Post-Bris­tol/My­ers buy­out, the IFM team lines up $31M to tack­le a troi­ka of NL­RP3 tar­gets

Af­ter years of lab work, the NL­RP3 in­flam­ma­some has emerged as a promi­nent drug tar­get in the bio­phar­ma world.

Just weeks af­ter the UK’s NodThera launched to cre­ate new in­hibitors for NL­RP3, the team at IFM has round­ed up $31 mil­lion to work on new drugs that could play a range of roles in fi­bro­sis and er­rant im­mune re­spons­es linked to a med­ley of ail­ments, in­clud­ing neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases.

Gary Glick

Bris­tol-My­ers snapped up IFM a year ago in a $2.3 bil­lion deal, tak­ing on­col­o­gy as­sets from the deal but leav­ing CEO Gary Glick and his team free to pur­sue oth­er as­sets, with a right to ne­go­ti­ate for any­thing else they might do with NL­RP3. And the IFM team still has plen­ty of back­ing from At­las Ven­ture, Abing­worth, Bris­tol-My­ers Squibb and now IFM’s man­age­ment.

The big idea here is that if you can tack­le NL­RP3 in the right way, you can al­so pre­vent the down­stream de­vel­op­ment of pro-in­flam­ma­to­ry cy­tokines IL-1 and IL-18, which trig­ger dis­eases. And the IFM team is de­vel­op­ing drugs specif­i­cal­ly for de­liv­ery to the cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem, the gut and the brain.

Their work has been heav­i­ly in­flu­enced by two key sci­en­tists, Eicke Latz and Lui­gi Franchi, who have spent years study­ing NL­RP3.

Eicke Latz

“They have prob­a­bly for­got­ten more about NL­RP3 than the world knows,” says Glick. It’s their sci­en­tif­ic work which is be­ing mar­ried to the drug dis­cov­ery ac­tiv­i­ties at IFM in Boston.

IFM kept its staff in the wake of the Bris­tol-My­ers deal, which cen­tered on NL­RP3 ag­o­nists for can­cer. About 35 em­ploy­ees are on the pay­roll as they dive in­to this new work.

Lui­gi Franchi

This is still a trans­la­tion­al field for biotech to ex­plore, but there are some in­ter­est­ing late-stage con­nec­tions to con­sid­er re­gard­ing the IL-1 path­way. No­var­tis’ heart drug canakinum­ab is fo­cused on that IL-1 in­flam­ma­to­ry path­way, with Phase III da­ta to prove that it can help at-risk car­dio pa­tients. That drug is still in late-stage de­vel­op­ment, with re­cent pos­i­tive gout da­ta of its own.

Glick notes, though, that mov­ing up­stream of IL-1 has a num­ber of ad­van­tages, go­ing af­ter a spe­cif­ic tar­get with dif­fer­ent drugs fo­cused on dif­fer­ent points in the anato­my. And that could play well on safe­ty, avoid­ing any un­ex­pect­ed con­se­quences of IL-1 block­ades.

It is worth not­ing that NL­RP3 has been the fo­cus of some lim­it­ed amount of pre­clin­i­cal work re­gard­ing the ke­to­genic di­et. A Yale in­ves­ti­ga­tor, Vish­wa Deep Dix­it, has done mouse work to il­lus­trate a po­ten­tial con­nec­tion be­tween the ke­tone be­ta-hy­drox­y­buter­ate — which is pro­duced when you move to a high-fat, low carb di­et — and tamp­ing down on NL­RP3, see­ing how that could in­flu­ence the course of gout. And more work is un­der­way.

You can ex­pect to hear a lot more about NL­RP3 in the com­ing years.

John Hood [file photo]

UP­DATE: Cel­gene and the sci­en­tist who cham­pi­oned fe­dra­tinib's rise from Sanofi's R&D grave­yard win FDA OK

Six years after Sanofi gave it up for dead, the FDA has approved the myelofibrosis drug fedratinib, now owned by Celgene.

The drug will be sold as Inrebic, and will soon land in the portfolio at Bristol-Myers Squibb, which is finalizing a deal to acquire Celgene.

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UP­DAT­ED: AveX­is sci­en­tif­ic founder was axed — and No­var­tis names a new CSO in wake of an ethics scan­dal

Now at the center of a storm of controversy over its decision to keep its knowledge of manipulated data hidden from regulators during an FDA review, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan has found a longtime veteran in the ranks to head the scientific work underway at AveXis, where the incident occurred. And the scientific founder has hit the exit.

