Once laser-focused on liver, MiNA takes swing at neurology with Servier's backing
Once focused on hard-to-treat liver diseases, MiNA Therapeutics is joining forces with Servier to engage its small activating RNA technology on another difficult front: neurology.
MiNA and Servier announced a new research alliance Thursday centered around neurological disorders. While the partners are keeping quiet about their targets for now, MiNA CEO Robert Habib vaguely revealed that the first one was nominated by Servier, which has an option over it. MiNA stands to receive up to $266.3 million (€220 million) in an upfront payment and milestones on that target alone, though they declined to break those numbers down any further.
In addition, Servier has exclusivity over two more targets, Habib said. Under the terms of the deal, MiNA will identify potential candidates and Servier will take the lead on preclinical and clinical development.
“This is sort of our first step in CNS with Servier, but it has the potential to expand quite significantly across many targets,” Habib told Endpoints News.
MiNA was co-founded in 2008 by Habib’s father, the prominent Imperial College London professor Nagy Habib. Robert left investment banking about seven years ago to take the helm at his father’s company, setting out on a mission to help treat the “undruggable” — starting with liver cancer.
saRNA is similar to RNA interference, in that they both rely on short strands of RNA and a protein called argonaute-2. Except instead of silencing genes, saRNA amplifies.
“We have enzymes within our bodies that are responsible for gene regulation. And what we do is we design small RNA sequences that direct those enzymes to specific regions of a gene, which in doing so can trigger the gene to increase transcription, to release more messenger RNA and more protein,” Habib explained.
The London-based biotech’s lead program goes after CEBPA — a gene that provides instructions to make a type of transcription factor protein — in the hopes of reducing immune suppression caused by immature myeloid cells to improve the efficacy of cancer therapies. Its candidate, MTL-CEBPA, is being tested as a combination therapy with Bayer’s Nexavar in hepatocellular carcinoma and Merck’s Keytruda in advanced solid tumors. Several months ago, MiNA landed a nearly $30 million Series A round to push those programs forward.
Habib expects to wrap up the Phase I dose escalation portion of the Keytruda study around the end of this quarter, and launch into dose expansion in Q2. The first data snapshot could come as early as the end of this year, he said.
The Servier deal allows MiNA to branch out from liver diseases and explore new territory “ripe for our technology,” Habib said. It’s one of several collaborations that MiNA has inked over the last few years, including one with AstraZeneca last January that gave the pharma negotiating rights to a licensing agreement after a series of preclinical studies.
In 2017, Sosei put down about $45 million for 25.6% of MiNA’s equity. Peter Bains, Sosei’s CEO at the time, laid out a $534 million plan to acquire MiNA, and thus expand Sosei’s global reach. That same year, MiNA signed an up-to $371.9 million deal with Boehringer Ingelheim for three liver fibrosis targets, including at least one NASH drug. But a year and a half later, Sosei passed on the option, keeping its stake.
“The power of saRNA technology is that it is a chemical drug that works by a transient dose-dependent mechanism, very much like a chemical drug. But because it targets gene transcription and can increase gene transcription, it can hit targets that are not druggable by conventional medicine,” Habib said.
“This is really extending the broader success that we’re seeing in RNA more widely,” CBO Peter Bains said, referencing companies like Alnylam and Moderna. “So this is… another modality for RNA intervention.”