Dan Hicklin (File photo)

MPM and Long­wood-backed Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics grabs $56 mil­lion to take tu­mors by night

Backed with the team from his last com­pa­ny, one of the key de­vel­op­ers be­hind Keytru­da has a new warch­est in the race to bring im­munother­a­py in­to the tu­mor mi­cro-en­vi­ron­ment.

Dan Hick­lin, who over­saw Mer­ck’s I/O port­fo­lio and helped de­vel­op sev­er­al oth­er can­cer drugs, is the founder and pres­i­dent of Were­wolf Ther­a­peu­tics, a com­pa­ny that aims to “shapeshift” its way in­to tu­mors and tear them apart from with­in. With the ex­cep­tion of the COO, its lead­er­ship is en­tire­ly seed­ed from Poten­za Ther­a­peu­tics, the an­ti­body com­pa­ny Hick­lin sold to Astel­las for $165 mil­lion up­front last De­cem­ber. They’ll even use the same lab space.

Were­wolf is backed with $56 mil­lion in Se­ries A fund­ing led by MPM Cap­i­tal and Long­wood and joined by Tai­ho Ven­tures, Arkin Bio Ven­tures, DC In­vest­ment Part­ners and UPMC.

“It was a lit­tle bit of a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge, at least for me,” Hick­lin told End­points News. “It’s quite a bit of a dif­fer­ence from check­point ther­a­py.”

Be­yond the YA nov­el brand­ing, Were­wolf has a seem­ing­ly el­e­gant ap­proach to the prob­lems that have vexed re­searchers try­ing to turn the im­mune sys­tem on tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ments. They use what they call their “PREDA­TOR” plat­form to send com­pounds that on­ly trig­ger an im­mune re­sponse once they en­ter the tu­mor mi­croen­vi­ron­ment.

Past com­pa­ny state­ments have com­pared this process to a were­wolf on­ly trans­form­ing in the light of the full moon, but you can prob­a­bly just think of it as act­ing like those kids toys that change col­or in wa­ter.

Mi­croen­vi­ron­ments are par­tic­u­lar­ly im­por­tant in ad­dress­ing sol­id tu­mors, where Were­wolf is fo­cus­ing its ef­forts. These spaces are of­ten im­muno­sup­pres­sive and have been re­sis­tant to the check­point in­hibitors that have dom­i­nat­ed I/O to date. Oth­er biotechs, such as Ed­i­tas or Gam­maDelta, have worked on us­ing par­tic­u­lar im­mune cells, such as gam­ma delta cells or nat­ur­al killer cells to get in­side.

Were­wolf is less than forth­com­ing about what will be at­tached to the plat­form or ex­act­ly how it’ll work with­in tu­mors, say­ing on­ly they will use pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry cy­tokines and cos­tim­u­la­to­ry re­cep­tor ag­o­nists.

The prob­lem with these agents to date, Hick­lin said, is that they can send the im­mune sys­tem in­to dan­ger­ous over­drive.

The body should have im­mune home­osta­sis. Check­points on tu­mor cells put ar­ti­fi­cial brakes on the sys­tem by bind­ing to T cells, and check­point in­hibitors such as Keytru­da pre­vent the tu­mor cells from bind­ing and putting on those brakes.  Were­wolf and oth­er com­pa­nys’ mi­croen­vi­ron­ment agents such as IL-2 throw the nor­mal im­mune sys­tem in­to over­drive. But if they in­crease the im­mune re­sponse out­side the tu­mor too much, they can cause im­mune cells to dam­age healthy tis­sue.

“These are the ac­cel­er­a­tors rather than the brakes,” Hick­lin said, turn­ing to­wards an in­creas­ing­ly com­mon anal­o­gy.

Hick­lin said Were­wolf will se­lect two lead can­di­dates over the next 6 months and hope­ful­ly aim for the clin­ic. It could be a while, but keep an eye out for a full moon.

Jean-Paul Clozel, Idorsia CEO (Patrick Straub/Keystone via AP Images)

Idor­si­a's brain bleed drug flunks PhI­II tri­al, a decade af­ter pre­vi­ous flop

Idorsia’s long journey with clazosentan came to an abrupt “unexpected result” Monday morning with a Phase III flop.

The Swiss biopharma said the drug did not meet the main goal of the late-stage REACT study, conducted in the US, Canada and Europe since early 2019.

