CEO Luis Peña (Evommune)

Der­mi­ra vets li­cense back can­di­dates from Eli Lil­ly to launch their own up­start

About a year af­ter Eli Lil­ly ab­sorbed Der­mi­ra in a $1 bil­lion buy­out, the der­ma­tol­ogy com­pa­ny’s co-founders are li­cens­ing back three in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­ease pro­grams they helped de­vel­op for their own up­start, Evom­mune.

Lil­ly had its sights set on le­brik­izum­ab, a cast-off from Roche that Der­mi­ra picked up for $135 mil­lion in near-term cash. But Der­mi­ra was al­so fo­cused on a broad­er an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry pipeline, ac­cord­ing to Luis Peña, Evom­mune pres­i­dent and CEO and Der­mi­ra’s co-founder and for­mer chief de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer. That broad­er pipeline is what Evom­mune is look­ing to mine for its own ef­forts.

“Once Lil­ly ac­quired Der­mi­ra we saw the op­por­tu­ni­ty to con­tin­ue our ef­forts to work on that,” he said. The com­pa­nies are keep­ing the fi­nan­cial terms of the deal un­der wraps.

Peña and Evom­mune’s oth­er co-founders worked at Lil­ly for a short time dur­ing the tran­si­tion, then moved right to the start­up. The jump hap­pened nat­u­ral­ly, Peña said. His last day at Lil­ly was on March 31, and Evom­mune was in­cor­po­rat­ed the fol­low­ing month. In No­vem­ber, they raised $12.5 mil­lion in seed fund­ing.

“We have found­ed com­pa­nies be­fore. We’ve led small com­pa­nies. We’ve led large biotech com­pa­nies … We’ve de­vel­oped small mol­e­cules for both top­i­cal and orals. We’ve de­vel­oped bi­o­log­ics, and seen them all the way through to ap­provals. So it’s pret­ty rare to have a team like that,” Peña said.

Eu­gene Bauer

Evom­mune’s oth­er co-founders in­clude CMO Eu­gene Bauer, Der­mi­ra’s co-founder and for­mer CMO, and se­nior VP of re­search Hans Hofland, who was head of re­search and non­clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment at Der­mi­ra. Jan­ice Drew, Evom­mune’s se­nior VP of prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, served as se­nior VP of port­fo­lio plan­ning and man­age­ment at Der­mi­ra.

The three com­pounds li­censed from Lil­ly in­clude IRAK4/Tr­kA, a small mol­e­cule that broad­ly in­hibits in­nate in­flam­ma­tion; RORγt, a small mol­e­cule ad­dress­ing Th17 me­di­at­ed in­flam­ma­tion; and MRG­PRX2, a small mol­e­cule to treat chron­ic pru­ri­tus. Evom­mune says IRAK4/Tr­kA has po­ten­tial to treat var­i­ous in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases, in­clud­ing atopic der­mati­tis, asth­ma, Be­hçet’s dis­ease, con­junc­tivi­tis, and papu­lo­pus­tu­lar rosacea. RO­Ryt is be­ing de­vel­oped for pso­ri­a­sis, with ad­di­tion­al in­di­ca­tions in­clud­ing graft-ver­sus-host dis­ease, lichen planus, rosacea, and in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease.

The pro­grams were iden­ti­fied us­ing a plat­form built at Der­mi­ra, in which they used donor skin from tum­my tucks to in­duce in­flam­ma­to­ry con­di­tions.

“That serves as an amaz­ing win­dow, not on­ly to in­flam­ma­tion in the skin but in­flam­ma­tion else­where in the body,” Peña said. “It’s al­ways nice to have a dis­ease mod­el that mim­ics what’s hap­pen­ing clin­i­cal­ly, and it’s not al­ways easy to do that,” he added lat­er.

Evom­mune al­so has a fourth can­di­date, PKCθ, in the works for atopic der­mati­tis. Peña hopes to bring the lead pro­gram, IRAK4/Tr­kA to the clin­ic in the sec­ond half of 2021.

