Ed Kaye. Stoke Therapeutics

Pre­clin­i­cal an­ti­sense biotech, led by for­mer Sarep­ta CEO Kaye, vaults on to Nas­daq with up­sized IPO

Less than a year af­ter rais­ing $90 mil­lion in its sec­ond round of fi­nanc­ing, for­mer Sarep­ta chief Ed­ward Kaye is mak­ing the leap to the Nas­daq on Wednes­day with an up­sized of­fer­ing for his pre­clin­i­cal an­ti­sense biotech, Stoke Ther­a­peu­tics.

Adri­an Krain­er Cold Spring Har­bor Labra­to­ries

The com­pa­ny in-li­censed its tech­nol­o­gy: Tar­get­ed Aug­men­ta­tion of Nu­clear Gene Out­put (TAN­GO) from Cold Spring Har­bor Lab­o­ra­to­ry’s Adri­an Krain­er, who is cred­it­ed as the in­ven­tor of Bio­gen’s $BI­IB spinal mus­cu­lar at­ro­phy drug Spin­raza. Krain­er co-found­ed Stoke and serves on its board.

As it preps an ap­pli­ca­tion to test its lead ex­per­i­men­tal ther­a­py next year, Stoke raised gross pro­ceeds of $142 mil­lion by of­fer­ing 7.9 mil­lion shares at $18, above the range of $14 to $16. It had pre­vi­ous­ly filed to of­fer 6.7 mil­lion shares, and plans to list on the Nas­daq un­der the sym­bol “$STOK.”

The holy grail of gene ther­a­pies is to de­vel­op a treat­ment that is cu­ra­tive with a sin­gle dose, but so far, re­search has shown that the lev­el of pro­tein pro­duced as a re­sult of this type of ther­a­peu­tic in­ter­ven­tion can fluc­tu­ate from pa­tient to pa­tient, its dura­bil­i­ty re­mains in ques­tion and is ex­pen­sive to man­u­fac­ture be­cause sci­en­tists must en­gi­neer virus­es to de­liv­er the gene ther­a­py to the pa­tient.

Stoke is de­vel­op­ing an­ti­sense oligonu­cleotide med­i­cines, by tak­ing aim at dis­eases ar­eas that are of­ten not amenable to tra­di­tion­al gene ther­a­py — be­cause the gene size is too big — or to gene edit­ing, as the ther­a­peu­tic needs to be titrat­able. It is bet­ting on sta­bi­liz­ing the pro­tein man­u­fac­tured by treat­ed cells with its TAN­GO tech­nol­o­gy, which is de­signed to iden­ti­fy gene seg­ments that can be tar­get­ed by drugs to di­al up the lev­el of pro­tein pro­duced. The Bed­ford, Mass­a­chu­setts-based com­pa­ny then de­vel­ops RNA drugs to har­ness these tar­gets.

Like GW Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals’ $GW­PH keen­ly watched and 2018 ap­proved cannabis-de­rived ther­a­peu­tic Epid­i­olex, Stoke is tar­get­ing Dravet syn­drome, a rare and cat­a­stroph­ic form of in­tractable epilep­sy that be­gins in in­fan­cy.

Con­trol­ling the amount of pro­tein pro­duced fol­low­ing ther­a­py is par­tic­u­lar­ly sig­nif­i­cant in au­to­so­mal dom­i­nant dis­eases — such as ge­net­ic caus­es of epilep­sy — in which mu­ta­tions in just one copy of a gene ad­verse­ly im­pact pro­tein pro­duc­tion. An over-pro­duc­tion of pro­tein in such cas­es could be just as sin­is­ter. Stoke’s drug is de­signed to up-reg­u­late pro­duc­tion of a pro­tein miss­ing in pa­tients with Dravet syn­drome by tar­get­ing RNA splic­ing. The an­ti­sense oligonu­cleotide is sus­pend­ed in saline and de­liv­ered via spinal in­jec­tion, and will like­ly be ad­min­is­tered every four months or so.

If the FDA sanc­tions an in-hu­man study, the biotech ex­pects to ini­ti­ate a Phase I/II clin­i­cal tri­al in chil­dren and ado­les­cents in the first half of 2020 and an­tic­i­pates to have clin­i­cal da­ta, in­clud­ing pre­lim­i­nary ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta, in 2021.

As of March 31, Stoke has raised over $130 mil­lion in fund­ing, in­clud­ing in­vest­ments from Ap­ple Tree Part­ners, RTW In­vest­ments, RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Per­cep­tive Ad­vi­sors and funds man­aged by Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors, Red­mile Group, Sphera Funds Man­age­ment and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments.

It’s fi­nal­ly over: Bio­gen, Ei­sai scrap big Alzheimer’s PhI­I­Is af­ter a pre­dictable BACE cat­a­stro­phe rais­es safe­ty fears

Months after analysts and investors called on Biogen and Eisai to scrap their BACE drug for Alzheimer’s and move on in the wake of a string of late-stage failures and rising safety fears, the partners have called it quits. And they said they were dropping the drug — elenbecestat — after the independent monitoring board raised concerns about…safety.

We don’t know exactly what researchers found in this latest catastrophe, but the companies noted in their release that investigators had determined that the drug was flunking the risk/benefit analysis.

