EIP Phar­ma flies in­to a high-risk PhI­Ib Alzheimer’s study fu­eled with $20.5M from bil­lion­aire Len Blavat­nik’s Ac­cess In­dus­tries

John Alam

Un­de­terred by the string of fail­ures plagu­ing Alzheimer’s drug de­vel­op­ment, a young start­up based in Cam­bridge, MA has tapped an un­con­ven­tion­al source for $20.5 mil­lion to ad­vance a re­pur­posed drug in the clin­ic.

The new funds — com­ing from bil­lion­aire Len Blavat­nik’s Ac­cess In­dus­tries — will pow­er EIP Phar­ma’s Phase IIb study of ne­flamapi­mod, a p38 ki­nase in­hibitor in-li­censed from Ver­tex Phar­ma. Named RE­VERSE-SD, the high-risk tri­al will mea­sure im­prove­ment in episod­ic mem­o­ry as a pri­ma­ry end­point and have sev­er­al sec­ondary end­points in­clud­ing Clin­i­cal De­men­tia Rat­ing Scale Sum-of-Box­es, Wech­sler Mem­o­ry Scale, and spinal flu­id bio­mark­ers of dis­ease pro­gres­sion.

The fo­cus here is on cog­ni­tion — a gold stan­dard cheered on by the FDA in a set of guid­ance doc­u­ments re­leased in Feb­ru­ary. They came just in time for EIP Phar­ma, which launched RE­VERSE-SD in March.

“That’s the first time they’ve said that be­cause they rec­og­nize that it’s re­al­ly hard in the ear­ly stages of Alzheimer’s and in mild Alzheimer’s dis­ease to show an ef­fect on, for ex­am­ple, rates of go­ing in­to a nurs­ing home, be­cause that hap­pens lat­er on,” CEO John Alam tells me. “What mat­ters to pa­tients — when they first get di­ag­nosed — is the mem­o­ry func­tion.”

By tar­get­ing dys­func­tion­al neu­rons and the synaps­es that con­nect them, Alam be­lieves, their drug can di­rect­ly ad­dress mem­o­ry deficits. As such, their study will be “re­al­ly well aligned with the new FDA guid­ance doc­u­ment in terms of how we de­fine ear­ly Alzheimer’s dis­ease and how we’re mea­sur­ing drug ef­fect,” says Alam, a for­mer Ver­tex CMO who head­ed Sanofi’s ag­ing unit be­fore mov­ing on to start EIP Phar­ma.

Len Blavat­nik

By the time EIP was found­ed in 2014, Ver­tex was al­ready well in­to mid-stage de­vel­op­ment with ne­flamapi­mod, al­beit in non-CNS dis­or­ders. Hav­ing in­her­it­ed full sets of an­i­mal test­ing, Phase I and Phase II clin­i­cal da­ta — along­side an es­tab­lished man­u­fac­tur­ing process — the biotech went straight to Phase IIa, which yield­ed pos­i­tive re­sults ear­li­er this year.

That’s ad­vanced com­pared to the new­com­ers work­ing on nov­el path­ways in Alzheimer’s — a high pro­file start­up, De­nali Ther­a­peu­tics, has on­ly re­cent­ly be­gan Phase I test­ing; Rodin Ther­a­peu­tics, which is work­ing on synap­tic re­silience, has yet to en­ter the clin­ic — and Alam was quick to point it out.

“The things that are in Phase III to­day, the idea for them and con­cep­tion work­ing on them start­ed 10 or more years ago,” he says. “What we’re work­ing on, and the mech­a­nism we’re work­ing on, is tru­ly the state of the art sci­ence of our un­der­stand­ing of [how] ac­tu­al­ly mem­o­ry deficits form.”

Ground­work laid by Ver­tex had al­so al­lowed EIP Phar­ma to be cap­i­tal ef­fi­cient pri­or to this point, en­list­ing a small group of 10 in­di­vid­ual in­vestors to back their ear­li­er study. And it’s that pri­vate net­work that con­nect­ed Alam’s team to Ac­cess In­dus­tries, the first in­sti­tu­tion­al backer.

While Ac­cess had not been known for mak­ing a lot of life sci­ence in­vest­ments, Blavat­nik, the ec­cen­tric bil­lion­aire founder of Ac­cess, had backed biotechs through Clal Bio­sciences and dished out bio­med­ical sci­ence grants at top in­sti­tu­tions around the world. He was, how­ev­er, not di­rect­ly in­volved in the round.

Ac­cess could not be reached for com­ment. Ac­cord­ing to Alam, the two par­ties bond­ed over a vi­sion for the long term — a work­ing drug for Alzheimer’s pa­tients, not a quick ex­it.

Down the line, EIP Phar­ma’s ap­proach to synap­tic dys­func­tion could touch “more or less every CNS dis­or­der,” from Parkin­sons and Hunt­ing­ton’s dis­ease to autism and stroke re­cov­ery mech­a­nisms. But for now, they will con­cen­trate on chas­ing the suc­cess that’s elud­ed one big play­er af­ter an­oth­er.

“We have a re­al­ly good shot,” Alam says.

Once fu­ri­ous over No­var­tis’ da­ta ma­nip­u­la­tion scan­dal, the FDA now says it’s noth­ing they need to take ac­tion on

Back in the BP era — Before Pandemic — the FDA ripped Novartis for its decision to keep the agency in the dark about manipulated data used in its application for Zolgensma while its marketing application for the gene therapy was under review.

Civil and criminal sanctions were being discussed, the agency noted in a rare broadside at one of the world’s largest pharma companies. Notable lawmakers cheered the angry regulators on, urging the FDA to make an example of Novartis, which fielded Zolgensma at $2.1 million — the current record for a one-off therapy.

