Precision inflammation drugs? Yale spinout Artizan clinches $11M and Biohaven deal to single out bad bacteria
As a Yale spinout based in New Haven, Artizan Biosciences was pretty familiar with Biohaven — a successful neuro-focused drug developer and “shining star,” as Artizan CEO James Rosen puts it, in the burgeoning biotech community there.
But when a board director and an investor tried connecting the two, they were in for a surprise.
“Unbeknownst to Artizan, Biohaven had been doing a landscaping exercise surveying microbiome companies with whom to partner for CNS disorders,” Rosen told Endpoints News, “and lo and behold, they found Artizan right in their backyard.”
Founded by Richard Flavell, Noah Palm and Marcel de Zoete, the biotech had been applying a method they pioneered to identify disease-causing bacteria. The platform scans bacterial strains for an antibody coating known as immunoglobin A (IgA) — a natural immune response that signals it’s bad bacteria.
Biohaven ended up signing on for an option to license the inflammatory bowel disease programs Artizan is already developing, and also as a partner to a new line of discovery work along the gut brain axis.
It’s also leading in an $11 million Series A-2 alongside Hatteras Venture Partners, which had seeded Artizan.
“One of the places we’re looking at most closely is disruption of gut barrier integrity,” Rosen said. “So when some of these microbial contents are able to pierce the gut barrier, those intestinal contents either in the form of bacteria directly or their virulence factors or metabolites can get exposure to either central circulation or get exposure to some of the components of the nervous system that line the gut. The physiological response of the nervous system can become pathogenic.”
The goal is to replicate what they’ve already done in IBD, where Artizan’s 12 employees, working with external collaborators, had zeroed in on a bug that’s heavily coated with IgA, elucidated its mechanism and figured out that it’s druggable by both small molecules and antibodies. Behind that, there are two other bacterial strains they’d like to target — ones that they believe are secreting virulence factors that induce inflammation and cause ulceration.
Together, according to Rosen, these three strains are the culprit for half of all IBD cases.
“And so we believe that for the patients who will benefit from our approach, it could actually be curative and restorative for their gut and the integrity of their gut,” he added.
It would open the door for a precision medicine approach that’s been popularized in oncology to be applied in IBD, with implications for patient selection in clinical trials. Once they declare a lead drug candidate later this year and start planning to enter the clinic at the end of 2022, Artizan expects to be able to screen patients for the specific bacterial strain and virulence factor they’re targeting. That way, they’d need much smaller trials to show an effect.
By then, Artizan will likely have raised a Series B; Rosen admits that the pandemic had thrown a wrench into their fundraising plans, pushing them into this interim step.
But he’s still optimistic, noting that the compounds generated in the IBD program could be directly applied to other diseases, thereby speeding things up. After proof-of-concept, Artizan has also lined up a deal with Brii Bio to pick up development and commercialization in China.
“We’re still actively looking for additional partners in other therapeutic areas,” he said, including oncology, metabolic disorders and liver disease.