Martin Babler, Esker

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.”

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Katrine Bosley (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

For­mer Ed­i­tas CEO Ka­trine Bosley goes the VC route, join­ing ear­ly-stage in­vestor

More than three years after abruptly exiting Editas Medicine, Katrine Bosley is leaping to the venture capital side of things.

London-based early-stage investor Advent Life Sciences announced Thursday that Bosley is joining the firm as venture partner. It’s also adding two general partners to the team: Dominic Schmidt, formerly of Syncona, will be in the UK; and Satish Jindal, most recently the CEO of investment fund BioMotiv, will be based in Boston, just like Bosley.

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Serhat Gumrukçu, Enochian BioSciences co-founder (Seraph Research Institute)

LA biotech founder ar­rest­ed, charged in mur­der-for-hire scheme be­hind 2018 death

A biotech founder has been arrested and charged for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the death of a man in Vermont back in 2018.

Serhat Gumrukçu, the co-founder of Enochian BioSciences, was arrested in Los Angeles, where the company is based, according to the Department of Justice. He was charged alongside Berk Eratay of Las Vegas, and a third person, Jerry Banks of Colorado, was previously arrested for kidnapping and allegedly murdering the victim, Gregory Davis.

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Adam Russell, ARPA-H's incoming acting deputy director

NI­H's new, in­de­pen­dent break­through drug ac­cel­er­a­tor ARPA-H gets its first em­ploy­ee

Despite the controversy of housing it in NIH, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday afternoon formally announced the establishment of the Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an independent entity within the NIH, as HHS had previously stipulated that “NIH may not subject ARPA-H to NIH policies.”

Becerra also announced the appointment of ARPA-H’s inaugural employee, Adam Russell, who will serve as acting deputy director.

ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.

Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.

Richard Silverman, Akava Therapeutics founder and Northwestern professor

This time around, Lyri­ca's in­ven­tor is de­vel­op­ing his North­west­ern dis­cov­er­ies at his own biotech

Richard Silverman was left in the dark for the last five years of clinical development of the drug he discovered. The Northwestern University professor found out about the first approval of Lyrica, in the last few days of 2004, like most other people: in the newspaper.

What became one of Pfizer’s top-selling meds, at $5 billion in 2017 global sales before losing patent protection in 2019, started slipping out of his hands when Northwestern licensed it out to Parke-Davis, one of two biotechs that showed interest in developing the drug in the pre-email days, when the university’s two-person tech transfer team had to ship out letters to garner industry appetite.

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David Ricks, Eli Lilly CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eli Lil­ly set to in­vest $2.1B in home state man­u­fac­tur­ing boost

Eli Lilly is looking to expand its footprint in its home Hoosier State by making a major investment in manufacturing.

The pharma is investing $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites at Indiana’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District in Boone County, northwest of Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

The two new facilities will expand Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients and new therapeutic modalities, including genetic medicines, according to a press release.

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Up­dat­ed: US sees spike in Paxlovid us­age as Mer­ck­'s mol­nupi­ravir and As­traZeneca's Evusheld are slow­er off the shelf

New data from HHS show that more than 162,000 courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid were administered across the US over the past week, continuing a streak of increased usage of the pill, and signaling not only rising case numbers but more awareness of how to access it.

In comparison to this week, about 670,000 courses of the Pfizer pill have been administered across the first five months since Paxlovid has been on the US market, averaging about 33,000 courses administered per week in that time.

Pfiz­er and CD­MOs ramp up Paxlovid man­u­fac­tur­ing with Kala­ma­zoo plant ex­pan­sion lead­ing the way

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, pharma companies and manufacturers are exploring how to step up production on antivirals.

Pfizer is planning to expand its Kalamazoo-area facility to increase manufacturing capabilities for the oral Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid, according to a report from Michigan-based news site MLive. The expansion of the facility, which serves as Pfizer’s largest manufacturing location, is expected to create hundreds of “high-skilled” STEM jobs, MLive reported. No details about the project’s cost and timeline have been released, but according to MLive, Pfizer will announce the details of the expansion at some point in early June.

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