MPM backs new biotech in the hunt for non-opioid painkiller
A new MPM Capital-backed company is joining the search for a better way of treating chronic pain.
Six years after its quiet birth out of a St Louis lab, BioIntervene unveiled an MPM-led $30 million Series A funding round to take its lead drug, BIO-205, into human proof-of-concept studies. They announced a new CSO too: Charles Cohen, a neuroscience veteran of Merck, Bayer, Vertex and most recently Xenon.
BIO-205 “demonstrates profound activity in multiple models of neuropathic and inflammatory pain as both a single agent and in combination with morphine and gabapentin,” Cohen said in a statement. “If we can reproduce these data in our clinical trials, BIO-205 has the potential to ameliorate tremendous suffering while also playing a key role in addressing the opioid epidemic.”
You can add BioIntervene to the growing number of biotechs searching for new methods of pain relief – a long-dormant hunt that’s picked up in the wake of the opioid abuse epidemic. Some of that research has focused on repurposing NSAIDs such as acetaminophen. More commonly, though, researchers have looked for new neural pathways.
That includes groups like Xenon, who have focused on inhibiting the NaV1.7 sodium receptor – although Roche and Biogen both abandoned their NaV1.7 programs in 2018 amid clinical failure. Eli Lilly-partnered Centrexion is using a compound found in chili peppers that targets the TRPV1 receptor. Still, others have tried to find better opioids based on a concept called biased agonism. Most of the work is early-stage.
BioIntervene comes out of Saint Louis University professor Daniela Salvemini’s work on the A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR). The four different adenosine receptors had long been investigated for the roles they may play in cancer, inflammation and immune-related diseases.
But in 2012 Salvemini began publishing work suggesting that an A3AR agonist could “turn off” pain signals from the spinal cord. In 2014, she formed BioIntervene to develop that work into treatments of chronic pain.
The agonists are theorized to work by restoring a form of neurotransmission called GABA signaling that is disrupted in certain forms of pain. Over the 6 years leading up to the Series A, Salvemini published animal studies showing the agonist’s potential to treat the pain from cancer drugs and other causes.
Neuropathic pain has been a particularly thorny area for drug developers, with the few existing drugs coming with significant side effects. Salvemini has insisted their receptor can curb pain without the side effects.
“The protective effect of A3AR agonists in several models of chronic neuropathic pain including that caused by widely used chemotherapeutic agents does not desensitize over time with constant drug exposure, and there is no risk of addiction,” she wrote in a 2015 note in Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Patents.
BioIntervene will focus first on pain, but they’re exploring one other therapeutic area: neurodegeneration. There are few details yet but Salvemini published a patent in November for using A3 agonists to ameliorate mitochondrial injury.
That’ll make two areas of high unmet medical need for the young biotech – two that have ensnared a long list of biotechs before them.