The 409-patient trial tested the intravenous drug’s ability to prevent complications due to delayed cerebral ischemia following aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (aSAH), in which blood vessels in the brain narrow and blood accumulates around the brain’s surface, which then dials up the pressure on the brain.

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Kenji Yasukawa, Astellas CEO (Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Astel­las taps chief strat­e­gy of­fi­cer as next CEO to 'go on the ag­gres­sive'

Five years into its big R&D revamp, Astellas says it’s time for a changing of the guard.

Kenji Yasukawa, who took over as president and CEO in 2018, will step down to become chairman of the board in April, making room for Naoki Okamura to take over. Okamura joined the company in 1986 and has served in a variety of finance, business and strategy roles, including most recently as chief strategy officer.

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Clin­i­cal tri­al di­ver­si­ty da­ta show mis­match be­tween en­roll­ment and dis­ease preva­lence, GSK says

A lack of diversity in clinical trials has persisted despite decades of initiatives to try to turn the tide.

In a recent review of 17 years of clinical trials, drugmaker GSK found that there were some mismatches between the demographics of its US-based trials and how prevalent diseases were in those populations.

The results, the company says, will help GSK and others design studies that better represent epidemiological rates within races and ethnicities.

The Big Phar­ma dis­card pile; Lay­offs all around while some biotechs bid farewell; New Roche CEO as­sem­bles top team; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With earnings seasons in full swing, we’ve listened in on all the calls so you don’t have to. But news is popping up from all corners, so make sure you check out our other updates, too.

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Raymond Stevens, Structure Therapeutics CEO

Be­hind Fri­day's $161M IPO: A star sci­en­tist, GPCR drug dis­cov­ery and a plan to chal­lenge phar­ma in di­a­betes

What does it take to pull off a $161 million biotech IPO these days?

In Structure Therapeutics’ case, it means having a star scientist co-founder paired with the computational drug discovery company Schrödinger, $198 million in private funding from blue-chip investors, almost six years of research work on G protein-coupled receptors and a slate of oral, small-molecule drugs, with an eye on the huge and growing diabetes and weight-loss market.

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Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) (Francis Chung/E&E News/Politico via AP Images)

In­fla­tion re­bates in­com­ing: Wyden calls on CMS to move quick­ly as No­var­tis CEO pledges re­ver­sal

Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) this week sent a letter to the head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services seeking an update on how and when new inflation-linked rebates will take effect for drugs that see major price spikes.

The newly signed Inflation Reduction Act requires manufacturers to pay a rebate to Medicare when they increase drug prices faster than the rate of inflation.

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Trodelvy notch­es a win in most com­mon form of breast can­cer

Following a promise last year to go “big and fast in breast cancer,” Gilead has secured a win for Trodelvy in the most common form.

The drug was approved to treat HR-positive, HER2-negative breast cancer patients who’ve already received endocrine-based therapy and at least two other systemic therapies for metastatic cancer, Gilead announced on Friday.

Trodelvy won its first indication in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer back in 2020, and has since added urothelial cancer to the list. HR-positive HER2-negative breast cancer accounts for roughly 70% of new breast cancer cases worldwide per year, according to senior VP of oncology clinical development Bill Grossman, and many patients develop resistance to endocrine-based therapies or worsen on chemotherapy.

Af­ter 13 years, Ramy Mah­moud steps in­to CEO seat at Opti­nose; Ru­pert Vessey set to ex­it Bris­tol My­ers in Ju­ly

After 13 years as president and COO at Optinose, Ramy Mahmoud has stepped into a new role as its CEO. He is taking the place of Peter Miller, who stepped down earlier this week, though Miller is still staying with the company as a consultant.

In 2010, the two business partners joined Optinose to take it in a new direction, transforming it from a delivery platform to product company. They previously worked together at Johnson & Johnson, when Miller was president at Janssen and Mahmoud headed medical affairs. Miller said after he learned about Optinose, “I did what I always do, which is find people smarter than me to talk with about the idea. And the first person I called was Ramy … and I said, ‘Hey, Ramy, what do you think of this technology?’”

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Ma­gen­ta halts stem cell work and may sell it­self fol­low­ing pa­tient death, clin­i­cal hold

Magenta Therapeutics said it is halting work on its stem cell transplant drug pipeline and may sell itself, a week after the company reported the death of a patient in an early stage trial of its antibody-drug conjugate.

The Cambridge, MA-based company said it will conduct a “review of strategic alternatives,” and that could include an “acquisition, merger, business combination, or other transaction.”

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