Jonathan Montagu and Gerry Harriman (HotSpot)

HotSpot an­nounces $65M Se­ries B, as Nim­bus pi­o­neers look to keep up in a crowd­ing field

In the decade since Nim­bus Ther­a­peu­tics built a com­pa­ny around com­pu­ta­tion and lit­tle-known phe­nom­e­na like al­losteric reg­u­la­tion, the in­dus­try has brimmed with al­go­rithm com­pa­nies and even a few chas­ing those same tar­gets. Still, a cou­ple of the old lead­ers think they can keep an edge.

“We’re very proud to have pi­o­neered the field,” Ger­ry Har­ri­man told End­points News. “And we’re al­so very proud to say our port­fo­lio is full of tar­gets that have al­losteric in­hibitors re­al­ly for the first time that has ever been de­scribed.”

Har­ri­man led Nim­bus’s ACC pro­gram — the part that sold to Gilead for up-to $1.2 bil­lion — be­fore she and for­mer Nim­bus CBO Jonathan Mon­tagu found­ed HotSpot Ther­a­peu­tics 3 years ago. The idea was to take the same prin­ci­ples and tech­nol­o­gy that led to the Gilead-li­censed drugs and un­leash it on a suite of dis­eases.

To­day Har­ri­man and Mon­tagu say they’ve de­vel­oped a long list of tar­gets, in­clud­ing two lead pro­grams in au­toim­mune dis­or­ders and rare meta­bol­ic dis­eases. They’ve al­so se­cured $65 mil­lion to bring them for­ward, in a Se­ries B round led by SR One, Lim­it­ed. And more news could be com­ing soon.

“We’ve got a num­ber of quite ad­vanced dis­cus­sions with Phar­ma,” Mon­tagu told End­points.

In the four years since Nim­bus sold its ACC pro­gram, Gilead’s NASH pro­gram has strug­gled, al­though the Nim­bus drug re­mains in de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing Phase II tri­al. In­ter­est in al­lostery has on­ly grown in the last half decade. Black Di­a­mond Ther­a­peu­tics jumped in a lit­tle over a year ago from a stealth mode to a bil­lion-dol­lar com­pa­ny with a $200 mil­lion IPO on its plat­form of al­losteric can­cer drugs.

These al­losteric sites are some­times known as hotspots (hence the biotech name), nodes that the body us­es for its own in­ter­nal mech­a­nism of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and reg­u­la­tion. These nodes can be dif­fi­cult to find, much less tar­get, but they hold sig­nif­i­cant po­ten­tial as drug tar­gets, both be­cause they are a “nat­ur­al” lo­cus of ac­tiv­i­ty and be­cause they of­fer a way to drug pro­teins that lack the easy grooves.

“Po­ten­cy, se­lec­tive­ly, drug-like prop­er­ties are the re­al ad­van­tages of this ap­proach,” Mon­tagu said. “And for those tar­gets that don’t have ac­tive sites, it’s re­al­ly the on­ly way to build a first-in-class [drug].”

HotSpot is built around their com­put­er plat­form that us­es a slew of dif­fer­ent al­go­rithms to search for these al­losteric sites. They go af­ter pro­teins that ge­net­ics have shown dri­ve dis­ease. They start with the pro­tein struc­ture — of a ki­nase — and then build evo­lu­tion­ary maps that, with ma­chine learn­ing, al­low you to scout out the com­mon reg­u­la­to­ry spots.

“We knew that a pri­ori that not one sin­gle tech­nol­o­gy would al­low us to a sys­tem­at­ic un­cov­er­ing of reg­u­la­to­ry hotspots,” Har­ri­man said. “So we put about a dozen dif­fer­ent al­go­rithms to­geth­er that helps us to find the reg­u­la­to­ry hotspots, de­ter­mine if they’re drug­gable, un­der­stand the struc­ture func­tion, un­veil these mol­e­c­u­lar fin­ger­prints of fin­ger­tips.”

HotSpot will now look to get clin­i­cal da­ta on two drugs by 2022. One is an al­losteric in­hibitor of PKC-theta, an en­zyme phar­ma com­pa­nies have with more con­ven­tion­al in­hibitors, to lit­tle suc­cess. HotSpot will test it in au­to-im­mune dis­eases dri­ven by reg­u­la­to­ry T cells and Th2 cells. The sec­ond is an in­hibitor for S6 ki­nase, an en­zyme that’s been stud­ied as a treat­ment for obe­si­ty and that Hot­pot will test on rare meta­bol­ic dis­eases.

But those, Mon­tagu said, are on­ly the first cou­ple drugs they’re bring­ing for­ward in-house. The com­pa­ny is al­so work­ing on drug­ging tran­scrip­tion fac­tors, the DNA-reg­u­lat­ing pro­teins that play a cru­cial role in a host of dis­eases but have been dif­fi­cult to drug be­cause they lack easy grooves in­to which you could sneak a small mol­e­cule. That pro­gram has gen­er­at­ed in­ter­est from Phar­ma, Mon­tagu said, as have some of their im­muno-on­col­o­gy find­ings.

”Even big com­pa­nies find im­muno-on­col­o­gy chal­leng­ing,” he said. “So we’d like to part­ner the I/O as­sets and ad­dress our­selves in the im­munol­o­gy space.”

Cor­rec­tion: The sto­ry has been up­dat­ed to cor­rect the sta­tus of the Gilead’s ACC drug.

Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock to be act­ing FDA com­mis­sion­er while Biden team fi­nal­izes nom­i­nee — re­ports

Janet Woodcock is set to be the most powerful person at the FDA in less than a week.

