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.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Joshua Cohen (L) and Justin Klee, Amylyx co-CEOs

BREAK­ING: Af­ter long and wind­ing road, FDA ap­proves Amy­lyx's ALS drug in vic­to­ry for pa­tients and ad­vo­ca­cy groups

For just the third time in its 116-year history, the FDA has approved a new treatment for Lou Gehrig’s disease, or ALS.

US regulators gave the thumbs-up to the drug, known as Relyvrio, in a massive win for patients and their families. The approval, given to Boston-area biotech Amylyx Pharmaceuticals, comes after two years of long and contentious debates over the drug’s effectiveness between advocacy groups and FDA scientists, following the readout of a mid-stage clinical trial in September 2020.

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Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Marcelo Bigal, Ventus Therapeutics CEO

No­vo Nordisk joins No­var­tis, Roche in NL­RP3 are­na, bet­ting $70M cash on NASH, car­diometa­bol­ic us­es

As a drug target, the NLRP3 inflammasome has drawn serious interest from Big Pharma, inspiring a series of M&A deals from Novartis and Roche on top of venture investments by others. Now Novo Nordisk is jumping on the bandwagon — and the Danish pharma giant is taking the target where it knows best.

Novo Nordisk is getting its NLRP3 inhibitors from Ventus Therapeutics, a Versant-backed startup that set out to make some of the best NLRP3 drugs out there by incorporating new insights into the structure of the target complex.

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Some­one old, some­one new: Mod­er­na pro­motes CTO, raids No­var­tis for re­place­ment amid pipeline push

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel made clear on the last quarterly call that “now is not the time to slow down.” On Thursday, he made a bit more room in the cockpit.

The company unveiled a new executive role on Thursday, promoting former chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres to president of strategic partnerships and enterprise expansion, and poaching a former Novartis exec to take his place.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Phillip Gomez, Siga Technologies CEO

Siga nabs $10.7M from the US gov­ern­ment in deal for its mon­key­pox an­tivi­ral

The US government is all set to buy $10.7 million worth of Siga Technologies’ monkeypox oral antiviral, the company announced Thursday.

Of the total doses, $5.1 million worth of oral antivirals called Tpoxx (tecovirimat) will be delivered this year, with the US Department of Defense having the option of buying the rest at a later point.

The new contract follows an earlier one in which the government had purchased $7.4 million worth of Tpoxx from the company.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

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