Mer­ck spin­out grabs some as­sets and launch­es a quest for the Holy Grail in an­tibi­otics R&D

Ter­ry Roe­mer

Ter­ry Roe­mer did a lot more than clean out his desk when he de­cid­ed to leave Mer­ck af­ter a 13-year ca­reer de­vel­op­ing an­ti­bod­ies at the phar­ma gi­ant. With R&D chief Roger Perl­mut­ter’s bless­ings, he al­so gath­ered some pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams to take with him that now form the pipeline at his new, up­start biotech based in Union, New Jer­sey. And he’s work­ing with a small team of ex-Mer­ck sci­en­tists ready to get things mov­ing to­ward the clin­ic.

Like the rest of the big phar­mas, Mer­ck has more R&D pro­grams than it can con­sume. And it had al­ready demon­strat­ed a lim­it­ed ap­petite for an­tibi­otics re­search af­ter bag­ging Cu­bist three years ago for $9.5 bil­lion, shut­ter­ing the ear­ly-stage work right af­ter the deal went through. So a spin­out — with a promised pay­back from mile­stones and roy­al­ties — makes good sense here for ac­cel­er­at­ing the de­vel­op­ment side of things.

Roe­mer’s new com­pa­ny is Prokary­otics, which has tak­en up res­i­dence at a New Jer­sey in­cu­ba­tor where he and his sci­en­tif­ic col­leagues have be­gun the busi­ness of de­vel­op­ing some lead as­sets that they be­lieve are the es­sen­tial in­gre­di­ents to an en­tire­ly nov­el an­tibi­ot­ic class that can con­quer the drug re­sis­tance that fre­quent­ly thwarts ex­ist­ing prod­ucts.

“To be hon­est,” Roe­mer tells me, “we have a ways to go. The pro­grams we in-li­censed are up to lead op­ti­miza­tion. De­pend­ing on the pro­gram, we have mul­ti­ple years ahead of us to get in­to the clin­ic. But I’m not too con­cerned about that.”

What he is con­cerned about: Com­ing up “with the next new an­tibi­otics class; a first-in-class agent. It’s a tremen­dous chal­lenge, there’s a lot in­volved.”

Roe­mer and his col­leagues at Mer­ck caused a stir in re­search cir­cles in the spring of 2016 with their pre­clin­i­cal work on a new ap­proach to de­feat­ing dead­ly, drug-hes­i­tant MR­SA. They iden­ti­fied small mol­e­cules — tarocins — that threw a mon­key wrench in­to the con­struc­tion of MR­SA cell walls, mak­ing them vul­ner­a­ble to the usu­al run of be­ta-lac­tam an­tibi­otics now in use. But Roe­mer stressed the team has broad am­bi­tions to go far be­yond the con­fines of tarocins and de­vel­op com­plete­ly new gram neg­a­tive pro­grams for the next gen­er­a­tion of be­ta-lac­tams.

Kei­th Bos­t­ian

Kei­th Bos­t­ian, an ex­pe­ri­enced biotech vet who set up the in­cu­ba­tor where Prokary­otics is based, is tak­ing the CEO spot in the com­pa­ny. He says that the plan now is to get start­ed with some non-di­lu­tive fund­ing, look­ing to a va­ri­ety of sources like BAR­DA and the Well­come Trust ea­ger to ex­tend sup­port to vet­er­an teams out to de­vel­op some break­through an­tibi­otics. Lat­er, he says, they can get in­volved in some more tra­di­tion­al fundrais­ing and al­liances.

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials have been rais­ing the alarm for years that drug-re­sis­tant su­per­bugs threat­en more and more peo­ple each year around the globe, but de­spite a num­ber of reg­u­la­to­ry in­cen­tives, much of the ear­ly-stage work re­mains in the hands of biotechs. R&D is chal­leng­ing in this field, it’s ex­pen­sive, and the mar­ket can still re­ly on some stan­dard reme­dies — in­clud­ing some in­cred­i­bly cheap ones — for most cas­es.

But as Prokary­otics con­tin­ues its work, Roe­mer and his team be­lieve that the de­mand for new an­tibi­otics can on­ly grow, putting him on the right course for right now.

Com­mu­ni­cat­ing the val­ue of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine

By Natasha Cowan, Content Marketing Manager at Blue Latitude Health.
Many stakeholders are confused by novel precision medicines, including patients and healthcare professionals. So, how can industry help them to navigate this complexity?

Precision medicine represents a new paradigm in healthcare. It embodies the shift from treating many patients with the same therapy, to having the tools to identify the best treatment for every patient.

