Lit­tle Tetra is prep­ping a PhII Alzheimer’s study. In fact, they just got $40M to fund it

Af­ter all the no­to­ri­ous late-stage fail­ures in Alzheimer’s over the past year, you could say it’s con­sid­er­ably hard­er to win peo­ple over to a new mech­a­nism of ac­tion for the mem­o­ry-wast­ing plague.

But Mark Gur­ney isn’t let­ting a lit­tle neg­a­tiv­i­ty stop him now.

The CEO of Tetra Dis­cov­ery Part­ners in Grand Rapids, MI, be­lieves he and his 11-mem­ber team can ac­com­plish what the ma­jor league play­ers with far big­ger op­er­a­tions and a whole lot more mon­ey have failed at. And to­day he has an ex­tra $40 mil­lion in hard cash to help pay for the mid-stage tri­al that’s need­ed to help prove whether it works in pa­tients.

Sh­iono­gi is hand­ing over a very mod­est $5 mil­lion up­front and a more sub­stan­tial $35 mil­lion for an eq­ui­ty stake in Tetra in ex­change for a re­gion­al set of Asian rights to BPN14770, a PDE4D al­losteric in­hibitor for Alzheimer’s and Frag­ile X dis­ease. Aside from their shot at an his­toric break­through against some of the tough­est odds in R&D, Sh­iono­gi — which has a long­stand­ing in­ter­est in neu­ronal R&D — is al­so on the hook for $120 mil­lion in mile­stones plus roy­al­ties.


“This is a non-amy­loid mech­a­nism, not pre­vi­ous­ly ex­plored in hu­mans,” Gur­ney tells me ear­ly on in our con­ver­sa­tion, putting some quick dis­tance be­tween his work and the land­mark fail­ures that have cast doubt on the amy­loid the­o­ry.

The work is based on ob­ser­va­tions of cog­ni­tive re­silience in pa­tients who have clas­sic bio­mark­ers for the dis­ease — amy­loid and tau — with­out demon­strat­ing any symp­toms. 

By se­lec­tive­ly in­hibit­ing PDE4D — which falls un­der a well-known mech­a­nism of ac­tion — Tetra will set out to prove in a loom­ing Phase II that their ap­proach can bol­ster neu­ronal con­nec­tions, pro­tect­ing them from dam­age and im­prov­ing the prospects of ear­ly-stage pa­tients.

Gur­ney be­lieves their drug can im­prove symp­toms of the dis­ease over a 3-month span, but even a sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ment in the de­cline of pa­tients — or as much as a flatlin­ing on de­te­ri­o­ra­tion — would be greet­ed with con­sid­er­able en­thu­si­asm.

He got here with an aw­ful lot of help from grants and con­tracts with the NIH, which pro­vid­ed the li­on’s share of the $30 mil­lion they’ve need­ed so far. There was al­so $7.3 mil­lion in A-round cash by late 2016 from Apjohn Group, Grand An­gels, Dol­by Fam­i­ly Ven­tures and the Alzheimer’s Drug Dis­cov­ery Foun­da­tion.

Gur­ney was en­gaged ear­ly in the dis­cov­ery of be­ta-sec­re­tase, a field in amy­loid re­search that in­spired huge in­vest­ments and colos­sal fail­ures. He al­so was a se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor at de­CODE. Scott Reines, the CMO, has held se­nior posts in neu­ro­sciences R&D at J&J and Mer­ck.

There are PDE4s on the mar­ket as an­ti-in­flam­ma­to­ries, of course, car­ry­ing no­table names like apre­mal­ist. But the broad­band in­hi­bi­tion of PDE4 has al­so been linked with tox­i­c­i­ty. Tetra’s goal was to find a more se­lec­tive ap­proach in neu­ro­sciences — where in­flam­ma­tion it­self is a grow­ing tar­get — while al­so re­serv­ing a sep­a­rate pro­gram (PDE4B)that is specif­i­cal­ly a next-gen ap­proach to mega-block­buster in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­eases like pso­ri­a­sis.

That’s al­so no easy task.

We’ve been here with oth­er new drugs of course, many times; wait­ing it out through a mid-stage or piv­otal study to demon­strate whether a 5HT6 can guard cog­ni­tion — on­ly to watch one pro­gram af­ter an­oth­er go down in flames un­til the tar­get it­self is wiped off the R&D map. Ax­o­vant’s crown­ing fail­ure af­ter re­peat­ed ex­pres­sions of op­ti­mism like­ly put the ki­bosh on that one.

Gur­ney is used to be­ing greet­ed with skep­ti­cism. That goes with the ter­ri­to­ry for any­one work­ing in Alzheimer’s R&D to­day.

Now that he has the deal he need­ed to do the Alzheimer’s study, which will fol­low a crit­i­cal Phase II in Frag­ile X, he can en­dure the head­winds bet­ter. Af­ter­wards, if he’s proved right, there should be no prob­lem find­ing a part­ner for a piv­otal tri­al in Azheimer’s. Frag­ile X is the kind of rare in­di­ca­tion they can go it alone on. 

But the lit­tle team has some very big hur­dles to clear first.

Ven­ture Cap­i­tal as a Strate­gic Part­ner: Fu­el­ing In­no­va­tion be­yond Fi­nance

The average level of investment required for a biotech start-up to succeed is increasing every year, elevating the pressure even further on venture capital to make smart financial investments. Financial investment alone, however, does not always guarantee that exciting innovations can be transformed into real businesses that make a meaningful difference to patients.

