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.

BiTE® Plat­form and the Evo­lu­tion To­ward Off-The-Shelf Im­muno-On­col­o­gy Ap­proach­es

Despite rapid advances in the field of immuno-oncology that have transformed the cancer treatment landscape, many cancer patients are still left behind.1,2 Not every person has access to innovative therapies designed specifically to treat his or her disease. Many currently available immuno-oncology-based approaches and chemotherapies have brought long-term benefits to some patients — but many patients still need other therapeutic options.3

Is a pow­er­house Mer­ck team prepar­ing to leap past Roche — and leave Gilead and Bris­tol My­ers be­hind — in the race to TIG­IT dom­i­na­tion?

Roche caused quite a stir at ASCO with its first look at some positive — but not so impressive — data for their combination of Tecentriq with their anti-TIGIT drug tiragolumab. But some analysts believe that Merck is positioned to make a bid — soon — for the lead in the race to a second-wave combo immuno-oncology approach with its own ambitious early-stage program tied to a dominant Keytruda.

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President Donald Trump (left) and Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed (Alex Brandon, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: White House names fi­nal­ists for Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed — with 5 ex­pect­ed names and one no­table omis­sion

A month after word first broke of the Trump Administration’s plan to rapidly accelerate the development and production of a Covid-19 vaccine, the White House has selected the five vaccine candidates they consider most likely to succeed, The New York Times reported.

Most of the names in the plan, known as Operation Warp Speed, will come as little surprise to those who have watched the last four months of vaccine developments: Moderna, which was the first vaccine to reach humans and is now the furthest along of any US effort; J&J, which has not gone into trials but received around $500 million in funding from BARDA earlier this year; the joint AstraZeneca-Oxford venture which was granted $1.2 billion from BARDA two weeks ago; Pfizer, which has been working with the mRNA biotech BioNTech; and Merck, which just entered the race and expects to put their two vaccine candidates into humans later this year.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO (Athira)

Can a small biotech suc­cess­ful­ly tack­le an Ever­est climb like Alzheimer’s? Athi­ra has $85M and some in­flu­en­tial back­ers ready to give it a shot

There haven’t been a lot of big venture rounds for biotech companies looking to run a Phase II study in Alzheimer’s.

The field has been a disaster over the past decade. Amyloid didn’t pan out as a target — going down in a litany of Phase III failures — and is now making its last stand at Biogen. Tau is a comer, but when you look around and all you see is destruction, the idea of backing a startup trying to find complex cocktails to swing the course of this devilishly complicated memory-wasting disease would daunt the pluckiest investors.

GSK presents case to ex­pand use of its lu­pus drug in pa­tients with kid­ney dis­ease, but the field is evolv­ing. How long will the mo­nop­oly last?

In 2011, GlaxoSmithKline’s Benlysta became the first biologic to win approval for lupus patients. Nine years on, the British drugmaker has unveiled detailed positive results from a study testing the drug in lupus patients with associated kidney disease — a post-marketing requirement from the initial FDA approval.

Lupus is a drug developer’s nightmare. In the last six decades, there has been just one FDA approval (Benlysta), with the field resembling a graveyard in recent years with a string of failures including UCB and Biogen’s late-stage flop, as well as defeats in Xencor and Sanofi’s programs. One of the main reasons the success has eluded researchers is because lupus, akin to cancer, is not just one disease — it really is a disease of many diseases, noted Al Roy, executive director of Lupus Clinical Investigators Network, an initiative of New York-based Lupus Research Alliance that claims it is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, in an interview.

UP­DAT­ED: Es­ti­mat­ing a US price tag of $5K per course, remde­sivir is set to make bil­lions for Gilead, says key an­a­lyst

Data on remdesivir — the first drug shown to benefit Covid-19 patients in a randomized, controlled trial setting — may be murky, but its maker Gilead could reap billions from the sales of the failed Ebola therapy, according to an estimate by a prominent Wall Street analyst. However, the forecast, which is based on a $5,000-per-course US price tag, triggered the ire of one top drug price expert.

FDA de­lays de­ci­sion on No­var­tis’ po­ten­tial block­buster MS drug, wip­ing away pri­or­i­ty re­view

So much for a speedy review.

In February, Novartis announced that an application for their much-touted multiple sclerosis drug ofatumumab had been accepted and, with the drug company cashing in on one of their priority review vouchers, the agency was due for a decision by June.

But with June less than 48 hours old, Novartis announced the agency has extended their review, pushing back the timeline for approval or rejection to September. The Swiss pharma filed the application in December, meaning their new schedule will be nearly in line with the standard 10-month window period had they not used the priority voucher.

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Gilead bol­sters its case for block­buster hope­ful fil­go­tinib as FDA pon­ders its de­ci­sion

Before remdesivir soaked up the spotlight amid the coronavirus crisis, Gilead’s filgotinib was the star experimental drug tapped to rake in billions competing with other JAK inhibitors made by rivals including AbbVie and Eli Lilly.

Now, long term data on the drug — discovered by Gilead’s partners at Galapagos and posted as part of a virtual medical conference — have solidified the durability and safety of filgotinib in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, spanning data from three late-stage trials. An FDA decision on the drug is expected this year.

Covid-19 roundup: Mod­er­na read­ies to en­ter PhI­II in Ju­ly, As­traZeneca not far be­hind; EU ready to ne­go­ti­ate vac­cine ac­cess with $2.7B fund

Moderna may soon add another first to the Covid-19 vaccine race.

In March, the mRNA biotech was the first company to put a Covid-19 vaccine into humans. Next month, they may become the first company to put their vaccine into the large, late-stage trials that are needed to prove whether the vaccine is effective.

In an interview with JAMA editor Howard Bauchner, NIAID chief Anthony Fauci said that a 30,000-person, Phase III trial for Moderna’s vaccine could start in July. The news comes a week after Moderna began a Phase II study that will enroll several hundred people.

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