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.

In his­toric Covid-19 ad­comm, vac­cine ex­perts de­bate a sea of ques­tions — but of­fer no clear an­swers

The most widely anticipated and perhaps most widely watched meeting in the FDA’s 113-year history ended late Thursday night with a score of questions and very few answers.

For nearly 9 hours, 18 different outside experts listened to public health agencies and foundations present how the United States’ Covid-19 vaccine program developed through October, and they debated where it should go from there: Were companies testing the right metrics in their massive trials? How long should they track patients before declaring a vaccine safe or effective? Should a vaccine, once authorized, be given to the volunteers in the placebo arm of a trial?

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

A top drug pro­gram at Bay­er clears a high bar for CKD — open­ing the door to an FDA pitch

Over the past 4 years, Bayer has been steering a major trial through a pivotal program to see if their drug finerenone could slow down the pace of chronic kidney disease in patients suffering from both CKD as well as Type 2 diabetes.

Today, their team jumped on a virtual meeting hosted by the American Society of Nephrology to offer a solid set of pivotal data to demonstrate that the drug can delay dialysis or a kidney replacement as well as cardio disease, while also adding some worrying signs of hyperkalemia among the patients taking the drug. And they’re hustling it straight to regulators in search of an approval for kidney disease and cardio patients — one of the toughest challenges in the book, as demonstrated by repeated past failures.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Bio­gen spot­lights a pair of painful pipeline set­backs as ad­u­canum­ab show­down looms at the FDA

Biogen has flagged a pair of setbacks in the pipeline, spotlighting the final failure for a one-time top MS prospect while scrapping a gene therapy for SMA after the IND was put on hold due to toxicity.

Both failures will raise the stakes even higher on aducanumab, the Alzheimer’s drug that Biogen is betting the ranch on, determined to pursue an FDA OK despite significant skepticism they can make it with mixed results and a reliance on post hoc data mining. And the failures are being reported as Biogen was forced to cut its profit forecast for 2020 as a generic rival started to erode their big franchise drug.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Biond­Vax stock im­plodes af­ter a big PhI­II gam­ble for its uni­ver­sal flu vac­cine fails

After flying high on Wall Street for the last few months of a pandemic, BiondVax’s stock and dreams of getting approval for its universal flu vaccine hit the windshield.

The Jerusalem-based biotech announced on Friday that its only clinical candidate, M-001, failed both primary and secondary endpoints in a Phase III study. There was no statistically significant difference in reduction of flu illness and severity between the vaccine and placebo groups, according to the company. The vaccine did prove safe, if ineffective, BiondVax said.

Pascal Soriot, AstraZeneca CEO (Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

UP­DAT­ED: FDA gives As­traZeneca the thumbs-up to restart PhI­II Covid-19 vac­cine tri­als, and J&J is prepar­ing to re­sume its study

Several countries had restarted their portions of AstraZeneca’s global Phase III Covid-19 vaccine trial after the study was paused worldwide in early September, but the US notably stayed on the sidelines — until now. Friday afternoon the pharma giant announced the all clear from US regulators. And on top of that, J&J announced Friday evening that it’s preparing to resume its own Phase III vaccine trial.

Ul­tragenyx in­jects $40M to grab Solid's mi­crody­s­trophin trans­gene — while side­step­ping the AAV9 vec­tor that stirred up safe­ty fears

Since before Ilan Ganot started Solid Bio to develop a gene therapy for kids like his son, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy, Ultragenyx CEO Emil Kakkis has been watching and advising the former investment banker as he navigated the deep waters of drug development.

Just as Solid is getting back up on its feet after a yearlong clinical hold, Kakkis has decided to jump in for a formal alliance.

With a $40 million upfront, Ultragenyx is grabbing 14.45% of Solid’s shares $SLDB and the rights to its microdystrophin construct for use in combination with AAV8 vectors. Solid’s lead program, which utilizes AAV9, remains unaffected. The company also retains rights to other applications of its transgene.

Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz, Bain

Bain ex­ecs Adam Kop­pel and Jef­frey Schwartz line up $125M for their first blank check deal as Wall Street con­tin­ues to em­brace biotech

Adam Koppel and Jeffrey Schwartz have jumped into the blank check game, raising $125 million for a stock listing in search of a company.

Their SPAC, BCLS Acquisition Corp, raised $125 million this week, with a line on $25 million more as it scouts for a biotech in search of money and a place on Wall Street.

The two principals at Bain Life Sciences have been on a romp since they set up the Bain operation 4 years ago. Their S-1 spells out a track record of 22 deals totaling $650 million for the life sciences group, which led to 9 IPOs.

Covid-19 roundup: An mR­NA play­er gets a boost out of the lat­est round of an­i­mal da­ta; Phase­Bio pulls the plug on treat­ment tri­al

The big tell for CureVac $CVAC is coming up with a looming early-stage readout on their mRNA Covid-19 vaccine in the clinic. But for now they’ll make do with an upbeat assessment on the preclinical animal data they used to get into the clinic.

Researchers for the German biotech say they got the high antibody titers and T cell activation they were looking for, lining up a hamster challenge to demonstrate — in a simple model — that the vaccine could protect the furry creatures. Like the other mRNA vaccines, the drug sends instructions to spur cells to decorate themselves with the distinctive spike on the virus to elicit an immune response.

Stephen Hahn, FDA commissioner (AP Images)

As FDA sets the stage for the first Covid-19 vac­cine EUAs, some big play­ers are ask­ing for a tweak of the guide­lines

Setting the stage for an extraordinary one-day meeting of the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee this Thursday, the FDA has cleared 2 experts of financial conflicts to help beef up the committee. And regulators went on to specify the safety, efficacy and CMC input they’re looking for on EUAs, before they move on to the full BLA approval process.

All of this has already been spelled out to the developers. But the devil is in the details, and it’s clear from the first round of posted responses that some of the top players — including J&J and Pfizer — would like some adjustments and added feedback. And on Thursday, the experts can offer their own thoughts on shaping the first OKs.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 92,400+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.