The veteran regulator and longtime director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research has been tapped as acting commissioner of the FDA, according to reports by BioCentury’s Steve Usdin and Pink Sheet’s Sarah Karlin-Smith.

The appointment was requested by the incoming Biden team, Karlin-Smith added, as they sort out the nomination of a permanent successor to Stephen Hahn — whose one-year tenure has been defined by Covid-19.

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Janet Woodcock (AP Images)

Janet Wood­cock is in the run­ning for FDA com­mis­sion­er — what does that mean for the agen­cy's fu­ture?

Just a day after reports emerged that Janet Woodcock will serve as interim chief of the FDA, word has gotten out that she is also in the running for the permanent job.

The decision, as the initial wave of reactions suggest, could have dramatic implications for where the agency is headed in the next four years — if not beyond.

Woodcock, the longtime CDER director, is being vetted alongside former FDA principal deputy commissioner Joshua Sharfstein, Bloomberg reported. Already tapped as acting head of the agency, she’s set to take over from Stephen Hahn right after Biden’s inauguration next week.

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CEO Brett Monia (Ionis)

Can Brett Mo­nia push Io­n­is be­yond Spin­raza?

For 30 years, Brett Monia struggled as one of Ionis’ top scientists to get their antisense technology to work. Now, as CEO, he’s trying to use it to turn Ionis into one of the industry’s biggest biotechs.

Monia, one of the handful of young scientists who in 1989 followed Stanley Crooke across the country from SmithKline (now GSK) in Philadelphia to found Ionis in Northern California, replaced Crooke as CEO last January. By then, they had proven antisense, an RNA-based method for manipulating gene expression, could work dramatically well in at least some instances, transforming spinal muscular atrophy with the Biogen-partnered blockbuster Spinraza.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

Paint­ing by the num­bers, Sana founders carve up a gi­ant uni­corn-sized IPO — for a biotech that has­n't quite made it to the clin­ic

Sana Biotechnology is one of those startups that was sketched in on the chalkboard day one in the shape of a unicorn.

A giant unicorn.

And from the numbers the cell therapy 2.0 play spelled out in their S-1 $SANA, it’s clear that the company founders — led by a pair of major VCs aligned with some high-profile industry figures — are hunting a big chunk of that value for themselves.

The raise they penciled in — $150 million — isn’t likely what they actually have in mind, and it doesn’t do justice to the size of their ambitions.

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Terry Rosen, Arcus CEO

Gilead part­ner Ar­cus earns an­a­lyst­s' plau­dits for ear­ly pan­cre­at­ic can­cer da­ta that 'ex­ceed­ed ex­pec­ta­tion­s'

Arcus’ small molecule CD73 inhibitor for pancreatic cancer got a standing ovation from analysts who said preliminary data “exceeded expectations”— making waves in a field that’s seen little progress in several years and proving the candidate could be worth the hundreds of millions Gilead provided upfront in a deal that included more than a billion dollars for opt-in rights and milestones.

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David Kessler in April 2009 (Eric Risberg/AP Images)

Covid-19 roundup: Hack­ers start re­leas­ing 'ma­nip­u­lat­ed' Covid-19 vac­cine docs; Ex-FDA com­mish David Kessler to re­place Mon­cef Slaoui as Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed chief — re­port

There’s a new twist on the EMA Covid-19 hacking story.

Friday the European agency put out the 5th in a series of statements about the hackers who broke into their system, noting that some of the information on vaccines that was gleaned in the attack is showing up online — altered to raise questions about the Covid-19 vaccines now in use.

This included internal/confidential email correspondence dating from November, relating to evaluation processes for COVID-19 vaccines. Some of the correspondence has been manipulated by the perpetrators prior to publication in a way which could undermine trust in vaccines.

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With KRAS break­through on the hori­zon, Am­gen's David Reese re­flects on so­tora­si­b's loom­ing re­view date and murky fu­ture

After decades of failures laid waste to R&D outfits looking to solve the KRAS G12C puzzle, Amgen is as close as anyone ever has been to an approval with sotorasib. For Amgen R&D head David Reese, the drug’s looming review date is a point of reflection for his own career and a big milestone for Amgen’s blooming — if controversial — next-gen oncology pipeline.

Amgen filed its FDA application for sotorasib in December to treat metastatic non-small cell lung cancer with the KRAS mutation — once thought to be “undruggable” — months after the agency offered its breakthrough designation based on pivotal Phase I data showing previously unheard of response rates.

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News brief­ing: Five Prime fi­nal­izes PhI­II plans for gas­tric can­cer; AI di­ag­nos­tics-fo­cused Paige ex­pands staff

Five Prime Therapeutics has finalized a plan to take their comeback gastric cancer drug into late-stage studies.

The South San Francisco-based biotech released full Phase II data for bemarituzumab on Friday, which Five Prime said in November met all of its pre-specified efficacy endpoints in a topline readout. Now, the company is announcing it plans to launch a Phase III trial for the program in 2021. Following November’s readout, the future of bemarituzumab had not yet been finalized.

Peter Thiel, Getty (Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg)

Pe­ter Thiel's psy­che­delics-fo­cused ATAI ac­quires ma­jor­i­ty stake in Recog­ni­fy and its lead schiz­o­phre­nia can­di­date

Billionaire Peter Thiel has made significant and sometimes controversial pushes into life sciences over the past few years, and one of his startups out of Berlin has made a new acquisition less than two months after achieving unicorn status.

ATAI Life Sciences purchased a majority stake Tuesday in Recognify Life Sciences, a company focused on developing treatments for cognitive impairment associated with schizophrenia. The financial terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, but the acquisition follows up a $125 million Series C in November co-led by Thiel, leading to a post-money valuation of about $1 billion for ATAI.