Mir Imran, Rani Therapeutics

Rani Ther­a­peu­tics eyes po­ten­tial IPO as ro­bot­ic pill tech­nol­o­gy takes shape

Two ef­forts to trans­form in­jecta­bles in­to ro­bot­ic pills — a colos­sal mar­ket de­signed to en­hance treat­ment com­pli­ance, di­min­ish the need for physi­cian-led ther­a­peu­tic ad­min­is­tra­tion and pla­cate nee­dle-pho­bic pa­tients — got off the ground last year. Now, one of these ini­tia­tives, led by an in­ven­tor who played an in­flu­en­tial role in pi­o­neer­ing the first FDA-ap­proved au­to­mat­ic im­plantable car­diovert­er de­fib­ril­la­tor (ICD) has tak­en an­oth­er key step in its quest with a suc­cess­ful ear­ly-stage ef­fi­ca­cy and safe­ty study.

Cal­i­for­nia-based Rani Ther­a­peu­tics — un­der chief Mir Im­ran who start­ed his first com­pa­ny while in col­lege and cur­rent­ly holds more than 400 is­sued patents — on Thurs­day said its tech­nol­o­gy, chris­tened the Ra­niP­ill, had per­formed as ex­pect­ed in a tri­al with 58 healthy adult vol­un­teers.

The tech­nol­o­gy is de­cep­tive­ly sim­ple. The cap­sule has an en­teric coat­ing that pro­tects it from the acidic am­biance of the stom­ach, and once it moves in­to the in­tes­tine and pH lev­els rise, the coat­ing dis­solves and a chem­i­cal re­ac­tion takes place which in­flates a bal­loon. Pres­sure in the bal­loon push­es a dis­solv­able mi­cronee­dle filled with a drug — in this case, the com­pound oc­treotide, an off-patent bi­o­log­ic that treats the hor­mon­al dis­or­der acromegaly — in­to the in­testi­nal wall. In­testines don’t have pain re­cep­tors, and the in­testi­nal sub­strate — which is de­signed to ab­sorb nu­tri­ents — is high­ly vas­cu­lar­ized, mak­ing it the ide­al lo­ca­tion for the drug-en­gorged in­jec­tion to de­ploy.

In the tri­al, 52 sub­jects were treat­ed with the Ra­niP­ill ver­sion of oc­treotide, while the re­main­ing 6 par­tic­i­pants were giv­en an in­tra­venous in­jec­tion of an iden­ti­cal dose of oc­treotide.

“This was the first time we were de­liv­er­ing nee­dles from the in­testi­nal wall,” Im­ran not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News. “And our hy­poth­e­sis from the be­gin­ning was that you wouldn’t feel any­thing. And of course, that was borne out. And then the sec­ond end­point was bioavail­abil­i­ty, which turned out to be greater than 70%. Which is what ex­act­ly we had seen in our pre­clin­i­cal test­ing.”

The plan is to con­duct a prop­er head-to-head study in the com­ing year and demon­strate equiv­a­lence or non-in­fe­ri­or­i­ty to the in­jectable ver­sion. The ear­li­est Im­ran ex­pects the prod­uct to be avail­able, as­sum­ing all goes well clin­i­cal­ly, is 2022.

This oc­treotide tri­al will be the lit­mus test for its drug-de­liv­ery plat­form, open­ing the door to a pletho­ra of in­jectable treat­ments, from in­sulin to Hu­mi­ra, and across a wide range of dis­eases. But there’s a long road ahead. Each drug loaded in­to the cap­sule will re­quire a sep­a­rate study be­fore Rani can pe­ti­tion the FDA for ap­proval.

The com­pa­ny has a num­ber of such drugs in its pipeline, and ex­pects to kick off Phase I stud­ies lat­er in 2020. Found­ed in 2012, Rani Ther­a­peu­tics has raised $142 mil­lion in fund­ing from a slate of in­vestors in­clud­ing GV (the in­vest­ment arm of Al­pha­bet), and counts No­var­tis and Shire (now owned by Take­da) as its part­ners.