Spe­cial re­port: Twen­ty ex­tra­or­di­nary women in bio­phar­ma R&D who worked their way to the top

What differentiates a woman leader in biopharma R&D from a man?

Not much, except there are fewer of them in senior posts. Data suggest women are not more risk-averse, family-oriented or less confident than their male counterparts — indeed the differences between the two sexes are negligible. But a glance at the top R&D positions in Big Pharma leaves little doubt that upward migration in the executive ranks of biopharma R&D is tough.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 65,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

GSK's asth­ma bi­o­log­ic Nu­cala scores in rare blood dis­or­der study

GlaxoSmithKline’s asthma drug Nucala, which received a resounding FDA rejection for use in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) last year, has shown promise in a rare blood disorder.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 65,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Mer­ck buys a fledg­ling neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive biotech spawned by an old GSK dis­cov­ery al­liance. What’s up with that?

Avalon Ventures chief Jay Lichter has a well-known yen for drug development programs picked up in academia. And what he found in Haoxing Xu’s lab at the University of Michigan pricked his interest enough to launch one of his umbrella biotechs in San Diego.
Xu’s work laid the foundation for Avalon to launch Calporta, which has been working on finding small molecule agonists of TRPML1 (transient receptor potential cation channel, mucolipin subfamily, member 1) for lysosomal storage disorders. And that pathway, they believe, points to new approaches on major market neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, ALS and Alzheimer’s.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 65,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA slaps a hold on an AML tri­al as Mark­er scraps a fail­ing ovar­i­an can­cer pro­gram, sink­ing shares

The FDA has placed a hold on a Phase II AML trial from the small immuno-oncology biotech Marker Therapeutics. Marker disclosed the issue two weeks after responding to FDA concerns, adding it to the Q3 release Tuesday. The company also announced it was scrapping a Phase II ovarian cancer program it determined was unlikely to succeed.

The agency’s concern centers around two reagents used in manufacturing for their trial for acute myeloid leukemia patients who have received a stem cell transplant. The reagents are from third parties and not present in the final product, Marker said.

Eli Lil­ly-backed biotech grabs $100M to dis­patch an­ti­body-oligonu­cleotide con­ju­gates af­ter mus­cu­lar dy­s­tro­phy

Hold up your hand. Make a fist. Now open it. And again.

If you can do it fully and with ease, then the proteins in your hand are likely working properly. If you can’t then they may not be. In people with myotonic muscular dystrophy, something more atomic is going on.

In those folks, the problem is RNA. Certain base pairs repeat far beyond normal, up to 11,000 superfluous letters in some cases. The extended strands form “clumps.” Proteins misform and can’t function properly. They often allow one movement but not the reverse, a condition called myotonia that gives the dystrophy its name.

As­traZeneca sets stage for mar­ket­ing ap­pli­ca­tion with promis­ing piv­otal lu­pus drug da­ta

After fumbling in its first late-stage lupus study, AstraZeneca disclosed that a second pivotal trial testing its experimental drug, anifrolumab, had met the main goal, in August. Earlier this week, the British drugmaker broke out the numbers from its successful study.

Last year, anifrolumab failed to meet the main goal of diminishing disease activity in the 460-patient TULIP I study, a 52-week trial that tested two doses of the drug versus a placebo. But in the 373-patient TULIP II study, the higher dose (300 mg) was compared to patients given a placebo — patients in both arms were on baseline standard care.

FDA Vas­cepa re­view spot­lights new safe­ty sig­nals, pos­si­ble min­er­al oil spoil­er as Amarin hunts a block­buster ap­proval

An in-house FDA review of Amarin’s Vascepa raises a set of hurdles the biotech will have to clear if the biotech expects to get the long-awaited FDA approval that could set it on a path to superstar status. But it appears that Amarin has survived another potential setback without introducing a major new threat to its prospects.

The stakes don’t get much higher, with analysts saying a win this week for Amarin could lead to billions in new sales — provided the agency stamps it with an OK. And investors liked what they say in the FDA review this morning, bumping the stock $AMRN 17%.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 65,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

FDA puts Sol­id Bio’s lead gene ther­a­py pro­gram on hold — again — af­ter an­oth­er pa­tient is hurt by SGT-001

Solid Biosciences continues to be plagued by safety issues.

Close to 18 months after the gene therapy biotech was able to quickly shed an FDA hold on their lead Duchenne muscular dystrophy program for SGT-001, regulators have stepped back in to force another halt after another patient was hit hard by a set of serious adverse events remarkably similar to the first set.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 65,300+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.