Flag­ship un­veils gut-fo­cused up­start Kin­tai, with for­mer GSK ex­ec as chief

Pro­lif­ic ven­ture group Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing has spawned a fresh bio­phar­ma play­er with a for­mer big phar­ma ex­ec at the helm: Kin­tai Ther­a­peu­tics. The Cam­bridge, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny is fo­cus­ing on the gut — but it is not lim­it­ing it­self to mi­cro­bio­ta and look­ing in­stead at the in­ter­play be­tween mi­crobes, im­mune cells, and neu­rons in the re­gion, to har­ness a new class of ther­a­peu­tics.

David Berry

“The gut—which is home to tril­lions of bac­te­ria, 70% of our im­mune cells, and 500 mil­lion neu­rons—is tru­ly a com­mand cen­ter, trans­mit­ting con­stant mes­sages and sig­nals through­out the body that af­fect our propen­si­ty for dis­ease,” said David Berry, gen­er­al part­ner at Flag­ship Pi­o­neer­ing and co-founder of Kin­tai Ther­a­peu­tics in a state­ment.

The gut im­mune sys­tem, the en­teric ner­vous sys­tem and the mi­cro­bio­me can be looked at in iso­la­tion, but it makes sense to ap­proach them in an in­te­grat­ed way us­ing com­pu­ta­tion­al bi­ol­o­gy and deep learn­ing al­go­rithms to un­der­stand what’s re­al­ly go­ing on at the in­ter­face be­tween the ex­ter­nal world (the gut mi­cro­bio­me) and im­mune cells, said Kin­tai chief Paul-Pe­ter Tak in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

Us­ing map­ping tech­nol­o­gy, since its found­ing in 2016, Kin­tai has iden­ti­fied 44,000 new genes and hun­dreds of new metabo­lites, and de­vel­oped a fe­cund pipeline of at least 10 ex­per­i­men­tal drugs for dif­fer­ent con­di­tions, Tak said.

The ner­vous sys­tem of the gas­troin­testi­nal tract (the en­teric ner­vous sys­tem) has five times as many nerve cells as the hu­man spinal cord, and 80% of our im­mune cells spend time in our gut, ac­cord­ing to Kin­tai.

By tar­get­ing the gut, “we are able to tar­get these (im­mune) cells and there­by have a dis­tant, re­mote an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ry ef­fect…there­by hav­ing an ef­fect on neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­eases in the brain with­out even hav­ing to de­vel­op mol­e­cules that pen­e­trate the blood-brain bar­ri­er. We are able repli­cate the ef­fects of the gut mi­cro­bio­me with dis­crete mol­e­cules and that has led to a new class of mol­e­cules — pre­ci­sion en­teric med­i­cines — which al­low us to ac­ti­vate a cer­tain path­way in spe­cif­ic parts of the gut,” the for­mer GSK chief im­munol­o­gy of­fi­cer said. 

Tak ex­pects to be­gin hu­man stud­ies with its two lead pro­grams — meta­bol­ic syn­drome and ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis — next year, and an­tic­i­pates start­ing clin­i­cal stud­ies with five pro­grams with­in two years. In the com­ing years, the com­pa­ny in­tends to pri­or­i­tize the fields of on­col­o­gy and neu­rol­o­gy, Tak added.

For some of the com­pa­ny’s pro­grams such as meta­bol­ic syn­drome or in­flam­ma­to­ry bow­el dis­ease, it’s quite like­ly that Kin­tai will even­tu­al­ly seek a big phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal part­ner to has­ten the pace of drug de­vel­op­ment, he said.

Kin­tai — which gets its name from a his­tor­i­cal wood­en arch bridge, in the city of Iwaku­ni, Japan — cur­rent­ly has about 60 em­ploy­ees.

Im­age Source: Paul-Pe­ter Tak. GSK

A New Fron­tier: The In­ner Ear

What happens when a successful biotech venture capitalist is unexpectedly diagnosed with a chronic, life-disrupting vertigo disorder? Innovation in neurotology.

That venture capitalist was Jay Lichter, Ph.D., and after learning there was no FDA-approved drug treatment for his condition, Ménière’s disease, he decided to create a company to bring drug development to neurotology. Otonomy was founded in 2008 and is dedicated to finding new drug treatments for the hugely underserved community living with balance and hearing disorders. Helping patients like Jay has been the driving force behind Otonomy, a company heading into a transformative 2020 with three clinical trial readouts: Phase 3 in Ménière’s disease, Phase 2 in tinnitus, and Phase 1/2 in hearing loss. These catalysts, together with others in the field, highlight the emerging opportunity in neurotology.
Otonomy is leading the way in neurotology
Neurotology, or the treatment of inner ear neurological disorders, is a large and untapped market for drug developers: one in eight individuals in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo disorders such as Ménière’s disease.1 With no FDA-approved drug treatments available for these conditions, the burden on patients—including social anxiety, lower quality of life, reduced work productivity, and higher rates of depression—can be significant.2, 3, 4

Joe Jimenez, Getty

Ex-No­var­tis CEO Joe Jimenez is tak­ing an­oth­er crack at open­ing a new chap­ter in his ca­reer — and that in­cludes a new board seat and a $250M start­up

Joe Jimenez is back.

