Eli Lil­ly hands transpa­cif­ic biotech up­start Terns pieces to an ex­per­i­men­tal NASH puz­zle

Wei­dong Zhong

For Wei­dong Zhong, the fastest part of start­ing up a transpa­cif­ic biotech was find­ing the mon­ey.

Al­most im­me­di­ate­ly af­ter step­ping out of No­var­tis’ ear­ly-stage re­search group a year ago, the long­time in­ves­ti­ga­tor with a back­ground that in­cludes a stint in­volv­ing liv­er dis­eases at Gilead had the en­thu­si­as­tic back­ing of Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, a busy ven­ture group which pro­vid­ed the $30 mil­lion need­ed to get go­ing.

“They very much liked the idea,” Zhong tells me. “We didn’t even have time to dis­close that (Se­ries A) be­cause every­thing hap­pened so quick­ly.”

Now, the rest of it is com­ing to­geth­er quick­ly as well, with a pipeline that’s be­ing swelled to­day by an in-li­cens­ing deal with Eli Lil­ly de­liv­er­ing three pro­grams for NASH. So it’s a good time, Zhong feels, to make the de­but they had missed a year ago.

The ba­sic idea at Terns Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals was that a Cal­i­for­nia-based dis­cov­ery team al­lied with a small de­vel­op­ment group in Chi­na could as­sem­ble a pipeline and ef­fi­cient­ly de­vel­op new drugs pri­mar­i­ly for the Chi­nese mar­ket.

“We can short­en the time it takes to de­vel­op drugs for the Chi­na mar­ket,” says the CEO, who feels they are well po­si­tioned to trans­late the rapid­ly im­prov­ing reg­u­la­to­ry process in Chi­na. Eli Lil­ly plans to learn from their progress.

With an in­tro from their col­leagues at Lil­ly Asia Ven­tures, they were able to ink an agree­ment with the moth­er com­pa­ny that cov­ers a clin­i­cal-stage far­ne­soid X re­cep­tor (FXR) ag­o­nist, TERN-101, a semi­car­bazide-sen­si­tive amine ox­i­dase (SSAO) in­hibitor, TERN-201 — which is near­ing IND sub­mis­sion — and an undis­closed pre­clin­i­cal can­di­date. And they are com­bin­ing the NASH work with on­col­o­gy, build­ing on the 5 pro­grams pieced to­geth­er by their in-house group in Shang­hai.

101 seems well de­signed to ad­vance in Chi­na, says the sci­en­tist, as the var­i­ous play­ers be­gin to as­sem­ble the unique com­bi­na­tions that he be­lieves will be need­ed to ad­dress var­i­ous stages of NASH, as well as pos­si­bly dif­fer­ent ge­net­ic groups. 201, though, he be­lieves has the kind of first-in-class po­ten­tial that they could work on for both the US and the Chi­nese mar­kets si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly.

The move to out li­cense drugs point­ed pri­mar­i­ly to Chi­na comes about a year af­ter Lil­ly opt­ed to shut down its R&D base in Shang­hai, fol­low­ing a pat­tern of big phar­ma ex­its that al­so in­clud­ed GSK. Lil­ly now is fo­cus­ing on al­liances like this one to ad­vance new drugs in the boom­ing Asian mar­ket.

Zhong likes the idea of go­ing back in­to liv­er dis­eases and match­ing it with on­col­o­gy as a good way of dis­tin­guish­ing the start­up in a boom­ing Chi­nese biotech field. And he has every in­ten­tion of stay­ing in the fast lane.

Their pro­jec­tion for the SSAO drug is to get it in­to the clin­ic in ear­ly 2019, with a shot at com­plet­ing the proof-of-con­cept stage in 2021 that could — if every­thing works out — leave them on the thresh­old of a late-stage pro­gram.

That’s am­bi­tious for a com­pa­ny that cur­rent­ly to­tals about 15 full timers, plus CRO help. But Zhong feels that the com­pa­ny can op­er­ate like the small, tough lit­tle wa­ter bird it’s named af­ter, built for long mi­gra­tions. 

They may be small, but Terns plans to go far.

Mi­no­ryx and Sper­o­genix ink an ex­clu­sive li­cense agree­ment to de­vel­op and com­mer­cial­ize lerigli­ta­zone in Chi­na

September 23, 2020 – Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai (China) and Mataró, Barcelona (Spain)  

Minoryx will receive an upfront and milestone payments of up to $78 million, as well as double digit royalties on annual net sales 

Sperogenix will receive exclusive rights to develop and commercialize leriglitazone for the treatment of X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (X-ALD), a rare life-threatening neurological condition

FDA chief Stephen Hahn on Capitol Hill earlier this week (Getty Images)

As FDA buck­les un­der the strain of a pan­dem­ic work­load, Trump again ac­cus­es the agency of a po­lit­i­cal hit job

Peter Marks appeared before a virtual SVB Leerink audience yesterday and said that his staff at FDA’s CBER is on the verge of working around the clock. Manufacturing inspections, policy work and sponsor communications have all been pushed down the to-do list so that they can be responsive to Covid-related interactions. And the agency’s objective right now? “To save as many lives as we can,” Marks said, likening the mortality on the current outbreak as equivalent to “a nuclear bomb on a small city.”