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Ab­b­Vie gets its FDA OK for JAK in­hibitor upadac­i­tinib, but don’t look for this one to hit ex­ecs’ lofty ex­pec­ta­tions

Another big drug approval came through on Friday afternoon as the FDA OK’d AbbVie’s upadacitinib — an oral JAK1 inhibitor that is hitting the rheumatoid arthritis market with a black box warning of serious malignancies, infections and thrombosis reflecting fears associated with the class.

It will be sold as Rinvoq — at a wholesale price of $59,000 a year — and will likely soon face competition from a drug that AbbVie once controlled, and spurned. Reuters reports that a 4-week supply of Humira, by comparison, is $5,174, adding up to about $67,000 a year.

The top 10 fran­chise drugs in bio­phar­ma his­to­ry will earn a to­tal of $1.4T (tril­lion) by 2024 — what does that tell us?

Just in case you were looking for more evidence of just how important Amgen’s patent win on Enbrel is for the company and its investors, EvaluatePharma has come up with a forward-looking consensus estimate on what the list of top 10 drugs will look like in 2024.

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ICER blasts FDA, PTC and Sarep­ta for high prices on DMD drugs Em­flaza, Ex­ondys 51

ICER has some strong words for PTC, Sarepta and the FDA as the US drug price watchdog concludes that as currently priced, their respective new treatments for Duchenne muscular dystrophy are decidedly not cost-effective.

The final report — which cements the conclusions of a draft issued in May — incorporates the opinion of a panel of 17 experts ICER convened in a public meeting last month. It also based its analysis of Emflaza (deflazacort) and Exondys 51 (eteplirsen) on updated annual costs of $81,400 and over $1 million, respectively, after citing “incorrect” lower numbers in the initial calculations.

The key dates for KRAS watch­ers through the end of the year — the trail is nar­row and risks are ex­treme

There’s nothing quite like a big patent win when it comes to burnishing your prospects in the pipeline. And for Amgen, which seems to have rescued Enbrel for a run to 2029, the cheering section on Wall Street is now fixed on AMG 510 and a key rival.

And it didn’t take much data to do it. 

There was the first snapshot of a handful of patients, with a 50% response rate. Then came word that Amgen researchers are also tracking responses in different cancers, at least one in colorectal cancer and appendiceal too. 

Bain's Or­ly Mis­han joins Pfiz­er's neu­ro spin­out Cerev­el; On­colyt­ic virus biotech taps Sil­la­Jen ex­ec He­le­na Chaye as CEO

→ Bain Capital is deploying one of its top investors to Cerevel Therapeutics, steering a $350 million-plus neuro play carved out of Pfizer. Orly Mishan — a co-founder and principal of Bain’s life sciences unit — was involved in the partnership that birthed the biotech spinout in the first place. As Cerevel’s first chief business officer, she is tasked with corporate development, program management as well as technical operations. 

UP­DAT­ED: Sci­en­tist-CEO ac­cused of im­prop­er­ly us­ing con­fi­den­tial in­fo from uni­corn Alec­tor

The executive team at Alector $ALEC has a bone to pick with scientific co-founder Asa Abeliovich. Their latest quarterly rundown has this brief note buried inside:

On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

There’s no explicit word in the filing on what kind of confidential info was involved, but the proceeding got started 2 days ahead of Abeliovich’s IPO.

Abeliovich, formerly a tenured associate professor at Columbia, is a top scientist in the field of neurodegeneration, which is where Alector is targeted. More recently, he’s also helped start up Prevail Therapeutics as the CEO, which raised $125 million in an IPO. And there he’s planning on working on new gene therapies that target genetically defined subpopulations of Parkinson’s disease. Followup programs target Gaucher disease, frontotemporal dementia and synucleinopathies.

But this time Abeliovich is the CEO rather than a founding scientist. And some of their pipeline overlaps with Alector’s.

Abeliovich and Prevail, though, aren’t taking this one lying down.

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Chi­na has be­come a CEO-lev­el pri­or­i­ty for multi­na­tion­al phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies: the trend and the im­pli­ca­tions

After a “hot” period of rapid growth between 2009 and 2012, and a relatively “cooler” period of slower growth from 2013 to 2015, China has once again become a top-of-mind priority for the CEOs of most large, multinational pharmaceutical companies.

At the International Pharma Forum, hosted in March in Beijing by the R&D Based Pharmaceutical Association Committee (RDPAC) and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), no fewer than seven CEOs of major multinational pharmaceutical firms participated, including GSK, Eli Lilly, LEO Pharma, Merck KGaA, Pfizer, Sanofi and UCB. A few days earlier, the CEOs of several other large multinationals attended the China Development Forum, an annual business forum hosted by the research arm of China’s State Council. It’s hard to imagine any other country, except the US, having such drawing power at CEO level.