As it ramps up its clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, fund­ing is im­per­a­tive. “The fund­ing nev­er stops. We’re con­stant­ly do­ing that,” Im­ran said, adding that an IPO is a “dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty” rough­ly a year from now. The com­pa­ny al­so ex­pects to an­nounce a new li­cens­ing part­ner by the end of the year or 2021, he said.

Trans­form­ing in­jecta­bles in­to pills is hard­ly a nov­el idea, but a string of phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal/chem­i­cal ef­forts to evade the en­zymes that break down the oral drug be­fore it can be ab­sorbed have large­ly hit a wall. Apart from the Ra­niP­ill, last year an an­i­mal study — led by MIT sci­en­tists — cap­tured the spot­light for the po­ten­tial of its blue­ber­ry sized ro­bot­ic pill de­signed to de­liv­er an in­sulin shot in­side the stom­ach.

Rat and pig da­ta on the oth­er ro­bot­ic pill — cre­at­ed by a team of re­searchers at MIT (in­clud­ing the pro­lif­ic drug de­liv­ery mae­stro Robert Langer) and No­vo Nordisk — has an al­ter­na­tive mech­a­nism of ac­tion.

The de­vice, called So­ma, en­cap­su­lates a nee­dle in­side a pill made of com­pressed freeze-dried in­sulin that is de­signed to ori­ent it­self when it comes in con­tact with the stom­ach lin­ing — in­spired by a leop­ard tor­toise, which bran­dish­es a shell that al­lows the African rep­tile to right it­self if it rolls on­to its back.

Up­on con­tact with the wet in­ner lin­ing of the stom­ach (which is al­so de­void of pain re­cep­tors), a sug­ar disk hold­ing the nee­dle in place is dis­solved, mak­ing way for the nee­dle to re­lease its con­tents. The prod­uct is then en­gi­neered to dis­in­te­grate and trav­el harm­less­ly through the di­ges­tive sys­tem and even­tu­al­ly be elim­i­nat­ed, the re­searchers wrote in their re­port in Sci­ence.

“There’s so many patent land­mines that we have placed. So we’re not re­al­ly con­cerned about MIT or any­one else,” Im­ran said.

Da­ta Lit­er­a­cy: The Foun­da­tion for Mod­ern Tri­al Ex­e­cu­tion

In 2016, the International Council for Harmonisation (ICH) updated their “Guidelines for Good Clinical Practice.” One key shift was a mandate to implement a risk-based quality management system throughout all stages of a clinical trial, and to take a systematic, prioritized, risk-based approach to clinical trial monitoring—on-site monitoring, remote monitoring, or any combination thereof.

Pfiz­er's big block­buster Xel­janz flunks its post-mar­ket­ing safe­ty study, re­new­ing harsh ques­tions for JAK class

When the FDA approved Pfizer’s JAK inhibitor Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis in 2012, they slapped on a black box warning for a laundry list of adverse events and required the New York drugmaker to run a long-term safety study.

That study has since become a consistent headache for Pfizer and their blockbuster molecule. Last year, Pfizer dropped the entire high dose cohort after an independent monitoring board found more patients died in that group than in the low dose arm or a control arm of patients who received one of two TNF inhibitors, Enbrel or Humira.

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Top gene ther­a­py deals, M&A pacts in 2020 high­light an­oth­er big year in one of the hottest fields in bio­phar­ma

Chris Dokomajilar at DealForma has been crunching the numbers on gene therapy deals over the last 2 years and came away with a few key observations.

Both the upfront cash and deal totals last year backed off a bit from the record high hit in 2019, but the totals are still running well ahead of anything we’ve seen in the years prior to 2019/2020.
2020 R&D partnerships came in at 23 deals, with $1.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $8.5 billion in total deal value. Looking at 2019-2020 M&A, Dokomajilar found: 9 Acquisitions, with over $11.1 billion in disclosed upfront cash and equity and more than $13.4 billion in total M&A value.