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Covid-19 roundup: GSK, Am­gen tai­lor R&D work to fit the coro­n­avirus age; Doud­na's ge­nomics crew launch­es di­ag­nos­tic lab

You can add Amgen and GSK to the list of deep-pocket drug R&D players who are tailoring their pipeline work to fit a new age of coronavirus.

Following in the footsteps of a lineup of big players like Eli Lilly — which has suspended patient recruitment for drug studies — Amgen and GSK have opted to take a more tailored approach. Amgen is intent on circling the wagons around key studies that are already fully enrolled, and GSK has the red light on new studies while the pandemic plays out.

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In a stun­ning set­back, Amarin los­es big patent fight over Vas­cepa IP. And its high-fly­ing stock crash­es to earth

Amarin’s shares $AMRN were blitzed Monday evening, losing billions in value as reports spread that the company had lost its high-profile effort to keep its Vascepa patents protected from generic drugmakers.

Amarin had been fighting to keep key patents under lock and key — and away from generic rivals — for another 10 years, but District Court Judge Miranda Du in Las Vegas ruled against the biotech. She ruled that:
(A)ll the Asserted Claims are invalid as obvious under 35 U.S.C.§ 103. Thus, the Court finds in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff’s remaining infringementclaim, and in their favor on their counterclaims asserting the invalidity of the AssertedClaims under 35 U.S.C. § 103.

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Covid-19 roundup: J&J, BAR­DA set ear­ly 2021 fin­ish line for $1B vac­cine race; FDA al­lows emer­gency drug use, ahead of piv­otal da­ta

J&J has zeroed in on a Covid-19 vaccine candidate that it hopes to begin testing in humans by September this year — with the extraordinary goal of getting it ready for emergency use in early 2021. And together with BARDA, it’s committing $1 billion to make it happen.

That kind of accelerated timeline would fall on the fast side of NIAID director Anthony Fauci’s well-publicized prediction that it would be another 12 to 18 months before a vaccine can be available for public use. A Phase I trial of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine began two weeks ago, and both the biotech and fellow mRNA player CureVac have discussed similar, if not even faster, timelines for emergency use among healthcare workers.

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As­traZeneca says its block­buster Farx­i­ga proved to be a game-chang­er in CKD — wrap­ping PhI­II ear­ly

If the FDA can still hold up its end of the bargain, AstraZeneca is already on a short path to scooping up a cutting-edge win with a likely approval for their SGLT2 drug Farxiga in cutting the risk of heart failure. Now the pharma giant says it can point to solid evidence that the drug — initially restricted to diabetes — also works for chronic kidney disease, potentially adding a blockbuster indication for the franchise.

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It is 'kind of a proven tech­nol­o­gy': Hep B vac­cine mak­er joins glob­al hunt for coro­n­avirus vac­cine

Using lab-grown proteins that are engineered to mimic the architecture of viruses to induce an immune response, VBI Vaccines is joining the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine — harnessing technology that has initially been proved safe in early trials as a prophylactic for cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection.

Unlike the raft of the companies in the Covid-19 vaccine race — including Moderna, CureVac and J&J — VBI is taking a pan-coronavirus approach, by developing a vaccine that will encompass Covid-19, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Can a pair of top AveX­is alum­ni steer a new gene ther­a­py up­start to R&D glo­ry? 3 VCs bet $60M on it

VCs love few things more than a proven executive team when it comes to launching a new company. And now a group of A-listers has turned to a pair of top execs out of AveXis to steer the latest gene therapy player into the clinic.

The biotech is Waltham, MA-based Affinia and the two execs are Sean Nolan and Rick Modi — the former CEO and CBO respectively of AveXis, the gene therapy pioneer that fetched $8.7 billion in a sale to Novartis. Nolan has now taken the chairman’s role at Affinia while Modi moves up to the CEO post at the company.

Un­de­terred by a pan­dem­ic, Gilde Health­care rais­es their largest fund yet

When Pieter van der Meer started raising the capital for Gilde Healthcare’s fifth fund in the waning months of 2019, he had his eyes on a different chain of events that could change the healthcare system and perhaps even play to his firm’s advantage: The US presidential election.

Since raising their third fund in 2011, the 34-year-old Dutch firm had focused on value-based care. They chose late-stage biotechs that came up with new devices and delivery systems for de-risked established compounds, and when they chose preclinical biotechs, they spoke with potential pharma partners, payers and regulators to ask where and at what prices the drug made sense. As the Democratic primary became a contest over how to lower healthcare costs, it looked like a strategy that could pay off.

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Gilead CEO Dan O'­Day of­fers a de­tailed ex­pla­na­tion on remde­sivir ac­cess — re­as­sur­ing an­a­lysts that Covid-19 da­ta are com­ing fast

After coming under heavy fire from consumer groups ready to pummel them for grabbing the FDA’s orphan status for remdesivir — reserved to encourage the development of rare disease therapies — Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day had some explaining to do about the company’s approach to providing access to this drug to patients suffering from Covid-19. And he set aside time over the weekend to patiently explain how they are making their potential pandemic drug available in a new program — one he feels can better be used to address a growing pack of infected patients desperately seeking remdesivir under compassionate use provisions.

In addition to trying to reassure patients that they will once again have an avenue to pursue access, O’Day also reassured some analysts who had been fretting that China’s quick comeback from the coronavirus outbreak could derail its ultra-fast schedule for testing the drug in patients. The data are still expected in a few weeks, he says in the letter, putting the readout in April.

O’Day emphasizes that Gilead intends to pursue a pricing approach that will make this drug widely available — if it proves effective and safe. But no one is quite sure just what the longterm value would be, given the work being done on a variety of vaccines that may be rolled out as early as this fall — at least to the most heavily threatened groups.

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