Se­nior Ab­b­Vie li­ai­son quits job to launch neu­ro start­up, with sights set on ALS

About a year ago, Howard Berman was sit­ting in a wait­ing room at Hous­ton Methodist Hos­pi­tal with his fa­ther, who was show­ing cog­ni­tive loss. They were there to see Joseph Mas­deu, one of the lead­ing neu­rol­o­gists in the area.

Howard Berman

“You know what?” Berman re­calls Mas­deu say­ing. “Why don’t you meet with Dr. Stan Ap­pel, he’s work­ing on some very in­no­v­a­tive work in the field of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­ease.”

And so last spring, Berman found him­self in a pri­vate meet­ing with Ap­pel, the 86-year-old co-di­rec­tor of Hous­ton Methodist’s Neu­rol­o­gy In­sti­tute, who was don­ning his icon­ic bow tie.

Ap­pel pre­sent­ed on his reg­u­la­to­ry T cell (Treg) re­search — and by the third slide, Berman was hooked. Not long af­ter, he quit his job at Ab­b­Vie and launched Coya Ther­a­peu­tics — named af­ter an is­land off Cos­ta Ri­ca — to de­vel­op Ap­pel’s Treg ap­proach for ALS.

On Wednes­day, Coya un­veiled a $10 mil­lion Se­ries A to ad­vance that pro­gram and build out a pipeline.

“We want to do for ALS what peo­ple did for HIV and AIDS,” Berman said: ex­tend pa­tients’ lives. ALS pa­tients typ­i­cal­ly live an av­er­age of three years af­ter di­ag­no­sis, he added.

Stan­ley Ap­pel

Ap­pel and his team ob­served that many ALS pa­tients have low lev­els of Treg cells, or ones that don’t func­tion prop­er­ly. Im­prov­ing the num­ber and func­tion of the Treg cells, they hy­poth­e­sized, just might slow the pro­gres­sion of dis­ease.

Many com­pa­nies have eyed Treg cell ther­a­pies in the last decade, but the rar­i­ty and plas­tic­i­ty of en­doge­nous Treg cells pose a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge.

Coya’s process be­gins with leuka­phere­sis, or draw­ing a pa­tient’s blood and iso­lat­ing the Treg cells. Then sci­en­tists add cer­tain types of agents — like ra­pamycin or IL-2 — de­signed to sta­bi­lize the Tregs and help them grow and func­tion prop­er­ly. Coya then ex­pands the cells, con­vert­ing them from mil­lions to bil­lions of Tregs, which are frozen for fu­ture use.

“What we found out is you can in­fuse the cells, (and) it stops pro­gres­sion for about a month… dur­ing the course of in­fu­sion. But when you stop the in­fu­sions, what hap­pens is the pa­tients start to de­cline again,” Berman said. “It’s not a one-shot deal. You need to be able to give it month­ly,” he added lat­er.

Their longest cry­op­re­served cells have been frozen for a year and a half. And so far, they’re still vi­able, ac­cord­ing to Berman.

Coya has al­ready con­duct­ed a Phase I tri­al, which “suc­cess­ful­ly demon­strat­ed… the safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty of au­tol­o­gous in­fu­sions of ex­pand­ed Tregs in ALS pa­tients, with the po­ten­tial of slow­ing or halt­ing dis­ease pro­gres­sion,” Ap­pel said in a state­ment.

An on­go­ing Phase II tri­al with eight pa­tients should pro­duce da­ta this June or Ju­ly, Berman added.

“We will be work­ing with the FDA to de­sign an­oth­er tri­al that will re­al­ly pro­vide, hope­ful­ly, com­pelling da­ta to bring us in­to an ap­proval process,” he said.

The com­pa­ny is al­so go­ing af­ter Parkin­son’s, Alzheimer’s, fron­totem­po­ral de­men­tia and oth­er au­toim­mune dis­eases, as well as non-cell based ex­o­somes and small mol­e­cules.

“We’re not just a cell ther­a­py com­pa­ny per sé,” Berman said.

The Price of Re­lief: Ex­plor­ing So­lu­tions to the Ris­ing Costs of On­col­o­gy Drugs

In 2020, The National Cancer Institute estimated about 1.8 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the United States, while the costs associated with treatment therapies continued to escalate. Given the current legislative climate on drug pricing, it’s never been more important to look at the evolution of drug pricing globally and control concerns of sustainable and affordable treatments in oncology.

Lat­est news on Pfiz­er's $3B+ JAK1 win; Pacts over M&A at #JPM22; 2021 by the num­bers; Bio­gen's Aduhelm reck­on­ing; The sto­ry of sotro­vimab; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

For those of you who attended #JPM22 in any shape or form, we hope you had a fruitful time. Regardless of how you spent the past hectic week, may your weekend be just what you need it to be.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 128,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

A $3B+ peak sales win? Pfiz­er thinks so, as FDA of­fers a tardy green light to its JAK1 drug abroc­i­tinib

Back in the fall of 2020, newly crowned Pfizer chief Albert Bourla confidently put their JAK1 inhibitor abrocitinib at the top of the list of blockbuster drugs in the late-stage pipeline with a $3 billion-plus peak sales estimate.