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Steve Harr (L) and Hans Bishop

One of the most am­bi­tious start­up teams in biotech just out­lined plans for a $400M IPO and a val­u­a­tion of about $4B

The executive team at Sana Biotechnology has sketched out more details about the full scope of its ambitions as the new unicorn to watch. They amended their S-1 today to include a price range of $20 to $23 a share — which puts them in reach of pulling in around $400 million on the high end with a market value starting right around $4 billion.

That’s not bad for a preclinical biotech with no drugs yet in human studies, but it squares with its ambitions to remake the cell therapy field with a slate of in-house platforms. The biotech raised $705 million — primarily from ARCH (44 million shares) and Flagship (34.2 million shares) — to get to this stage.

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Bob Nelsen (Michael Kovac/Getty Images)

ARCH an­nounces largest fund yet, rais­ing $1.85B to back men­tal health, cell and gene edit­ing ap­proach­es

Nearly a year ago, as the pandemic encroached and the stock market cratered, Flagship and ARCH Venture announced three mega-funds worth a combined $2.6 billion. They wanted, ARCH’s Bob Nelsen said, to restore confidence “that there was money out there and a lot of it” to invest in biotech.

Since then, the stock market has returned — almost frighteningly so — and Nelsen has kept raising and spending cash. On Thursday, he announced a new fund, worth $1.85 billion. It’s the largest pot yet for a VC famous for its deep pockets.

Lil­ly at­tempts to re­vive an old idea for tack­ling pain, li­cens­ing PhI pro­gram from Japan’s Asahi Ka­sei Phar­ma

Eli Lilly is fronting some new cash in a space they’re quite familiar with.

The company is partnering with Japan’s Asahi Kasei Pharma on an experimental drug for chronic pain, acquiring the rights for the P2X7 receptor antagonist program dubbed AK1780. Lilly will shell out a pretty penny for the program, promising up to $410 million total should each milestone payment come to pass.

Asahi Kasei will receive an upfront sum of $20 million for the candidate. In addition, Lilly is on the hook for up to $210 million in development and regulatory milestones and another potential $180 million in sales milestones. Asahi Kasei can also obtain royalties ranging from the mid-single to low-double digits should an approved product come out of the deal.

Ther­mo Fish­er plat­form seeks to ex­pe­dite donor cell cul­ti­va­tion for al­lo­gene­ic cell ther­a­pies

One of the world’s leading CDMOs has launched a new technology it says will expedite a quickly-growing sect of biotech drug development: off-the-shelf, allogeneic cell therapies.

It’s been nearly a decade since the FDA approved the first use of the method that uses healthy donor cells to create a master cell bank, which is then used for specific therapies — a cord blood allogeneic treatment called Hemacord. In the years since, the use of allogeneic cells has taken off in research circles, most notably in the use of T cell therapies to target solid tumor cancers.

Take­da earns win for its TKI in­hibitor in tiny lung can­cer group — but GI side ef­fects could be an ear­ly red flag

Japanese drugmaker Takeda has made a big push in recent years to build a hand in oncology, particularly in the next-gen cancer space. One of those candidates, tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) mobocertinib, recently earned the FDA’s interest in a small section of untreated lung cancer patients, but will severe GI side effects be a roadblock?

Takeda’s oral mobocertinib posted clinically significant objective response rates in a Phase I/II adaptive trial drugging metastatic non-small cell lung cancer patients with EGFR exon 20 gene mutations who had previously undergone platinum-based chemotherapy, according to data presented Thursday at the virtual World Conference on Lung Cancer.

Covid-19 roundup: EU and As­traZeneca trade blows over slow­downs; Un­usu­al unions pop up to test an­ti­bod­ies, vac­cines

After coming under fire for manufacturing delays last week, AstraZeneca’s feud with the European Union has spilled into the open.

The bloc accused the pharma giant on Wednesday of pulling out of a meeting to discuss cuts to its vaccine supplies, the AP reported. AstraZeneca denied the reports, saying it still planned on attending the discussion.

Early Wednesday, an EU Commission spokeswoman said that “the representative of AstraZeneca had announced this morning, had informed us this morning that their participation is not confirmed, is not happening.” But an AstraZeneca spokesperson later called the reports “not accurate.”

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