Chas­ing Bio­gen, the Pli­ant crew banks a $62M round to fu­el their shot at fi­bro­sis tar­gets

South San Fran­cis­co-based Pli­ant Ther­a­peu­tics has just closed a $62 mil­lion round to take their id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis drug to the clin­ic — the first of many fi­brot­ic dis­ease-tar­get­ing drugs it hopes will come out of its dis­cov­ery en­gine.

The Se­ries B puts Pli­ant in a po­si­tion to progress to­ward clin­i­cal proof of con­cept for its lead small mol­e­cule drug, which is a dual in­hibitor of the αvβ1 and αvβ6 in­te­grins. As a fam­i­ly of trans­mem­brane re­cep­tors that usu­al­ly me­di­ate cell ad­he­sion, in­te­grins — as sci­en­tif­ic co-founder Dean Shep­pard has shown in his work at UCSF — are a key dri­ver in fi­bro­sis across dif­fer­ent or­gans.

Dean Shep­pard

That ap­proach is ev­i­dent in the com­pa­ny’s choice of in­di­ca­tions to tack­le first. Their lead drug, which doesn’t yet have a name, will be test­ed for id­io­path­ic pul­monary fi­bro­sis (IPF) and pri­ma­ry scle­ros­ing cholan­gi­tis (PSC). Both are rare dis­eases, but IPF af­fects the lung while PSC is found in the liv­er’s bile ducts.

CEO Bernard Coulie is quick to ad­mit that Pli­ant is run­ning af­ter a cou­ple of lead play­ers in the field. He es­ti­mates that they are 18 months be­hind Bio­gen, which has a mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body against αvβ6 mov­ing in­to Phase IIb for IPF.

“They are the first […] but we are sec­ond and we are not that far be­hind,” he tells me. “So I think that’s a re­al­ly good po­si­tion to be at.”

It al­so helps that their ther­a­py is a small mol­e­cule that binds to not one but two tar­gets.

Kevin Raidy

Be­sides, Coulie adds, not every­thing has to be a com­pe­ti­tion. In the hot field of NASH, he sees Pli­ant play­ing a role in de­vel­op­ing part of a com­bi­na­tion ther­a­py that com­ple­ments lipid-low­er­ing drugs.

To be clear, giv­en that even their ear­li­est clin­i­cal pro­grams won’t start un­til 2019, Pli­ant still has a ways to go be­fore they could nail a clin­ic-ready treat­ment for NASH or any of the oth­er fi­brot­ic dis­eases — from re­nal fi­bro­sis to Duchenne mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy — they be­lieve they can tack­le. But Coulie takes con­fi­dence in the drug dis­cov­ery en­gine their team has built, us­ing fresh tis­sues tak­en from fi­bro­sis pa­tients to in­form tar­get se­lec­tion and bio­mark­er char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Per the com­pa­ny’s own es­ti­mates, this “de-risked” plat­form can gen­er­at­ed one to two drug can­di­dates every year. As it works on an ex­pand­ing port­fo­lio, its staff is ex­pect­ed to grow from 35 to 50 by the end of this year.

Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, which led the round, was con­vinced — as were new in­vestors Even­tide As­set Man­age­ment, Schroder Ad­veq, Men­lo Ven­tures, SCubed Cap­i­tal, and Agent Cap­i­tal, among oth­ers.

“The unique bi­o­log­i­cal in­sights Pli­ant Ther­a­peu­tics has un­cov­ered about the role of in­te­grins as key dri­vers of fi­bro­sis will fu­el the dis­cov­ery of nov­el ther­a­peu­tics that have the po­ten­tial to ad­dress a range of fi­brot­ic dis­eases,” said Cowen’s man­ag­ing part­ner Kevin Raidy, who’s join­ing the board as part of the deal.

Im­age: Bernard Coulie. PLI­ANT

Aerial view of Genentech's campus in South San Francisco [Credit: Getty]

Genen­tech sub­mits a big plan to ex­pand its South San Fran­cis­co foot­print

The sign is still there, a quaint reminder of whitewashed concrete not 5 miles from Genentech’s sprawling, chrome-and-glass campus: South Francisco The Industrial City. 

The city keeps the old sign, first erected in 1923, as a tourist site and a kind of civic memento to the days it packed meat, milled lumber and burned enough steel to earn the moniker “Smokestack of the Peninsula.” But the real indication of where you are and how much has changed both in San Francisco and in the global economy since a couple researchers and investors rented out an empty warehouse 40 years ago comes in a far smaller blue sign, resembling a Rotary Club post, off the highway: South San Francisco, The Birthplace of Biotech.

