From mice to dogs, and some­day man: George Church's gene ther­a­py cock­tail for ag­ing-re­lat­ed dis­eases

George Chruch Re­ju­ve­nate

Emerg­ing gene-ther­a­py tech­nol­o­gy could help dogs live health­i­er, if not longer, lives as man’s best friend.

A start­up called Re­ju­ve­nate Bio — launched out of George Church’s lab at Har­vard Med­ical School (HMS) and the Wyss In­sti­tute for Bi­o­log­i­cal­ly In­spired En­gi­neer­ing at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty — on Thurs­day, with big plans to make work on gene ther­a­py tech­nol­o­gy en­gi­neered to pre­vent and treat a slew of age-re­lat­ed dis­eases in dogs and ex­tend their healthspan.

“Sci­ence hasn’t yet found a way to make com­plex an­i­mals like dogs live for­ev­er, so the next best thing we can do is find a way to main­tain health for as long as pos­si­ble dur­ing the ag­ing process,” said Church in a re­port by the Wyss In­sti­tute.

As we age, the propen­si­ty to be af­flict­ed with dis­ease(s) ris­es. But dis­eases are typ­i­cal­ly re­searched and treat­ed in­di­vid­u­al­ly, and the ex­ist­ing ar­ma­men­tar­i­um of treat­ments does not ac­com­mo­date the in­ter­con­nect­ed­ness of ill­ness­es that arise in lock­step with age. So, Har­vard re­searchers took a macro-lev­el ap­proach to the prob­lem of age-re­lat­ed dis­eases and de­vel­oped a gene ther­a­py fo­cused on a tri­fec­ta of longevi­ty as­so­ci­at­ed genes: FGF21, αK­lotho and sTGF𝝱R2 — which have pre­vi­ous­ly been shown to be as­so­ci­at­ed with in­creased health and lifes­pan ben­e­fits in mice that were ge­net­i­cal­ly en­gi­neered to over­ex­press them.

“We be­lieve that gene ther­a­py is a great tool for ac­tu­al­ly go­ing af­ter chron­ic age-re­lat­ed con­di­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly if you have tar­get sets that have re­al­ly strong safe­ty pro­files,” Re­ju­ve­nate CEO Daniel Oliv­er said in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

“The genes we’re us­ing in­side of our gene ther­a­pies have been shown in trans­genic mouse mod­els to ex­tend their life. And so we have built-in safe­ty pro­files for the genes we’re us­ing — we have three-plus years of safe­ty da­ta in mice be­fore we even start.”

Noah David­sohn Re­ju­ve­nate

The re­searchers cre­at­ed sep­a­rate gene ther­a­py de­liv­ery ve­hi­cles for each gene us­ing a serotype of ade­no-as­so­ci­at­ed virus (AAV8) and then in­ject­ed the AAV con­structs in­to mouse mod­els of obe­si­ty, type II di­a­betes, heart fail­ure, and re­nal fail­ure to as­sess ef­fi­ca­cy.

The da­ta were strik­ing. FGF21 alone caused a com­plete re­ver­sal of weight gain and type II di­a­betes in obese, di­a­bet­ic mice fol­low­ing a sin­gle shot, and a com­bi­na­tion with sTGF𝝱R2 al­so di­min­ished kid­ney at­ro­phy by 75% in mice with re­nal fi­bro­sis. The gene sTGF𝝱R2 alone and in com­bi­na­tion with ei­ther of the oth­er two gene ther­a­pies im­proved heart func­tion in mice with heart fail­ure, sug­gest­ing that that co-ad­min­is­tra­tion of FGF21 and sTGF𝝱R2 could treat all four age-re­lat­ed con­di­tions.

To be sure, in this ini­tial study in mice the in­ject­ed genes did not stray in­to the an­i­mals’ genomes and did not mod­i­fy their nat­ur­al DNA — which is a con­cern giv­en the ex­ist­ing eu­genic prac­tices preva­lent in the pet in­dus­try.

Re­ju­ve­nate Bio on Thurs­day un­veiled plans to kick off a pi­lot study test­ing the ef­fi­ca­cy of this gene ther­a­py tech­nol­o­gy in ar­rest­ing mi­tral valve dis­ease, which af­fects most Cav­a­lier King Charles spaniels by age eight and caus­es heart fail­ure.

The plan is to en­roll 10 dogs with mi­tral valve dis­ease, in­ject them with the gene ther­a­py, and as­sess whether they progress to the next stage of the dis­ease over a giv­en pe­ri­od, Oliv­er said. This pi­lot study — which will take at least a year to read­out — will serve as a lit­mus test for an an­i­mal drug tri­al with the FDA, which tends to take about three years to com­plete. If all goes well, the com­pa­ny hopes to ex­pand the treat­ment to all ca­nine breeds, as more than 7 mil­lion dogs in the Unit­ed States suf­fer from mi­tral valve dis­ease.