“The holy grail for top­i­cal at this point is to find a non steroidal an­ti in­flam­ma­to­ry that works re­al­ly well … we think that the IRAK com­po­nent can give us the abil­i­ty to find that,” he said.

Peña not­ed in­ter­est in in­flam­ma­tion as­so­ci­at­ed with cy­tokine storms that caus­es res­pi­ra­to­ry dis­tress in Covid-19 pa­tients. “That’s like­ly to come back if we have an­oth­er pan­dem­ic and cer­tain­ly hav­ing new and more tar­get­ed po­tent an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ries is go­ing to help on that side,” he said. “So that’s our goal with our pipeline is to con­tin­ue to de­vel­op new ther­a­pies that cer­tain­ly will pro­vide the type of ther­a­py that we need right now for these in­creas­ing­ly preva­lent chron­ic dis­eases.”

The com­pa­ny is look­ing to raise an­oth­er round of fund­ing this quar­ter, ac­cord­ing to Peña.

A cor­rec­tion has been made to the spelling of PKCθ.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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So what hap­pened with No­var­tis' gene ther­a­py group? Here's your an­swer

Over the last couple of days it’s become clear that the gene therapy division at Novartis has quietly undergone a major reorganization. We learned on Monday that Dave Lennon, who had pursued a high-profile role as president of the unit with 1,500 people, had left the pharma giant to take over as CEO of a startup.

Like a lot of the majors, Novartis is an open highway for head hunters, or anyone looking to staff a startup. So that was news but not completely unexpected.

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Who are the women su­per­charg­ing bio­phar­ma R&D? Nom­i­nate them for this year's spe­cial re­port

The biotech industry has faced repeated calls to diversify its workforce — and in the last year, those calls got a lot louder. Though women account for just under half of all biotech employees around the world, they occupy very few places in C-suites, and even fewer make it to the helm.

Some companies are listening, according to a recent BIO survey which showed that this year’s companies were 2.5 times more likely to have a diversity and inclusion program compared to last year’s sample. But we still have a long way to go. Women represent just 31% of biotech executives, BIO reported. And those numbers are even more stark for women of color.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a specific market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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When ef­fi­ca­cy is bor­der­line: FDA needs to get more con­sis­tent on close-call drug ap­provals, agency-fund­ed re­search finds

In the exceedingly rare instances in which clinical efficacy is the only barrier to a new drug’s approval, new FDA-funded research from FDA and Stanford found that the agency does not have a consistent standard for defining “substantial evidence” when flexible criteria are used for an approval.

The research comes as the FDA is at a crossroads with its expedited-review pathways. The accelerated approval pathway is under fire as the agency recently signed off on a controversial new Alzheimer’s drug, with little precedent to explain its decision. Meanwhile, top officials like Rick Pazdur have called for a major push to simplify and clarify all of the various expedited pathways, which have grown to be must-haves for sponsors of nearly every newly approved drug.

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Af­ter sell­ing to Genen­tech, the old Je­cure team is back at an RNA-fo­cused start­up — and more en­thu­si­as­tic than ever

When Genentech swooped in to buy NASH-focused Jecure Therapeutics back in 2018, a handful of the startup’s executives weren’t quite ready to disperse.

It had been just three years since Jecure launched with a preclinical portfolio of NLRP3 inhibitors — and the takeover came sooner than anyone, including CEO Jeff Stafford, had expected. So he got talking with James Veal and Gretchen Bain, two serial entrepreneurs in charge of Jecure’s R&D.

Lat­est news: It’s a no on uni­ver­sal boost­ers; Pa­tient death stuns gene ther­a­py field; In­side Tril­li­um’s $2.3B turn­around; 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.

Next week is shaping up to be a busy one, as our editor-in-chief John Carroll and managing editor Kyle Blankenship lead back-to-back discussions with a great group of experts to discuss the weekend news and trends. John will be spending 30 minutes with Jake Van Naarden, the CEO of Lilly Oncology, and Kyle has a brilliant panel lined up: Harvard’s Cigall Kadoch, Susan Galbraith, the new head of cancer R&D at AstraZeneca, Roy Baynes at Merck, and James Christensen at Mirati. Don’t miss out on the action — sign up here.

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