Cancer specialist HiberCell snaps up analytics, computational tools in all-stock buyout; Praxis reveals new perimenopausal depression data
In a slightly unconventional deal, New York-based HiberCell is leveraging a chunk of its stock — still privately owned — to buy out Genuity Science and its suite of tools for genomics and multi-omic analytics, as well as an AI and machine learning platform.
The goal, according to CEO Alan Rigby, is to further HiberCell’s understanding of the adaptive stress phenotype and its role in cancer progression.
While his co-founder Julio Aguirre-Ghiso has elucidated how such mechanisms can be manipulated to prevent often fatal metastatic recurrence, they are still looking for better ways to analyze clinical samples, tease out biomarkers and predict which patients would respond. It’s especially important as HiberCell’s drugs enter mid-stage clinical tests.
One thing that Genuity’s technology will be able to do, for instance, is to “exhaustively compare primary tumor biology with paired metastatic lesions to better identify the targets and mechanisms that drive metastatic disease.”
HiberCell is also inheriting $100 million in cash, as well as partnerships with Ionis and AbbVie from Genuity, which will now become its subsidiary. In addition, the top execs at Genuity will take up C-suite posts at HiberCell, with Tom Chittenden as chief technology officer, Jeff Gulcher as chief scientific officer of genomics, and Hákon Guðbjartsson as chief informatics officer. — Amber Tong
Praxis reveals new data for perimenopausal depression drug
Praxis highlighted a small cut of Phase IIa study results Monday morning for their up and coming perimenopausal depression program.
In the Part B portion of the trial, Praxis said that six patients treated with a single, daily 60 mg dose of PRAX-114 showed improvements in menopausal and mood symptoms that were rapid, marked and maintained throughout the 14-day treatment period. Patients were given the experimental drug in an outpatient setting and Praxis saw no new safety signals.
“The ability to impact both menopausal and mood symptoms in the PRAX-114 proof-of-concept study in PMD was our criteria to continue development of this program,” CEO Marcio Souza said in a statement. “The rapid and consistent improvement across distinct efficacy measures gives us confidence to advance to a Phase IIb trial.”
Praxis said that patients saw an average decrease from baseline at day 15 of 60% in frequency of moderate-to-severe hot flashes, and 68% in the total score of a self-reported questionnaire. Two weeks following the treatment period, scores trended back toward the baseline, Praxis said. — Max Gelman
Freeline anoints new CEO following gene therapy trial pause
There’s been a change at the top of Freeline Therapeutics, six months after the biotech halted a gene therapy trial.
Michael Parini is the new CEO of Freeline, succeeding Theresa Heggie, the company announced Monday morning. Parini joined the company from Vertex in February as the newly created president and COO, just a week after the biotech paused a pivotal trial for two years.
“In a short period of time, [Parini] has mobilized program execution across our pipeline, increased focus on our core scientific and platform technology capabilities, and driven efficiencies across the organization that have extended our cash runway,” Freeline chairman Chris Hollowood said in a statement.
Earlier this year, Freeline hit the brakes on a pivotal trial for the hemophilia B program, dubbed FLT180a, after receiving CMC feedback from the FDA. The company is targeting a restart in mid-2023 and filing for a BLA before the end of 2024. A Phase I/II study for the program is still on track to read out data by the end of this year. — Max Gelman
Exelixis adds option for 20 new targets in Invenra collab
Exelixis and Invenra have expanded on an old 2018 collaboration by up to 20 new targets.
The companies announced Monday that Exelixis will pay $15 million upfront in the revised deal, with milestones and royalties undisclosed. There is also funding for the option to nominate up to 20 additional targets in oncology, and Exelixis said it will own all antibody sequences discovered from the collaboration in all disease areas.
“As Exelixis seeks to build a differentiated next-generation pipeline in oncology, we’re leveraging Invenra’s expertise in antibody and bispecific discovery to provide key building blocks for potential future Exelixis biologics, including antibody-drug conjugates,” Exelixis CSO Peter Lamb said in a statement.
All of the programs under this collaboration have yet to move past the preclinical stage, and targets remain undisclosed. — Max Gelman
Gastric cancer CAR-T therapy licensed to Gracell
Two Chinese biotechs have reached a license agreement to develop cell therapy for solid tumors.
Gracell Biotechnologies and FutureGen Biopharm will collaborate to deploy FutureGen’s Claudin 18.2 antibodies to make, manufacture and commercialize a cell therapy for patients with gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancer, pancreatic cancer and esophageal cancer.
Gastric cancer is one of the most diagnosed cancers in the world, the companies said in a press release, and there were over 1 million deaths in 2018 alone.
“Gracell has been making significant progress in developing innovative CAR-T therapies for solid tumors as well as hematological malignancies,” Gracell CEO William (Wei) Cao said in a press release. “This partnership with FutureGen marks another key milestone in our persistent efforts for treating solid tumors. Moving forward, we expect to explore more strategic alliances to identify additional targets that maximize the value of our highly differentiated technology platforms and eventually benefit cancer patients worldwide.”
FutureGen will receive payment upfront, though that number was not disclosed. The company will be eligible for milestone payments and royalties. — Josh Sullivan