Beyond just capital

At Astellas Venture Management (AVM) – a wholly-owned venture capital organization within Astellas, headquartered in the San Francisco Bay Area – capital is just one of the ingredients we offer to add value to our biotechnology investments and partnerships. We generally take a strategic investor approach for companies in our invested portfolio, providing access to expertise, technology and/or resources in addition to the injection of finance. An equity investment from AVM can include access to Astellas’ research and development (R&D) capabilities and expertise, and a global network of partner academic institutions and biotechnology companies, to help advance and accelerate the start-up’s innovation.

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex joins Mer­ck, Pfiz­er — re­vamp­ing multi­bil­lion-dol­lar tri­al strat­e­gy as biotech R&D crum­bles

You can add Pfizer, Merck and — as we found out Friday morning — Vertex to the growing list of pharma giants hitting the pause button on a range of clinical trials. But not everyone in R&D is getting a red light.

Vertex says that it’s doing its best to keep working its pipeline strategy, coming up with a plan “to enable virtual clinic visits and home delivery of study drug to ensure study continuity and medical monitoring, and to facilitate study procedures.”

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Covid-19 roundup: In­ter­cept, blue­bird and a grow­ing list of biotechs feel the pain as pan­dem­ic man­gles FDA, R&D sched­ules

Around 100 staffers at Boston area hospitals have now tested positive for Covid-19, spotlighting the growing risk that the pandemic will sideline many of the most essential workers in healthcare as caseloads peak in the US and around the globe. With more than 3,400 deaths, Spain has become the latest country to surpass the official death count attributed to the new coronavirus in China, where the outbreak originated. As of Thursday morning, confirmed global cases had crossed 470,000 and the death count eclipsed 21,000.

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Af­ter crit­ics lam­bast­ed Gilead for grab­bing the FDA's spe­cial rare drug sta­tus on remde­sivir, they're giv­ing it back

Two days after Gilead won orphan drug status for remdesivir as a potential treatment for Covid-19, they’re handing it back.

The company was slammed from several sides after Gilead reported that the FDA had come through with the special status, which comes with 7 years of market exclusivity, the waiver of FDA fees and some tax credits as well. Typically, everyone who can get orphan status lands it without much of a fuss, but Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, Public Citizen and other consumer groups were outraged.

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Mod­er­na CEO Stéphane Ban­cel out­lines a short path for emer­gency use of a coro­n­avirus vac­cine

NIAID director Anthony Fauci has left no doubts that it takes 12 to 18 months to get a new vaccine tested and in commercial use, in the best of circumstances. But in times of a global emergency — like these — maybe there’s another, faster route to follow.

In an SEC filing on Tuesday, Moderna $MRNA staked out a record-setting pathway to getting their mRNA vaccine into the frontline of the healthcare response as early as this fall. The SEC filing notes that CEO Stéphane Bancel told Goldman Sachs that an emergency use approval could allow the vaccine to go to healthcare workers and certain individuals in a matter of months — presumably provided the NIH sees the safety and efficacy data they would need from the Phase I.

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Caught in a Covid-19 mael­strom, Eli Lil­ly locks down clin­i­cal tri­als as multi­bil­lion-dol­lar R&D ops de­rail

The Covid-19 pandemic has derailed Eli Lilly’s $6 billion R&D operations.

The pharma giant reported Monday morning that it has decided to hit the brakes on most new study starts and pause enrollment for most ongoing studies. Lilly adds that it is continuing dosing for ongoing studies, “but with study-by-study consideration.”

The pandemic has severely disrupted healthcare systems around the globe, says Lilly, making it difficult or impossible to conduct studies at many research sites. And there’s no timeline for when it expects to get back on track.

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As share buy­backs come un­der scruti­ny, what's in store for the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try?

Stock buybacks are not to be permitted for companies that will be bailed out in the coronavirus stimulus package, Congressional leaders have signaled. To what degree the biopharma industry has relied on buybacks for earnings growth in recent years, and if the trend continues, are the big questions as scrutiny into the practice heightens and balance sheets weaken with the coronavirus pandemic wreaking havoc on global economies.

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A Sin­ga­pore VC rais­es $200M for a new round, but will Covid-19 pre­vent it from rais­ing the rest?

A top Singaporean biotech venture fund is nearly halfway toward its largest ever fund, but in a sign of what could be in store for VCs amid a global economic freeze, said they could face headwinds raising the other half.

Vickers Venture Partners has secured $200 million out of a targeted $500 million for its 6th fund, first announced in early 2018. They’ve given themselves 13 months to complete the financing, Vickers founder Finian Tan told Deal Street Asia, but the financial frost settling amid the Covid-19 pandemic could slow efforts.

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Strug­gling Unum ex­ecs are ready to con­sid­er a sale, merg­er or any deal that comes its way

Unum $UMRX is working its way through a survival plan of sorts.

After getting hit with a trio of FDA holds in its brief public history and triggering its second pivot to a new lead drug program while laying off 60% of the staff, the troubled penny stock biotech Unum Therapeutics has hatched new plans to secure financial backing while lining up a go-forward strategy for the company.

First, Lincoln Park Capital Fund has agreed to buy up to $25 million of the long-suffering stock, as Unum directs. And the executive team — led by CEO Chuck Wilson — has put everything on the table for consideration: a sale, acquisition, merger, licensing deal, you name it. The ACTR707 program, meanwhile, is being formally wrapped up — their second failed lead program.