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.

Fangliang Zhang, AP Images

UP­DAT­ED: Leg­end fetch­es $424 mil­lion, emerges as biggest win­ner yet in pan­dem­ic IPO boom as shares soar

Amid a flurry of splashy pandemic IPOs, a J&J-partnered Chinese biotech has emerged with one of the largest public raises in biotech history.

Legend Biotech, the Nanjing-based CAR-T developer, has raised $424 million on NASDAQ. The biotech had originally filed for a still-hefty $350 million, based on a range of $18-$20, but managed to fetch $23 per share, allowing them to well-eclipse the massive raises from companies like Allogene, Juno, Galapagos, though they’ll still fall a few dollars short of Moderna’s record-setting $600 million raise from 2018.

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As it hap­pened: A bid­ding war for an an­tibi­ot­ic mak­er in a mar­ket that has rav­aged its peers

In a bewildering twist to the long-suffering market for antibiotics — there has actually been a bidding war for an antibiotic company: Tetraphase.

It all started back in March, when the maker of Xerava (an FDA approved therapy for complicated intra-abdominal infections) said it had received an offer from AcelRx for an all-stock deal valued at $14.4 million.

The offer was well-timed. Xerava was approved in 2018, four years after Tetraphase posted its first batch of pivotal trial data, and sales were nowhere near where they needed to be in order for the company to keep its head above water.

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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Bris­tol My­ers is clean­ing up the post-Cel­gene merg­er pipeline, and they’re sweep­ing out an ex­per­i­men­tal check­point in the process

Back during the lead up to the $74 billion buyout of Celgene, the big biotech’s leadership did a little housecleaning with a major pact it had forged with Jounce. Out went the $2.6 billion deal and a collaboration on ICOS and PD-1.

Celgene, though, also added a $530 million deal — $50 million up front — to get the worldwide rights to JTX-8064, a drug that targets the LILRB2 receptor on macrophages.

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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.

Drug man­u­fac­tur­ing gi­ant Lon­za taps Roche/phar­ma ‘rein­ven­tion’ vet as its new CEO

Lonza chairman Albert Baehny took his time headhunting a new CEO for the company, making it absolutely clear he wanted a Big Pharma or biotech CEO with a good long track record in the business for the top spot. In the end, he went with the gold standard, turning to Roche’s ranks to recruit Pierre-Alain Ruffieux for the job.

Ruffieux, a member of the pharma leadership team at Roche, spent close to 5 years at the company. But like a small army of manufacturing execs, he gained much of his experience at the other Big Pharma in Basel, remaining at Novartis for 12 years before expanding his horizons.

Covid-19 roundup: Ab­b­Vie jumps in­to Covid-19 an­ti­body hunt; As­traZeneca shoots for 2B dos­es of Ox­ford vac­cine — with $750M from CEPI, Gavi

Another Big Pharma is entering the Covid-19 antibody hunt.

AbbVie has announced a collaboration with the Netherlands’ Utrecht University and Erasmus Medical Center and the Chinese-Dutch biotech Harbour Biomed to develop a neutralizing antibody that can treat Covid-19. The antibody, called 47D11, was discovered by AbbVie’s three partners, and AbbVie will support early preclinical work, while preparing for later preclinical and clinical development. Researchers described the antibody in Nature Communications last month.

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.