Tien Lee, Aardvark Therapeutics CEO

Emerg­ing from stealth mode, Aard­vark rounds up enough cash to put its lead drug through Prad­er-Willi PhII

When Aard­vark Ther­a­peu­tics CEO Tien Lee start­ed his work on the biotech’s lead can­di­date, ap­petite sup­pres­sion was the goal for the small mol­e­cule.  Soon af­ter, his team start­ed to see added ben­e­fits with low­er blood glu­cose lev­els and an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry ac­tiv­i­ty. On the tail end of that, the com­pa­ny has emerged from stealth mode and an­nounced to­day that they’ve raised enough cash in the B round to cov­er mid-stage de­vel­op­ment work.

San Diego-based Aard­vark has se­cured $29 mil­lion in Se­ries B fi­nanc­ing. The mon­ey will be used to com­plete three Phase II tri­als of its lead com­pound ARD-101, a small mol­e­cule bit­ter taste re­cep­tor pan-ag­o­nist.  The funds will al­so be used to ad­vance ad­di­tion­al for­mu­la­tions for the can­di­date.

The fundrais­ing was led by Sor­ren­to Ther­a­peu­tics and fea­tured par­tic­i­pa­tion from Vick­ers Ven­ture Part­ners, Pre­mier Part­ners, BNH In­vest­ment, and Ko­rea Omega. The Foun­da­tion for Prad­er-Willi Re­search par­tic­i­pat­ed as well, which is key be­cause a Phase II tri­al in pa­tients with Prad­er-Willi Syn­drome is set to kick off lat­er this year. PWS is a ge­net­ic dis­or­der that leads pa­tients to be­come con­stant­ly hun­gry. That can of­ten lead to obe­si­ty and type 2 di­a­betes.

“I think we’re re­al­ly on to some­thing,” Lee said in a call with End­points News Wednes­day. “There are a few com­pa­nies that have looked in­to this space be­fore but no one has re­al­ly delved in and tried to ex­ploit this gut-brain path­way us­ing bit­ter taste re­cep­tors.”

ARD-101 has shown pos­i­tive ef­fects against obe­si­ty, hy­per­pha­gia, di­a­betes, hy­per­lipi­demia and in­flam­ma­tion in an­i­mal mod­els so far.

The drug uti­lizes bit­ter taste re­cep­tors, which Lee says are not on­ly in the mouth, but all over the body, and act as na­ture’s way of pro­tect­ing you against tox­ins. Over 99% of the drug is re­tained in the gut, which nor­mal­ly could be a bad thing for small mol­e­cules, but in this case, it ac­ti­vates en­teroen­docrine cells in the gut. When giv­en through an IV, the can­di­date doesn’t work the same, Lee said.

Aard­vark raised $10 mil­lion dur­ing its Se­ries A fundrais­ing two years ago, and that mon­ey was used to bring the can­di­date to in-hu­man tri­als. While the $29 mil­lion will more than cov­er the com­ple­tion of three Phase II tri­al, there is a lot more op­por­tu­ni­ty on the hori­zon, Lee said. The in­tent is to de­vel­op be­yond PWS in the long term, but for now it’s fo­cused on tak­ing a shot at an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval for the ge­net­ic dis­ease — a goal that has elud­ed oth­ers.

“The main qual­i­ty of life im­pair­ment for Prad­er-Willi Syn­drome is an un­abat­ed ap­petite, says the CEO. “These kids, if giv­en un­re­strict­ed food ac­cess, they eat to the point of stom­ach rup­ture some­times. We have a lot of di­a­betes and obe­si­ty re­lat­ed com­pli­ca­tions in young adult­hood, and the fact that we’re hit­ting a va­ri­ety of hor­mones, we think we’re able to shut down ap­petite in a very unique way. We’ll see. Bi­ol­o­gy is hard and we’re not mak­ing any promis­es, but we’re def­i­nite­ly very hope­ful that we can see a dif­fer­ence for these kids.”

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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