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Lisa M. DeAngelis, MSKCC

MSK picks brain can­cer ex­pert Lisa DeAn­ge­lis as its next CMO — fol­low­ing José Basel­ga’s con­tro­ver­sial ex­it

It’s official. Memorial Sloan Kettering has picked a brain cancer expert as its new physician-in-chief and CMO, replacing José Baselga, who left under a cloud after being singled out by The New York Times and ProPublica for failing to properly air his lucrative industry ties.

His replacement, who now will be in charge of MSK’s cutting-edge research work as well as the cancer care delivered by hundreds of practitioners, is Lisa M. DeAngelis. DeAngelis had been chair of the neurology department and co-founder of MSK’s brain tumor center and was moved in to the acting CMO role in the wake of Baselga’s departure.

Penn team adapts CAR-T tech, reengi­neer­ing mouse cells to treat car­diac fi­bro­sis

After establishing itself as one of the pioneer research centers in the world for CAR-T cancer therapies, creating new attack vehicles to eradicate cancer cells, a team at Penn Medicine has begun the tricky transition of using the basic technology for heart repair work.

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Tal Zaks. Moderna

The mR­NA uni­corn Mod­er­na has more ear­ly-stage hu­man da­ta it wants to show off — reach­ing new peaks in prov­ing the po­ten­tial

The whole messenger RNA field has attracted billions of dollars in public and private investor cash gambled on the prospect of getting in on the ground floor. And this morning Boston-based Moderna, one of the leaders in the field, wants to show off a few more of the cards it has to play to prove to you that they’re really in the game.

The whole hand, of course, has yet to be dealt. And there’s no telling who gets to walk with a share of the pot. But any cards on display at this point — especially after being accused of keeping its deck under lock and key — will attract plenty of attention from some very wary, and wired, observers.

“In terms of the complexity and unmet need,” says Tal Zaks, the chief medical officer, “this is peak for what we’ve accomplished.”

Moderna has two Phase I studies it wants to talk about now.

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It's not per­fect, but it's a good start: FDA pan­elists large­ly en­dorse Aim­mune's peanut al­ler­gy ther­a­py

Two days after a fairly benign review from FDA staff, an independent panel of experts largely endorsed the efficacy and safety of Aimmune’s peanut allergy therapy, laying the groundwork for approval with a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy (REMS).

Traditionally, peanut allergies are managed by avoidance, but the threat of accidental exposure cannot be nullified. Some allergists have devised a way to dose patients off-label with peanut protein derived from supermarket products to wean them off their allergies. But the idea behind Aimmune’s product was to standardize the peanut protein, and track the process of desensitization — so when accidental exposure in the real world invariably occurs, patients are less likely to experience a life-threatening allergic reaction.

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Rit­ter bombs fi­nal PhI­II for sole lac­tose in­tol­er­ance drug — shares plum­met

More than two years ago Ritter Pharmaceuticals managed to find enough silver lining in its Phase IIb/III study — after missing the top-line mark — to propel its lactose intolerance toward a confirmatory trial. But as it turned out, the enthusiasm only set the biotech and its investors up to be sorely disappointed.

This time around there’s little left to salvage. Not only did RP-G28 fail to beat placebo in reducing lactose intolerance symptoms, patients in the treatment group actually averaged a smaller improvement. On a composite score measuring symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, bloating and gas, patients given the drug had a mean reduction of 3.159 while the placebo cohort saw a 3.420 drop on average (one-sided p-value = 0.0106).

Ear­ly snap­shot of Ad­verum's eye gene ther­a­py sparks con­cern about vi­sion loss

An early-stage update on Adverum Biotechnologies’ intravitreal gene therapy has triggered investor concern, after patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) saw their vision deteriorate, despite signs that the treatment is improving retinal anatomy.

Adverum, on Wednesday, unveiled 24-week data from the OPTIC trial of its experimental therapy, ADVM-022, in six patients who have been administered with one dose of the therapy. On average, patients in the trial had severe disease with an average of 6.2 anti-VEGF injections in the eight months prior to screening and an average annualized injection frequency of 9.3 injections.

Alex Ar­faei trades his an­a­lyst's post for a new role as biotech VC; Sanofi vet heads to Vi­for

Too often, Alex Arfaei arrived too late. 

An analyst at BMO Capital Markets, he’d meet with biotech or pharmaceutical heads for their IPO or secondary funding and his brain, trained on a biology degree and six years at Merck and Endo, would spring with questions: Why this biomarker? Why this design? Why not this endpoint? Not that he could do anything about it. These execs were coming for clinical money; their decisions had been made and finalized long ago.

Arde­lyx bags its first FDA OK for IBS, set­ting up a show­down with Al­ler­gan, Iron­wood

In the first of what it hopes will be a couple of major regulatory milestones for its new drug, Ardelyx has bagged an FDA approval to market Ibsrela (tenapanor) for irritable bowel syndrome.

The drug’s first application will be for IBS with constipation (IBS-C), inhibiting sodium-hydrogen exchanger NHE3 in the GI tract in such a way as to increase bowel movements and decrease abdominal pain. This comes on the heels of two successful Phase III trials.