Since then it’s been subjected to serious criticism for the safety warnings associated with the class, held back by a cautious FDA and questioned when researchers rolled out a top-line boast that their heavyweight contender had beaten the champ in the field of atopic dermatitis — Dupixent — in a head-to-head study.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 128,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Robert Califf, FDA commissioner nominee (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Rob Califf ad­vances as Biden's FDA nom­i­nee, with a close com­mit­tee vote

Rob Califf’s second confirmation process as FDA commissioner is already much more difficult than his near unanimous confirmation under the Obama administration.

The Senate Health Committee on Thursday voted 13-8 in favor of advancing Califf’s nomination to a full Senate vote. Several Democrats voted against Califf, including Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Maggie Hassan. Several other Democrats who aren’t on the committee, like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, also said Thursday that they would not vote for Califf. Markey, Hassan and Manchin all previously expressed reservations about the prospect of Janet Woodcock as an FDA commissioner nominee too.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 128,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Michel Vounatsos, Biogen CEO (World Economic Forum/Ciaran McCrickard)

Bio­gen vows to fight CM­S' draft cov­er­age de­ci­sion for Aduhelm be­fore April fi­nal­iza­tion

Biogen executives made clear in an investor call Thursday they are not preparing to run a new CMS-approved clinical trial for their controversial Alzheimer’s drug anytime soon.

As requested in a draft national coverage decision from CMS earlier this week, Biogen and other anti-amyloid drugs will need to show “a meaningful improvement in health outcomes” for Alzheimer’s patients in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial to get paid for their drugs, rather than just the reduction in amyloid plaques that won Aduhelm its accelerated approval in June.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 128,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

CRO own­er pleads guilty to ob­struct­ing FDA in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to fal­si­fied clin­i­cal tri­al da­ta

The co-owner of a Florida-based clinical research site pleaded guilty to lying to an FDA investigator during a 2017 inspection, revealing that she falsely portrayed part of a GlaxoSmithKline pediatric asthma study as legitimate, when in fact she knew that certain data had been falsified, the Department of Justice said Wednesday.

Three other employees — Yvelice Villaman Bencosme, Lisett Raventos and Maytee Lledo — previously pleaded guilty and were sentenced in connection with falsifying data associated with the trial at the CRO Unlimited Medical Research.

Susan Galbraith, AstraZeneca EVP, Oncology R&D

Can­cer pow­er­house As­traZeneca rolls the dice on a $75M cash bet on a buzzy up­start in the on­col­o­gy field

After establishing itself in the front ranks of cancer drug developers and marketers, AstraZeneca is putting its scientific shoulder — and a significant amount of cash — behind the wheel of a brash new upstart in the biotech world.

The pharma giant trumpeted news this morning that it is handing over $75 million upfront to ally itself with Scorpion Therapeutics, one of those biotechs that was newly birthed by some top scientific, venture and executive talent and bequeathed with a fortune by way of a bankroll to advance an only hazily explained drug platform. And they are still very much in the discovery and preclinical phase.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 128,800+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

‘Skin­ny la­bels’ on gener­ics can save pa­tients mon­ey, re­search shows, but re­cent court de­ci­sions cloud fu­ture

New research shows how generic drug companies can successfully market a limited number of approved indications for a brand name drug, prior to coming to market for all of the indications. But several recent court decisions have created a layer of uncertainty around these so-called “skinny” labels.

While courts have generally allowed generic manufacturers to use their statutorily permitted skinny-label approvals, last summer, a federal circuit court found that Teva Pharmaceuticals was liable for inducing prescribers and patients to infringe GlaxoSmithKline’s patents through advertising and marketing practices that suggested Teva’s generic, with its skinny label, could be employed for the patented uses.

A patient in Alaska receiving an antibody infusion to prevent Covid hospitalizations in September. All but one of these treatments has been rendered useless by Omicron (Rick Bowmer/AP Images)

How a tiny Swiss lab and two old blood sam­ples cre­at­ed one of the on­ly ef­fec­tive drugs against Omi­cron (and why we have so lit­tle of it)

Exactly a decade before a novel coronavirus broke out in Wuhan, Davide Corti — a newly-minted immunologist with frameless glasses and a quick laugh — walked into a cramped lab on the top floor of an office building two hours outside Zurich. He had only enough money for two technicians and the ceiling was so low in parts that short stature was a job requirement, but Corti believed it’d be enough to test an idea he thought could change medicine.

Endpoints Premium

Premium subscription required

Unlock this article along with other benefits by subscribing to one of our paid plans.