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.

UP­DAT­ED: Mer­ck pulls Keytru­da in SCLC af­ter ac­cel­er­at­ed nod. Is the FDA get­ting tough on drug­mak­ers that don't hit their marks?

In what could be an early shot in the battle against drugmakers that whiff on confirmatory studies to support accelerated approvals, the FDA ordered Bristol Myers Squibb late last year to give up Opdivo’s approval in SCLC. Now, Merck is next on the firing line — are we seeing the FDA buckling down on post-marketing offenders?

Merck has withdrawn its marketing approval for PD-(L)1 inhibitor Keytruda in metastatic small cell lung cancer as part of what it describes as an “industry-wide evaluation” by the FDA of drugs that do not meet the post-marketing checkpoints on which their accelerated nods were based, the company said Monday.

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Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (AP Images)

Pas­cal So­ri­ot cash­es in As­traZeneca’s chips on Mod­er­na for $1.2B cash in­jec­tion

While still working to prove its own Covid-19 vaccine, AstraZeneca has reportedly capitalized on the success of another.

The company has sold off its 7.7% stake in Moderna and turned it into $1.2 billion in cash, according to the Times, beefing up the reserves just as Pascal Soriot is wrapping up his $39 billion acquisition of Alexion and its rare disease pipeline.

AstraZeneca’s stock sale follows a similar move by Merck in December. But like its pharma brethren, the British giant is keeping its R&D collaborations with Moderna.

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Or­biMed, bio­phar­ma's biggest in­vestor, clos­es $3.5B in three new pri­vate funds

One of the world’s leading biopharma investors has pulled in its next rounds of cash, with the funds planned to go to dozens of companies around the world.

OrbiMed raised $3.5 billion across three private investment funds, it announced Monday, as it continues building on its long track record in healthcare and biopharma. All in all, the firm expects to invest in at least 60 companies across the US, Asia and Europe.

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UP­DAT­ED: Biotech's shares rout­ed af­ter the FDA de­mands new tri­al, rais­es safe­ty and end­point is­sues in sur­prise CRL

A small biotech that’s been laboring long and hard on an oral chemo program for metastatic breast cancer was slammed hard on Monday morning, losing more than half of its market cap after revealing that the FDA had issued a surprise CRL with some harsh new hurdles in place.

Athenex $ATNX says that regulators stiff-armed its application for oral paclitaxel and encequidar — a marked setback after winning a priority review earlier that should have signified a more positive regulatory frame of mind. And Athenex was clear that any comeback for this program is going to face a high bar at the FDA.

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Stefan Oschmann, Merck KGaA CEO (Sipa USA via AP Images)

Mer­ck KGaA ear­marks $855M for De­bio­phar­m's pro­grammed cell death pro­mot­ing drug in glob­al li­cens­ing deal

Merck KGaA, primarily known for its CDMO work, is playing with giants in oncology and looking at novel mechanisms of action to compete. Now, the German player is placing a big down payment on a late-stage candidate looking to stop tumor cells’ ability to stave off programmed death.

Merck KGaA will dole out $226 million upfront and up to $855 million in future milestones and royalty payments for exclusive rights to Debiopharm’s IAP candidate xevinapant, which recently emerged from Phase II in first-line, non-metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck, the German firm said Monday.

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UP­DAT­ED: Feds clear the road for J&J to start de­liv­er­ing mil­lions of dos­es of their Covid-19 vac­cine — but frets linger about run­ner-up sta­tus

All the pieces needed to trigger a third wave of Covid-19 vaccine supply to start washing over the US fell neatly into place over the weekend.

After providing for a brief mime of regulatory judiciousness, the FDA stamped their emergency approval on J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine Saturday, adding to the Biden administration’s plan aimed at ending the pandemic in the near term — at least in the US. The CDC came through on Sunday with its stamp of approval and J&J is reportedly expected to start delivering vaccine sometime in the next few days.

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The fu­ture of mR­NA, J&J's vac­cine ad­comm, Mer­ck­'s $1.85B au­toim­mune bet and more

Welcome to the third installment of Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

If this report was helpful in recapping it all for you, please do share it with your colleagues.

Get ready for FDA’s third Covid-19 vaccine

On the heels of a ringing endorsement from FDA reviewers earlier in the week, J&J‘s single-dose vaccine — which proved 66% effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and 85% effective at stopping severe disease 28 days after administration — the advisory committee convened by the agency voted unanimously to recommend its emergency use authorization. It was “a relatively easy call,” according to one of the committee members — although that doesn’t mean they didn’t have questions. Jason Mast has the highlights from the discussion, including new information from the company, on this live blog.

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Roivant par­lays a $450M chunk of eq­ui­ty in biotech buy­out, grab­bing a com­pu­ta­tion­al group to dri­ve dis­cov­ery work

New Roivant CEO Matt Gline has crafted an all-equity upfront deal to buy out a Boston-based biotech that has been toiling for several years now at building a supercomputing-based computational platform to design new drugs. And he’s adding it to the Erector set of science operations that are being built up to support their network of biotech subsidiaries with an eye to growing the pipeline in a play to create a new kind of pharma company.

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CEO James Rosen (Artizan)

Pre­ci­sion in­flam­ma­tion drugs? Yale spin­out Ar­ti­zan clinch­es $11M and Bio­haven deal to sin­gle out bad bac­te­ria

As a Yale spinout based in New Haven, Artizan Biosciences was pretty familiar with Biohaven — a successful neuro-focused drug developer and “shining star,” as Artizan CEO James Rosen puts it, in the burgeoning biotech community there.

But when a board director and an investor tried connecting the two, they were in for a surprise.

“Unbeknownst to Artizan, Biohaven had been doing a landscaping exercise surveying microbiome companies with whom to partner for CNS disorders,” Rosen told Endpoints News, “and lo and behold, they found Artizan right in their backyard.”