Oys­ter Point in­vestors bet $93M on a PhI­II study aimed at dis­rupt­ing a ma­jor con­sumer mar­ket and top­pling Al­ler­gan


Every­one who ever felt the tears well up in their eyes as they bit in­to a red hot chili pep­per should be able to quick­ly gain a ba­sic un­der­stand­ing of what Oys­ter Point Phar­ma is try­ing to do. The team there be­lieves they’re on to a new and bet­ter way to treat dry eye dis­ease. And they now have a whop­ping $93 mil­lion round from some so­phis­ti­cat­ed in­vestors will­ing to back a Phase III to give it a fi­nal push — hope­ful­ly to­ward reg­u­la­tors.

The con­cept is sim­ple: use an in­tranasal ther­a­py to stim­u­late the trigem­i­nal parasym­pa­thet­ic path­way to kick up nat­ur­al tear pro­duc­tion. And they have a re­for­mu­la­tion of Chan­tix — OC-01 — which com­ple­ments an in-house NCE — OC-02 — to pick from for the piv­otal. There’s some mixed but most­ly pos­i­tive mid-stage da­ta on dis­play — some of which reg­u­la­tors ev­i­dent­ly be­lieve are good enough to stand in as a well-con­trolled tri­al need­ed to back up their Phase III.

Sound easy? Any­thing but.

Ste­fan Vi­torovic

While a whole host of biotech star­tups are go­ing af­ter rare dis­eases or can­cer nich­es to keep stud­ies small and com­mer­cial prospects man­age­able, Oys­ter Point staffers — all 8 of them — are go­ing af­ter a com­mon ail­ment suf­fered by tens of mil­lions. In biotech land, it’s ab­solute­ly es­sen­tial that you make a con­vinc­ing case that you can man­age com­mer­cial­iza­tion work on your own; you may even claim that that is your strat­e­gy. 

Part­ners and po­ten­tial buy­ers are put on alert that they don’t have to take any of­fer on the ta­ble. And you have to be able to con­trol your own des­tiny.

Gulp.

Sure, the big com­mer­cial out­fit at Brent Saun­ders’ Al­ler­gan now dom­i­nates the space with Resta­sis — which faces cheap gener­ic com­pe­ti­tion, says Oys­ter Point. But on­ly a frac­tion of pa­tients are be­ing treat­ed prop­er­ly, and Resta­sis and the oth­er prod­ucts are de­liv­ered via eye drops. This new path­way is bet­ter.

That’s Oys­ter Point’s sto­ry, and they’re stick­ing to it as they set out to prove their case.

“Com­pa­nies like us have to plan to take it all the way to the goal line,” Oys­ter Point CEO Jef­frey Nau tells me. Maybe some­body would buy the com­pa­ny, he adds in re­sponse to my ob­vi­ous query, but ei­ther route “is vi­able.”

An IPO could work as well to fund a launch.

Set­ting aside the fea­si­bil­i­ty of a tiny biotech field­ing a con­sumer prod­uct for dry eye dis­ease, Nau’s clear­ly pumped by the $93 mil­lion B round, which does give him a clear shot at tak­ing one of his drugs through a large Phase III study with about 600 or so pa­tients and on to an NDA. The CEO ex­pects to kick that study off at the mid-point of this year, with a read­out in ear­ly 2020.

Nau says his syn­di­cate is back­ing what he be­lieves is the largest sin­gle round ever as­sem­bled for an oph­thal­mol­o­gy up­start. The mon­ey is com­ing from two new lead in­vestors, In­vus Op­por­tu­ni­ties and Fly­ing L Part­ners al­lied with Fal­con Vi­sion. NEA and Ver­sant, which launched the com­pa­ny, are back, joined by Vi­da Ven­tures, where co-founder Ste­fan Vi­torovic has cham­pi­oned their strat­e­gy.

Their mon­ey will al­low the com­pa­ny to quadru­ple its staff in the near-term. And they can even think in terms of the com­mer­cial plan. Which they can han­dle. On their own. If needs be.

Let the Phase III be­gin.


Im­age: Jef­frey Nau. OYS­TER POINT

Con­quer­ing a silent killer: HDV and Eiger Bio­Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals

Hepatitis delta, also known as hepatitis D, is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis delta virus (HDV) that results in the most severe form of human viral hepatitis for which there is no approved therapy.

HDV is a single-stranded, circular RNA virus that requires the envelope protein (HBsAg) of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) for its own assembly. As a result, hepatitis delta virus (HDV) infection occurs only as a co-infection in individuals infected with HBV. However, HDV/HBV co-infections lead to more serious liver disease than HBV infection alone. HDV is associated with faster progression to liver fibrosis (progressing to cirrhosis in about 80% of individuals in 5-10 years), increased risk of liver cancer, and early decompensated cirrhosis and liver failure.
HDV is the most severe form of viral hepatitis with no approved treatment.
Approved nucleos(t)ide treatments for HBV only suppress HBV DNA, do not appreciably impact HBsAg and have no impact on HDV. Investigational agents in development for HBV target multiple new mechanisms. Aspirations are high, but a functional cure for HBV has not been achieved nor is one anticipated in the forseeable future. Without clearance of HBsAg, anti-HBV investigational treatments are not expected to impact the deadly course of HDV infection anytime soon.

