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.
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.