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.

Part club, part guide, part land­lord: Arie Bellde­grun is blue­print­ing a string of be­spoke biotech com­plex­es in glob­al boom­towns — start­ing with Boston

The biotech industry is getting a landlord, unlike anything it’s ever known before.

Inspired by his recent experiences scrounging for space in Boston and the Bay Area, master biotech builder, investor, and global dealmaker Arie Belldegrun has organized a new venture to build a new, 250,000 square foot biopharma building in Boston’s Seaport district — home to Vertex and a number of up-and-coming biotech players.

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Novotech CRO Ex­pands Chi­na Team as Biotech De­mand for Clin­i­cal Tri­als In­creas­es up to 79%

An increase in demand of up to 79% for clinical trials in China has prompted Novotech the Asia-Pacific CRO to rapidly expand the China team, appointing expert local clinical executives to their Shanghai and Hong Kong offices. The company is planning to expand their team by 30% over the next quarter.

Novotech China has seen considerable demand recently which is borne out by research from GlobalData:
A global migration of clinical research is occurring from high-income countries to low and middle-income countries with emerging economies. Over the period 2017 to 2018, for example, the number of clinical trial sites opened by biotech companies in Asia-Pacific increased by 35% compared to 8% in the rest of the world, with growth as high as 79% in China.
Novotech CEO Dr John Moller said China offers the largest population in the world, rapid economic growth, and an increasing willingness by government to invest in research and development.
Novotech’s 23 years of experience working in the region means we are the ideal CRO partner for USA biotechs wanting to tap the research expertise and opportunities that China offers.
There are over 22,000 active investigators in Greater China, with about 5,000 investigators with experience on at least 3 studies (source GlobalData).

UP­DAT­ED: With loom­ing ‘apoc­a­lypse of drug re­sis­tance,’ Mer­ck’s com­bi­na­tion an­tibi­ot­ic scores FDA ap­proval on two fronts

Merck — one of the last large biopharmaceuticals companies in the beleaguered field of antibiotic drug development — on Wednesday said the FDA had sanctioned the approval of its combination antibacterial for the treatment of complicated urinary tract and intra-abdominal infections.

To curb the rise of drug-resistant bacteria and maintain the efficacy of the therapy, Recarbrio (and other antibacterials) — the drug must be used to treat or prevent infections that are proven or strongly suspected to be caused by susceptible gram-negative bacteria, Merck $MRK said.

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John McHutchison in 2012. Getty Images

The $1.1M good­bye: Gilead CSO John McHutchi­son is out as Daniel O’Day shakes up the se­nior team

Just a little more than a year after John McHutchison grabbed a promotion to become CSO at Gilead in the wake of Norbert Bischofberger’s exit, he’s out amid a shakeup of the senior team that is also triggering the departure of two other top execs.

Gilead stated that McHutchison “has decided to step down” from the job as of August 2nd. And their SEC filing notes that he’ll be getting a $1.1 million check to settle up on his contract.

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Thomas Gajewski, David Steinberg. (CRI, Pyxis)

Bay­er, Long­wood back star re­searcher's deep dive in­to the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment for new I/O tar­gets

From PD-1 targeting to the RAS pathway to the STING complex, Thomas Gajewski has spent the past two decades of his career decoding the various ways the immune system can be unleashed to defend against cancer. So when the University of Chicago professor comes around to putting all his findings into a new platform for finding new targets, VCs and pharma groups alike pay attention.

“He’s been studying T cells for 20 years, plus he’s one of the world’s leaders if not the world leader in the space,” David Steinberg, partner at Longwood Fund, said. “Furthermore, let me add he did a lot of the foundational research and also some of the seminal clinical trials in the existing set of I/O agents. He understands the space really well, he understands the current strengths, and I think he understood really well what was missing, so he knew where to look.”

Kamala Harris speaking yesterday at the Des Moines Register Iowa Presidential Candidate Forum [via Getty]

Who’s the tough­est on drug prices? A game of po­lit­i­cal one-up­man­ship is dri­ving the pol­i­cy de­bate in Wash­ing­ton

Earlier this week we got a look at Senator Kamala Harris’ position on drug prices. She’s proposing that HHS take an average price from single-payer systems like the UK, Germany and Canada — which leverage market access for lower prices — and use that to set the US price. Anything drug companies collect above that would be taxed at a rate of 100%.

And the rhetoric is scathing:
While families struggle to make it to the end of the month, pharmaceutical companies are turning record profits. They’re spending nearly as much on advertising as R&D. They’re manipulating their market power to hike prices on lifesaving generic drugs. They’re making twice the profit of the average industry in America and still increased drug prices by 10.5% over the past six months alone. Meanwhile, they are charging dramatically higher prices to American consumers.
That’s an escalation on Joe Biden’s plan, which includes drug importation from those cheaper markets as well as allowing Medicare to negotiate prices — something that virtually all Dems agree on now.

SJ Lee [File photo]

Go­ing in­side cells, Sung Joo Lee has sketched some big goals for his small — but glob­al — team of drug hunters

For a small biotech based in South Korea with a research arm in Cambridge, MA, Orum Therapeutics has sketched out some big goals aimed at developing antibodies for intracellular targets. And now they have a new $30 million round to push the work forward, aiming at a slate of currently undruggable quests.

Orum has been working on a platform tech out of Ajou University that relies on endocytosis to smuggle antibodies and their cargo inside a cell. They’ve published work in Nature that illustrates its preclinical potential in RAS mutations, and KRAS is on their list of targets. 

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Astel­las buys in­to Fre­quen­cy's re­gen­er­a­tive med strat­e­gy with a $625M al­liance on hear­ing loss

The executive team at Frequency Therapeutics never oversold the results of their maiden Phase I/II study for a new drug to rectify hearing loss. It was, they said back in April, primarily about safety and tolerability, where their drug FX-322 performed as they had hoped. 

That early glimpse of efficacy everyone searches for in their first try on humans? 

(I)mprovements in hearing function, including audiometry and word scores, were observed in multiple FX-322 treated patients.

We don’t know exactly what that means. But whatever the details, Astellas found enough in the data to jump in with a sizable collaboration deal.

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H1 analy­sis: The high-stakes ta­ble in the biotech deals casi­no is pay­ing out some record-set­ting win­nings

For years the big trend among dealmakers at the major players has been centered on ratcheting down upfront payments in favor of bigger milestones. Better known as biobucks for some. But with the top 15 companies competing for the kind of “transformative” pacts that can whip up some excitement on Wall Street, with some big biotechs like Regeneron now weighing in as well, cash is king at the high stakes table.

We asked Chris Dokomajilar, the head of DealForma, to crunch the numbers for us, looking over the top 20 deals for the past decade and breaking it all down into the top alliances already created in 2019. Gilead has clearly tipped the scales in terms of the coin of the bio-realm, with its record-setting $5 billion upfront to tie up to Galapagos’ entire pipeline.

Dokomajilar notes:

We’re going to need a ‘three comma club’ for the deals with over $1 billion in total upfront cash and equity. The $100 million-plus club is getting crowded at 164 deals in the last decade with new deals being added towards the top of the chart. 2019 already has 14 deals with at least $100 million in upfront cash and equity for a total year-to-date of over $9 billion. That beats last year’s $8 billion and sets a record.

Add upfronts and equity payments and you get $11.5 billion for the year, just shy of last year’s record-setting $11.8 billion.

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