Having sold its corporate self, Tocagen auctions off scientific platform to San Diego biotech
With the dermatitis specialists at Forte Biosciences now inhabiting Tocagen’s corporate skeleton, a small San Diego biotech has won rights to its scientific platform.
Denovo Biopharma, a biotech based in San Diego and backed largely by investors in China, will acquire Tocagen’s retro-viral replicating platform, including their former lead gene therapy for brain cancer. The drug, now rebranded as DB107, failed a Phase III clinical trial last year, but Denovo said they saw promising signs in a subset of patients and will use their biomarker platform to select patients they believe the therapy will work on.
Three years ago, led by ARIAD and Merck vet Marty Duvall, Tocagen and their cancer gene therapy approach looked promising enough to investors that they were able to raise $85 million in an IPO. The idea was to do a two-part strike. Part 1 involved sending a viral vector that would infect cancer cells and deliver a gene for an enzyme — the same strategy other experimental gene therapies take in normal tissue, such as Sarepta-Lysogene’s MPS IIIA treatment. Part 2 involved injecting a prodrug that is converted in an anti-cancer agent in the targeted cells.
It was an intriguing idea, but in September it failed a Phase III trial. Patients in the control arm actually outlived patients in the drug arm by a month. What was left of the company’s stock price disintegrated overnight. In February, Forte Biosciences, a biotech focused on inflammatory skin conditions, bought Tocagen and used it to reverse merge onto the public market.
Denovo Biopharma has built a pipeline of drugs that failed — generally in late-stage trials — at other companies and which they believe can work in a subset of patients. Their lead drug is enzastaurin, a kinase inhibitor that failed a Phase III in diffuse large B cell lymphoma at Eli Lilly in 2013. They also have a schizophrenia drug from Lilly that failed in Phase III — and which Lilly has the rights to repurchase — an acute myeloid leukemia drug from Sunesis, a depression drug from Bristol Myers Squibb and an Alzheimer’s drug from Orion.
The idea is to use genetic data from patient plasma to find new biomarkers. The company was founded in 2012. Crunchbase records them as having raised CN¥300 million, or about $42 million to date.
Social image: Marty Duvall, Tocagen CEO via YouTube