Novo Holdings invests in Hemab, a company going against the hemophilia gene therapy grain with a plan for bispecifics
Novo Holdings, the holding company comprising Novo Nordisk and managing the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s assets, has made a new investment through its seed capital arm.
The incubator Novo Seeds is funding a company called Hemab ApS, which is focused on developing bispecific antibodies for rare bleeding disorders. Co-founded by two former Novo Nordisk execs in their hemophilia R&D department, Hemab is aiming for hemophilia to be its first target with related blood diseases to follow afterward.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Hemab chairman and Novo Holdings partner Jørgen Søberg Petersen told Endpoints News that Novo Holdings is the sole investor in the company. Hemab noted that it will be licensing IP from Novo in order to develop its programs, as well as a platform from the Danish biotech Genmab to help the company produce its bispecifics.
“It’s a broad area today, I think there’s maybe 40 or 50 different formats out there and they all claim to be better than the other. I’m not to say which one will be the winner ultimately, but I will say is that Genmab’s technology is among the best validated in this space,” Peterson said.
Hemab enters a packed hemophilia space, stuffed with antibodies and surrounded by encroaching gene therapies. Novo Nordisk, separate from the holding company that made Monday’s investment, has its own hemophilia program in concizumab, which restarted Phase III studies back in August after being shut down in March over three patients developing non-fatal blood clots.
The Danish pharma had been hoping the candidate could rival Roche’s Hemlibra, but that drug has already proven somewhat of a blockbuster, tallying more than $1.5 billion in global sales through the first three quarters of 2020. Not everything was roses for Roche, however, as the drug ran into some speed bumps back in 2017 for hemophilia A, and now expects to start a Phase III sometime in 2021.
BioMarin is the major name in hemophilia gene therapy, but was surprisingly turned away by the FDA in August after questions arose about the durability of its safety data for valrox. The EMA also gave it the thumbs down in November, but noted they were looking for less follow-up data than their US counterparts.
Hemab, though, is following the Hemlibra path with bispecifics. For the ultra-rare diseases Hemab is targeting, Peterson said he doesn’t see the choice of gene therapy or bispecific as an either/or.
“When we speak with people in the gene therapy space, I think there’s also hope that some patients will get a complete remission and I certainly hope that will be the case,” Peterson said. “But realistically speaking, with the approaches that are used right now, I think most investigators in this space will expect that there will be a lot of other patients who either respond poorly, or only partially, and where there will be a need for additional pharmacological therapy to really optimize the treatment.
“We think there will be a place for both principles for many years ahead,” he added.
Hemab was co-founded by Johan Faber and Søren Bjørn back in 2018 after the two wrapped up their tenures at Novo Nordisk. Faber had worked at the pharma since 2006, starting as a postdoctoral fellow and working his way up to becoming the head of their global research technologies department for protein interaction characterization.
Peterson said Hemab will likely see to close a Series A round sometime within the next 12 months, and hope to see a product hit the clinic before the end of 2023 at the latest.