The ex-CEO of Novartis has taken a board seat on Century Therapeutics, the Versant and Bayer-backed startup focused on coming up with a brand new twist on cell therapies for cancer — a field where Jimenez made his mark backing the first personalized CAR-T approved for use.

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Can we make the an­tibi­ot­ic mar­ket great again?

The standard for-profit model in drug development is straightforward. Spend millions, even billions, to develop a medicine from scratch. The return on investment (and ideally a tidy profit) comes via volume and/or price, depending on the disease. But the string of big pharma exits and slew of biotech bankruptcies indicate that the model is sorely flawed when it comes to antibiotics.

The industry players contributing to the arsenal of antimicrobials are fast dwindling, and the pipeline for new antibiotics is embarrassingly sparse, the WHO has warned. Drugmakers are enticed by greener pastures, compared to the long, arduous and expensive path to antibiotic approval that offers little financial gain as treatments are typically priced cheaply, and often lose potency over time as microbes grow resistant to them.

The FTC and New York state ac­cuse Mar­tin Shkre­li of run­ning a drug mo­nop­oly. They plan to squash it — and per­ma­nent­ly ex­ile him

Pharma bro Martin Shkreli was jailed, publicly pilloried and forced to confront some lawmakers in Washington riled by his move to take an old generic and move the price from $17.50 per pill to $750. But through 4 years of controversy and public revulsion, his company never backed away from the price — left uncontrolled by a laissez faire federal policy on a drug’s cost.

Now the FTC and the state of New York plan to pry his fingers off the drug once and for all and open it up to some cheap competition. And their lawsuit is asking that Shkreli — with several years left on his prison sentence — be banned permanently from the pharma industry.

UP­DAT­ED: Ac­celeron res­ur­rects block­buster hopes for so­tater­cept with pos­i­tive PhII — and shares rock­et up

Acceleron $XLRN says that its first major trial readout of 2020 is a success.

In a Phase II study of 106 patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), Acceleron’s experimental drug sotatercept hit its primary endpoint: a significant reduction in pulmonary vascular resistance. The drug also met three different secondary endpoints, including the 6-minute walking test.

“We’re thrilled to report such positive topline results from the PULSAR trial,” Acceleron CEO Habib Dable said in a statement. The company said in a conference call they plan on discussing a Phase III trial design with regulators.

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Amber Saltzman (Ohana)

Flag­ship's first ven­ture of 2020 is out, and it's all about sperm

A couple years ago, Amber Salzman got a call as she was returning East full-time after a two-year stint running a gene therapy company in California.

It was from someone at Flagship Pioneering, the deep-pocketed biotech venture firm. They had a new company with a new way of thinking about sperm. It had been incubating for over a year, and now they wanted her to run it.

“It exactly fit,” Salzman told Endpoints News. “I just thought I had to do something.”

Pfiz­er ax­es 6 ear­ly to late-stage can­cer stud­ies from the pipeline — with one oth­er cut for sick­le cell dis­ease

Pfizer trimmed a group of 3 R&D programs using their PD-L1 Bavencio — partnered with Merck KGaA — in their latest pipeline cull.

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UP­DAT­ED: In­cyte scores much need­ed PhI­II suc­cess — and of course it’s de­liv­ered by rux­oli­tinib

Incyte’s efforts to breathe a second life into ruxolitinib — its JAK inhibitor sold in pill form as Jakafi — has been greeted with clear, if preliminary and unsurprising, Phase III success.

Topline data from the TRuE-AD2 cements ruxolitinib’s foundational importance for Incyte, and gives analysts hope that there might yet be room for growth in a pipeline that’s suffered multiple R&D setbacks.

Stephen Hahn, AP

The FDA un­veils a new reg­u­la­to­ry frame­work to speed along gene ther­a­pies, re­ward­ing the lead­ing play­ers

Bioregnum Opinion Column by John Carroll

The emphasis at the FDA over the past 5 years or so has been on assisting drug developers as much as they can to speed up regulatory reviews and push more drugs into the market. And they are now crafting a final set of regulations aimed at flagging through a whole new generation of gene therapies in clinical testing at a rapid clip.

In a set of 6 prospective guidances posted on the FDA web site Tuesday morning, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn committed the agency to staying flexible in handing out designations that are critical to gaining early approvals for drugs that claim to be once-and-done but don’t have anything close to the data needed to prove it.

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