Foresite's immunology play gets a $200M megaround for TYK2 program, rebranding as Alumis
A Foresite-incubated biotech that debuted just eight months ago closed a new mega financing round on Thursday, and with it comes a company rebranding.
Esker Therapeutics will now call itself Alumis following the completion of a $200 million Series B, the biotech announced Thursday. The funds are expected to go toward Alumis’ pipeline, including its lead program ESK-001, a TYK2 inhibitor targeting the pan-JAK pathway that the company has touted as potentially safer than current JAK inhibitors.
“The funding really serves for us to advance the program into the clinic, and then we have also a pipeline building behind it,” CEO Martin Babler told Endpoints News in an interview. “And we want to also make sure that we can take full advantage of our data analytics platform to really explore additional targets and additional indications.”
The lead compound is being evaluated in psoriasis, and a Phase I safety and tolerability study was expected to read out by the end of 2021. Though the company hasn’t put out a press release with the data yet, Babler said Alumis is “extremely pleased” with the molecule.
“The features that we see is really that we have a great PK profile, and that we have good selectivity,” he said. “We’re on track to really understand how this molecule stacks up against others in the field.”
Former CEO and founder June Lee had previously said she expected the program to serve as a proof-of-concept for the rest of Alumis’ platform. By aiming to identify certain genetic targets, Lee noted she wanted to serve patients she felt had been in the “come-one-come-all” immunology market.
ESK-001 will have plenty of competition as the JAK field has seen much crowding in recent years. Though Lee said Alumis’ molecule sprouted from the same class as Bristol Myers Squibb’s deucravacitinib, that drug beat out Amgen’s Otezla in a pivotal head-to-head psoriasis trial last year, and the FDA has set a PDUFA date for September.
“Fundamentally, TYK2 is a member of the class of the JAK inhibitors, but it has really a differentiated profile,” Babler said. “And one of the things about this molecule, it’s one of several allosteric TYK2 inhibitors that are in development. And those inhibitors really don’t have a lot of JAK pharmacology. And so we don’t really see at least so far from from the leading molecule in this class, which is the BMS molecule, and our own and others, the same pharmacology that you see with JAK inhibitors.”
Outside this molecule, the company is aiming to develop other candidates in the immunology space, with Babler saying in a release Thursday the company may look to acquire other assets in addition to building out its pipeline.
The JAK space has been shaken in recent months by repeated safety issues, following a post-marketing study for Pfizer’s Xeljanz that elevated the concerns in early 2021. Despite the renewed scrutiny, the FDA has waved through new JAK inhibitors recently, approving Xeljanz and AbbVie’s Rinvoq for new indications last month.
But the drugs came with expanded warnings and a key label change, saying they can only be taken after a patient has failed on one or more TNF blockers such as Humira. The shift came after regulators flagged the risk of cardiovascular events in patients older than 50 with boxed warnings on Xeljanz, Rinvoq and Eli Lilly’s Olumiant.
“While we have a lead asset, this is also about building an entire pipeline behind it,” Babler said. “And so we are actively working on several other programs that we will disclose at the appropriate time.”