No­var­tis is ax­ing 150 ear­ly dis­cov­ery jobs as CNI­BR shifts fo­cus to the de­vel­op­ment side of R&D

Novartis is axing some 150 early discover jobs in Shanghai as it swells its staff on the drug development side of the equation in China. And the company is concurrently beefing up its investment in China’s fast-growing biotech sector with a plan to add to its investments in local VCs.

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No­var­tis is eye­ing a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Med­Co buy­out as Jer­sey biotech nears NDA — re­ports

To get from Novartis’ US headquarters to the Medicines Company, you make a left out of a square concrete building on NJ-Route 10, follow it past the sun orange veranda of Jersey’s Hot Bagels and the inexplicable green Vermont cabin that houses the Whippany Railway Museum until you turn right and immediately arrive at a rectangular glass building. It should take you about 12 minutes.

Reports are out that Novartis may be making that trip. Amid a torrent of Phase III data burnishing MedCo’s chances at a blockbuster cholesterol drug,  Bloomberg News is reporting that Novartis is looking to acquire the Jersey-based biotech.

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UP­DAT­ED: In a land­mark first glimpse of hu­man da­ta from Ver­tex, CRISPR/Cas9 gene ther­a­py sig­nals ear­ly ben­e­fit

Preliminary data on two patients with blood disorders that have been administered with Vertex and partner CRISPR Therapeutics’ gene-editing therapy suggest the technology is safe and effective, marking the first instance of the benefit of the use of CRISPR/Cas9 technology in humans suffering from disease.

Patients in these phase I/II studies give up peripheral blood from which hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells are isolated. The cells are tinkered with using CRISPR/Cas9 technology, and the edited cells — CTX001 — are infused back into the patient via a stem cell transplant. The objective of CTX001 is to fix the errant hemoglobin gene in patents with two blood disorders: beta-thalassemia and sickle cell disease, by unleashing the production of fetal hemoglobin.

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Badrul Chowdhury. FDA via Flickr

As­traZeneca los­es an­oth­er ex­ec­u­tive to biotech, as Badrul Chowd­hury moves to Savara

Another executive is migrating from the echelons of Big Pharma to the corridors of small biotech.

In April 2018, Badrul Chowdhury took his more than two decades of experience at the FDA to AstraZeneca, where he took on the role of senior vice president and chief physician-scientist for respiratory, inflammation and autoimmunity late-stage development in biopharmaceuticals R&D.

After about a year and a half in this role, Chowdhury is moving to a small Texas biotech called Savara, where he will serve as chief medical officer.

Yiannis Kiachopoulos and Artur Saudabayev, co-founders of Causaly

Lon­don AI up­start, which counts No­var­tis as a cus­tomer, can teach your com­put­er to read

When Amazon developed a machine-learning tool to make its recruitment process more efficient — the man-made system absorbed the gender-bias of its human makers, and the project was aborted. In the field of biopharmaceuticals, the way researchers train their machine learning algorithms can skew the outcome of predictions. But before those predictions can be made, the engine must learn to read to make sense of explosive volume of knowledge out there.

Burt Adelman. Novo Ventures

Here's a $25M seed fund aimed at back­ing some brash new drug ideas out of the Broad

As a former academic and a seasoned drug developer, Burt Adelman knew when he was recruited as a senior advisor to Novo Ventures in 2017 that one of his key priorities needs to be introducing the fund to the network he was so deeply embedded in.

“I was thinking long and hard on how can I, as a Boston insider, help Novo really get inside the ecosystem of Boston biotech?” he recalled in an interview with Endpoints News.

Welling­ton lines up a $393M bankroll for its next round of pri­vate biotech bets — and they’re like­ly think­ing big

Wellington Management made some uncustomary waves at the beginning of the year when it threw its considerable weight against Bristol-Myers Squibb’s $74 billion Celgene buyout. But after Bristol-Myers’ biggest investor conceded that game to the influential proxy firms involved, they’re now going to end the year by rolling out a big new investment fund for a new stable of fledgling biotechs on the private side of the industry.

As uter­ine race with Ab­b­Vie heats up, My­ovant eyes FDA ap­proval with tri­al re­sults from prostate can­cer

Myovant has long had a secret weapon in its uterine rivalry with AbbVie: Men.

While the small Swiss biotech has jockeyed with the Illinois-based giant for a foothold in the endometriosis and uterine fibroid therapy market, the company has been developing the same lead compound, relugolix, for use in one of the most common cancers for the uterus-less: prostate cancer. Today, Myovant is out with positive topline results from its big Phase III trial on the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) antagonist. They say they’ve reached every primary and secondary endpoint with p values less than .0001.