Here comes the oral GLP-1 drug for di­a­betes — but No­vo Nordisk is­n't dis­clos­ing Ry­bel­sus price just yet

Novo Nordisk’s priority review voucher on oral semaglutide has paid off. The FDA approval for the GLP-1 drug hit late Friday morning, around six months after the NDA filing.

Rybelsus will be the first GLP-1 pill to enter the type 2 diabetes market — a compelling offering that analysts have pegged as a blockbuster drug with sales estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion.

Ozempic, the once-weekly injectable formulation of semaglutide, brought in around $552 million (DKK 3.75 billion) in the first half of 2019.

As Nas­daq en­rolls the fi­nal batch of 2019 IPOs, how have the num­bers com­pared to past years?

IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

“December 15 is usually the last possible day that companies will price,” he said, as companies get ready for business talks at the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in January.

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Oxitec biologist releases genetically modified mosquitoes in Piracicaba, Brazil in 2016 [credit: Getty Images]

In­trex­on unit push­es back against claims its GM mos­qui­toes are mak­ing dis­ease-friend­ly mu­tants

When the hysteria of Zika transmission sprang into the American zeitgeist a few years ago, UK-based Oxitec was already field-testing its male Aedes aegypti mosquito, crafted to possess a gene engineered to obliterate its progeny long before maturation.

But when a group of independent scientists evaluated the impact of the release of these genetically-modified mosquitoes in a trial conducted by Oxitec in Brazil between 2013 and 2015, they found that some of the offspring had managed to survive — prompting them to speculate what impact the survivors could have on disease transmission and/or insecticide resistance.

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[via AP Images]

Pur­due threat­ens to walk away from set­tle­ment, asks to pay em­ploy­ees mil­lions in bonus­es

There are two updates on the lawsuit against Purdue Pharma over its role in fueling the opioid epidemic, as the Sackler family threatens to walk away from their pledge to pay out $3 billion if a bankruptcy judge does not stop outstanding state lawsuits against them. At the same time, the company has asked permission to pay millions in bonuses to select employees.

Purdue filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy this week as part of its signed resolution to over 2,000 lawsuits. The deal would see the Sackler family that owns Purdue give $3 billion from their personal wealth and the company turned into a trust committed to curbing and reversing overdoses.

David Grainger [file photo]

'Dis­con­nect the bas­tard­s' — one biotech's plan to break can­cer cell­s' uni­fied de­fens­es

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the current gladiators of cancer treatment, but they come with well-known limitations and side-effects. The emergence of immunotherapy — a ferocious new titan in oncologist’s toolbox — takes the brakes off the immune system to kill cancer cells with remarkable success in some cases, but the approach is not always effective. What makes certain forms of cancer so resilient? Scientists may have finally pieced together a tantalizing piece of the puzzle, and a new biotech is banking on a new approach to fill the gap.

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A fa­vorite in Alex­ion’s C-suite is leav­ing, and some mighty sur­prised an­a­lysts aren’t the least bit hap­py about it

Analysts hate to lose a biotech CFO they’ve come to trust and admire — especially if they’re being blindsided by a surprise exit.

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Scott Gottlieb, AP Images

Scott Got­tlieb is once again join­ing a team that en­joyed good times at the FDA un­der his high-en­er­gy stint at the helm

Right after jumping on Michael Milken’s FasterCures board on Monday, the newly departed FDA commissioner is back today with news about another life sciences board post that gives him a ringside chair to cheer on a lead player in the real-world evidence movement — one with very close ties to the FDA.

Aetion is reporting this morning that Gottlieb is joining their board, a group that includes Mohamad Makhzoumi, a general partner at New Enterprise Associates, where Gottlieb returned after stepping out of his role at the FDA 2 years after he started.

Gottlieb — one of the best connected execs in biopharma — knows this company well. As head of FDA he championed the use of real-world evidence to help guide drug developers and the agency in gaining greater efficiencies, which helped set up Aetion as a high-profile player in the game.

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Tower Bridge in London [Shutterstock]

#UK­BIO19: Join GSK’s Hal Bar­ron and a group of top biotech ex­ecs for our 2nd an­nu­al biotech sum­mit in Lon­don

Over the past 10 years I’ve made a point of getting to know the Golden Triangle and the special role the UK biopharma industry plays there in drug development. The concentration of world class research institutes, some of the most accomplished scientists I’ve ever seen at work and a rising tide of global investment cash leaves an impression that there’s much, much more to come as biotech hubs are birthed and nurtured.