Can a small band of biopharma players succeed where Eli Lilly failed? They’re taking a shot
Eli Lilly didn’t try to spin anything about the mid-stage data they got on their CHK1/CHK2 drug prexasertib for ovarian cancer patients. The drug failed to move the dial in a significant fashion and they unceremoniously swept it right out of the pipeline a little more than 2 years ago.
Usually, that would have been it, another once-promising drug that didn’t make the cut. We see it regularly. But a small group of biotech players has come together to take another crack at a pivotal play on this drug. And they believe they have the key to making a success of it.
They’re launching their new biotech — Acrivon Therapeutics, with ops in the Boston area and Lund, Sweden — after forging an in-licensing deal for prexasertib, swapping equity for Lilly’s rights to the drug. And they are showcasing a new companion diagnostics platform technology with a big goal: using proteomics to triangulate a variety of drug mechanisms to the active disease-driving processes of cancer in patients.
“We believe it’s the next wave of precision medicine. We have worked on genetics and using genetics-based medicines for 20 years and they work great when they do work,” CEO Peter Blume-Jensen tells me. “But they are limited. Genetic alterations most often do not tell you exactly what’s going on with the target … We are trying to more directly to measure what are the disease-driving mechanisms in the tumor.”
Blume-Jensen says they’ve identified 3 biomarkers — he’s not offering details yet — that allow them to identify the patients most likely to respond to the treatment, banking on the monotherapy responses that Lilly has tracked to point them to a narrow market niche where the drug can more reliably work. And they believe they have found 2 other tumor types that can also work — which rounds out the basket study that is now being set up as they pursue the FDA’s accelerated approval pathway.
It’s not a big play, at least not yet. Blume-Jensen says they’ve raised a little more than $20 million for the company, with more talks underway with a syndicate that includes Chione, NEA, and Alexandria Venture Investments. He and his investors filed a Form D earlier this year outlining a $15.5 million raise.
The company co-founder is Kristina Masson, who leads and runs the subsidiary out of Medicon Village, in Lund, Sweden.
Jesper Olsen, a professor at the Novo-Nordisk Foundation Protein Institute in Copenhagen and an expert in phosphoproteomics, is the academic co-founder. The roughly 20-member team is led by Blume-Jensen, who’s worked in a variety of roles in biopharma R&D, along with CMO Erick Gamelin and others.
They’re also not planning on being a one-hit biotech. Acrivon has also been building a “proprietary pipeline of structure-based drug programs targeting critical nodes in the DDR and cell cycle regulation.”