News briefing: Tiny Vaccinex's drug flops in PhII Huntington's trial, stock craters; Siolta nabs $30M Series B to develop microbiome drug
Siolta Therapeutics, a microbiome company targeting allergic diseases, raked in a $30 million Series B to develop its lead candidate, STMC-103H. The drug, which has been FDA fast-tracked, is headed for proof-of-concept trials, according to the company. Its various indications include allergic asthma, food allergies, atopic dermatitis, allergic rhinitis, and allergy prevention.
The news comes just after the California-based biotech added a prominent biopharma veteran as an advisor: 20-year Gilead CEO John Martin. The biotech also gained Richard Shames as CMO, who came by way of Protagonist Therapeutics.
Marc Benioff, CEO of the software giant Salesforce, invested in the company’s Series A and returned to chip in to the B round. Khosla Ventures, Seventure (Health for Life Capital Fund), SymBiosis, and Global Brain (Kirin Health Innovation Fund/GB-VII) also pitched in.
Vaccinex drug flops in PhII Huntington’s disease trial
Vaccinex $VCNX announced its drug pepinemab missed both primary endpoints in a Phase II trial for early manifest and prodromal Huntington’s disease, causing its stock to plunge more than 57% on Tuesday morning.
Pepinemab didn’t show statistical significance compared to a placebo in two assessments from the Huntington’s Disease Cognitive Assessment Battery and Clinical Global Impression of Change (CGIC), according to topline data. The humanized monoclonal antibody is designed to bind and block the activity of semaphorin 4D. Despite the failure, CEO Maurice Zauderer said the results suggest the antibody potentially targets cortical centers, which might benefit patients at a more advanced stage of HD. This study cohort included 179 participants.
“The insights gained from this study also suggest that pepinemab might be an important treatment option for Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases known to primarily affect frontal cortex and to impact cognition,” Zauderer hoped in a statement.
Vaccinex says it’s looking to enroll patients this month in a new Alzheimer’s disease study of pepinemab at 15 sites in the US.
The biotech’s shares dipped to $2.36 apiece on Tuesday, down from $5.47 at close on Monday.
Ex-CRO boss scores veteran VCs and $59M for his Euro-focused fund
Having worked with hundreds of biotechs as a clinical trial service provider, Novotech founder Alek Safarian is pivoting to a new career in venture capital.
His firm, ALSA Ventures, has raised $59 million for the first close of a Europe-focused fund. The final target? $150 million.
With the exception of chief investment officer Graeme Martin, the ALSA team is based in London, scouting discovery stage to late preclinical startups that could use their help speeding up a move into the clinic. Martin, the former CEO of Takeda Ventures, is based in Palo Alto.
So far they have already backed three companies: UK based Epsilogen and Oxford Biotherapeutics, as well as the Belgian startup Montis Biosciences. All are tackling cancer from different angles.
That said, “we’re agnostic to modality or therapeutic area,” Safarian noted in a statement.
ALX and Merck collaborate on carcinoma combo
ALX Oncology is teaming up with Merck to study its CD47 blocker ALX148 in combination with Keytruda to treat head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC).
As part of the agreement, ALX will conduct two Phase II studies: one to test the two drugs as a first-line treatment in patients with PD-L1 expressing metastatic or unresectable recurrent HNSCC, and another to test a cocktail with the two drugs plus standard chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for metastatic or unresectable recurrent HNSCC.
The studies are based on Phase Ib data released at ASCO 2020, which showed that ALX148 plus Keytruda achieved a 40% objective response rate and a median progression-free survival of 4.6 months in HNSCC patients who received prior treatment.