Daniel O'Day, Gilead CEO (Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Play-by-play of Gilead­'s $21B Im­munomedics buy­out de­tails a fren­zied push — and mints a new biotech bil­lion­aire

Immunomedics had not really been looking for a buyout when the year began. Excited by its BLA for Trodelvy, submitted to the FDA in late 2019, executive chairman Behzad Aghazadeh started off looking for potential licensing deals and zeroed in on four potential partners, including Gilead, following January’s JP Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco. Such talks advanced throughout the year, with discussions advancing to the second round in mid-August.

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President Donald Trump reacts after signing an executive order following his remarks on his healthcare policies yesterday in Charlotte, North Carolina (Getty Images)

Op-ed: Will phar­ma re­al­ly pay for Trump’s lat­est law­less promise to 33 mil­lion Medicare ben­e­fi­cia­ries? Not like­ly

Sitting atop the executive branch, President Donald Trump is the ultimate authority at the FDA. He can fast track any vaccine to approval himself. If it came to that, of course.

What he can’t do is unilaterally order the legislative branch to loosen the Treasury’s coffers for $6.6 billion. Nor can he command pharmaceutical companies to pay for $200 vouchers sent to 33 million Medicare beneficiaries for prescription drugs before the election.

President Donald Trump and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn (AP Images)

FDA is­sues fi­nal rule al­low­ing im­por­ta­tion of drugs from Cana­da — but al­so keeps the pow­er to re­voke it

Just over a month away from the presidential election, the FDA has issued a final regulation fulfilling President Trump’s promise to let states import certain prescription drugs from Canada.

On Thursday, Trump told a crowd in North Carolina that the new rule goes into effect “today.” But the published regulation states that it won’t take effect for 60 days. And even then, it could be a while before cheaper drugs make it across the border.

The win­dow is wide open as four more biotechs join the go-go IPO class of 2020

It’s another day of hauling cash in the biopharma world as four more IPOs priced Friday and a fifth filed its initial paperwork.

The biggest offering comes from PMV Pharma, an oncology biotech focusing on p53 mutations, which raised $211.8 million after pricing shares at $18 apiece. Prelude Therapeutics, developing PRMT5 inhibitors for rare cancers, was next with a $158 million raise, pricing shares at $19 each. Graybug Vision raised $90 million after pricing at $16 per share for its wet AMD candidates, and breast cancer biotech Greenwich Lifesciences brought up the rear with a small, $7 million raise after pricing shares at $5.75.

J&J of­fers PhI/IIa da­ta show­ing its sin­gle-dose vac­cine can stir up suf­fi­cient im­mune re­sponse

Days after J&J dosed the first participants of its Phase III ENSEMBLE trial, the pharma giant has detailed the early-stage data that gave them confidence in a single-dose regimen.

Testing two dose levels either as a single dose or in a two-dose schedule spaced by 56 days in, the scientists from Janssen, the J&J subsidiary developing its vaccine, reported that the low dose induced a similar immune response as the high dose. The interim Phase I/IIa results were posted in a preprint on medRxiv.

New York governor Andrew Cuomo (AP Images)

An­drew Cuo­mo says New York will un­der­take its own vac­cine re­view process, and wouldn’t rec­om­mend trust­ing the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment

The concerns keep mounting over President Donald Trump’s politicization of the FDA and other federal agencies guiding the development of a safe and effective vaccine. And today, the telegenic New York governor Andrew Cuomo appeared to introduce even more politics into the matter — latest in an ongoing series of incidents that have cast the proudly independent FDA in starkly political terms.

During his daily press conference Cuomo said that the state will review any coronavirus vaccines approved by the federal government, citing a lack of trust in the Trump administration. The announcement comes one day after Trump accused the FDA of making an “extremely political” move in proposing stricter vaccine guidance.

David Berry (Flagship)

Flag­ship's next big tech­no­log­i­cal bet? The cloud

Earlier this month, Flagship announced their big bet on the software half the industry is talking about, launching the AI and machine learning startup. Now, they and a couple other investors are gambling $100 million on a software that much of the public generally thinks of as a cool, IT afterthought: cloud computing.

The idea, says founder and Flagship partner David Berry, is one of scale: The sheer magnitude of biological data that you can store on cloud technology is unprecedented. And that size, when leveraged properly, can allow you to ask questions and form insights that are similarly unprecedented.

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