oth­er con­di­tions like lung fi­bro­sis, cer­tain neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­or­ders, or col­orec­tal can­cer.

Bio­mark­er 'roadmap­s' and the fu­ture of can­cer R&D; Cur­tain rais­es on #AS­CO22; Pfiz­er, No­var­tis tack­le drug ac­cess; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

While this was not a week for earth-shattering news, there were certainly a lot of interesting tidbits. If you found this recap helpful, please recommend it to your friends and colleagues. We’ll see you on the other side of the long weekend.

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Keep­ing pres­sure on Am­gen, Mi­rati draws mixed re­views on lat­est cut of KRAS da­ta

As the close runner-up to Amgen’s Lumakras in the KRAS race, any data cut from Mirati’s adagrasib continues to draw scrutiny from analysts. And the latest batch of numbers from ASCO is a decidedly mixed bag.

While a quick comparison suggests that adagrasib spurred slightly more responses and led to a longer overall survival than Lumakras among a group of non-small cell lung cancer patients, its duration of response appears shorter and the safety profile continues to spark concern.

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Nassim Usman, Catalyst Biosciences CEO

Af­ter $60M Ver­tex deal, group of Cat­a­lyst share­hold­ers claims biotech could’ve sold as­sets three years ago

Catalyst Biosciences was down to five employees in March, and the biotech needed to do something after two rounds of layoffs, a nixed collaboration and a culling of its hemophilia program.

In came Vertex, with $60 million to buy up the South San Francisco biotech’s preclinical complement drugs, which target the system that bridges the body’s innate and adaptive immune response and a class most known for Ultomiris and Soliris. The deal includes CB 2782-PEG, the dry AMD drug that Biogen no longer wanted in March.

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Ann is one of ViiV Healthcare's newest spokespeople as the retired school administrator speaks up about her HIV status.

GSK's Vi­iV de­buts next evo­lu­tion in HIV med Dova­to cam­paign with new spokes­peo­ple and new mes­sage

When Ann saw the first TV commercials for HIV medicine Dovato, she didn’t see herself represented. So the 74-year-old retired school administrator who’s been living with HIV since 1998, reached out to GSK’s ViiV Healthcare and asked why not?

Now Ann is one of three people starring in ViiV’s latest Dovato campaign called “Detect This.” The next-step evolution in the branded campaign plays on the word “detect” — often used in describing HIV status under control as undetectable — but in this case, uses the word as a directive for people to understand they can use fewer medicines.

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Tran­si­tion to new Eu­ro­pean clin­i­cal tri­als in­fo sys­tem starts slow­ly

At the end of January, the European Medicines Agency officially launched its new clinical trials info system (CTIS), although the migration to the new platform has only really just begun, and sponsors have until the end of January 2023 before all initial trial applications must be submitted through CTIS.

Overall, 56 clinical trial applications have been submitted in CTIS during the first 3 months since the launch of the system on Jan. 31, according to new data posted by the EMA. By comparison, about 4,000 new trials are authorized each year across Europe.

Switzer­land to de­stroy over 600,000 ex­pired dos­es of Mod­er­na Covid vac­cine

As concerns related to uptake and distribution continue to linger, Switzerland is among the first countries that plans to destroy hundreds of thousands of expired and unused Covid-19 vaccine doses.

The European country said it plans to destroy more than 600,000 doses of Moderna’s Spikevax Covid-19 vaccine as the doses have reached their expiration date.

However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel told the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that he’s in the process of throwing 30 million doses in the garbage, exclaiming, “We have a big demand problem.”

Lanny Sun, co-founder, CEO and chairman of Full-Life Technologies

Se­quoia Chi­na leads $37M in­fu­sion in­to ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals play­er set­ting up shop in Chi­na and Bel­gium

It’s not just American startups that are tuning into the rising interest in radiopharmaceuticals.

Sequoia China is leading a $37 million Series A into Full-Life Technologies, a biotech headquartered in Shanghai with offices in Brussels, Belgium, to develop a pipeline of radioactive cancer therapies.

The idea isn’t new: As clinicians started routinely deploying radiation to kill cancer cells, scientists and drugmakers have long been exploring ways to limit that powerful effect only to cancer cells while sparing healthy cells. But recent progress in the production of radioisotopes — coupled with big investments from Big Pharma, most notably Novartis and Bayer — has inspired a new wave of startups.

Lina Khan, FTC chair (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP Images)

Pile-on over PBMs con­tin­ues with FTC com­ments and a new bi­par­ti­san Sen­ate bill

More than 500 stakeholders sent comments to the FTC on whether the commission should look further into pharma middlemen, known as PBMs, with many of the commenters calling for more federal oversight.

Similar to the critical open comment period in a deadlocked FTC session last February, pharmacies and pharmacy groups are continuing to call out the lack of transparency among the top 3 PBMs, which control about 80% of the market.

Pharma brands are losing their shine with US consumers who are now thinking about the economy and inflation instead of Covid. (Credit: Shutterstock)

Phar­ma brands fade in an­nu­al Har­ris con­sumer vis­i­bil­i­ty poll: Mod­er­na drops off and Pfiz­er dips

As Covid-19 concerns are fading in the US, so is biopharma visibility. The annual Axios Harris Poll survey to determine and rank the 100 most top-of-mind brands in the US finds Moderna, which was No. 3 last year, not on the list at all for 2022, and Pfizer sinking 37 spots.

However, it’s not that Moderna or Pfizer did anything wrong, it’s just that Americans have moved on to other worries beyond Covid.

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