“We want to get rid of the mor­bidi­ties as­so­ci­at­ed with ag­ing, so dogs can be as hap­py and healthy as pos­si­ble through­out their lives,” said Re­ju­ve­nate Bio’s chief tech­nol­o­gy of­fi­cer Noah David­sohn, who is a for­mer Re­search Sci­en­tist at the Wyss In­sti­tute and HMS. David­sohn’s dog, named Bear, serves as Re­ju­ve­nate’s “chief in­spi­ra­tion of­fi­cer.”

Bear David­sohn Re­ju­ve­nate

The first crop of FDA-ap­proved gene ther­a­pies for hu­mans — such as Spark Ther­a­peu­tics’ Lux­tur­na and No­var­tis’ Zol­gens­ma — treat rare dis­eases. If Re­ju­ve­nate’s ther­a­py is found to be safe and ef­fec­tive in dogs, it could open the door to sim­i­lar ther­a­pies for age-re­lat­ed ill­ness­es and in­deed ag­ing in hu­mans, a field that has at­tract­ed an ex­plo­sion of in­ter­est and fund­ing.

Al­though ear­ly, the study in mice showed that these so-called longevi­ty gene ther­a­pies can be com­bined in­to a sin­gle ther­a­peu­tic mix­ture — com­pared to the tra­di­tion­al par­a­digm that dic­tates dif­fer­ent dis­eases ne­ces­si­tate mul­ti­ple in­ter­ven­tions (and ar­guably ac­cu­mu­la­tive ex­po­sure to side-ef­fects), the re­searchers con­clud­ed.

In tan­dem with the ex­cite­ment that came in re­ac­tion to the FDA ap­proval of pi­o­neer­ing hu­man gene-ther­a­pies was the push­back on what some crit­ics call as­tro­nom­i­cal prices.  Zol­gens­ma, for in­stance, is the world’s most ex­pen­sive ther­a­py at $2.1 mil­lion a pop, al­though its mak­er No­var­tis in­sists its cu­ra­tive po­ten­tial and in­stall­ment-based pric­ing makes it worth it. The com­pa­ny has al­so ini­ti­at­ed a con­tro­ver­sial lot­tery scheme to give away 100 dos­es of Zol­gens­ma in coun­tries out­side the Unit­ed States where it is not yet ap­proved.

“I think go­ing for­ward as gene ther­a­py is ap­plied to dis­eases with much high­er preva­lence — you will see the price come down,” Oliv­er said.

Mean­while, the in­ter­est in treat­ing dis­eases in pets — if their hu­man own­ers may be so in­clined — is on the rise, giv­en that 67% of US house­holds, or about 85 mil­lion fam­i­lies, own a pet, ac­cord­ing to the 2019-2020 sur­vey con­duct­ed by the Amer­i­can Pet Prod­ucts As­so­ci­a­tion.

For in­stance, to treat dis­eases like can­cer in dogs — surgery, chemother­a­py, or ra­di­a­tion are ex­ist­ing al­ter­na­tives. But tar­get­ed ther­a­pies are the next fron­tier. A Sil­i­con Val­ley start­up — called the One Health Com­pa­ny — raised $5 mil­lion last month to help fig­ure out which hu­man treat­ments can be re­pur­posed for their ca­nine coun­ter­parts. The com­pa­ny, which likened its tech­nol­o­gy to Foun­da­tion Med­i­cine’s next-gen­er­a­tion se­quenc­ing pan­el in an in­ter­view with STAT, helps se­quence the dog’s tu­mor and gen­er­ates rec­om­men­da­tions for treat­ment.

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In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

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Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

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Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

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The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

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Nkarta CEO Paul Hastings at Endpoints' #BIO22 panel (J.T. MacMillan Photography for Endpoints News)

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In a new update from its Phase I dose escalation study, the South San Francisco-based biotech reported that seven out of 10 patients treated with the highest doses of its NK cell therapy, NKX019, achieved a complete response, translating to a complete response rate of 70%.

Pfiz­er-backed Me­di­ar Ther­a­peu­tics ropes in an­oth­er Big Phar­ma in­vestor

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According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $31,761,186 in its latest funding round, which includes 17 investors. The filing lists six names attached to the company, including Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures and Mediar’s acting CEO.

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The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

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After co-founding two biotechs off virus-based therapies, one for pain and one for cancer, Ken Greenberg decided to go in a different direction for his newest biotech, SonoThera.

Based out of San Francisco, SonoThera announced Monday morning that it raised $60.75 million to develop new gene therapies — but delivered by ultrasound, which Greenberg says can address the major challenges facing more conventional viral gene therapies.

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Sekar Kathiresan, Verve Therapeutics CEO

Verve re­veals let­ter from FDA that lays out con­di­tions to lift base edit­ing tri­al hold

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In an SEC filing, Verve laid out the FDA’s conditions for lifting the hold on its lead therapy, VERVE-101. That includes submitting preclinical data about potency differences in human versus non-human cells, risks of gene editing germline cells, and off-target analyses in non-hepatocyte cell types.

The FDA also wants clinical data from the ongoing Heart-1 trial, and to modify the trial protocol in the US to add additional contraceptive measures and increase the length of a staggering interval between the dosing of participants.