Start­up with Johns Hop­kins roots rais­ing $40.5 mil­lion to de­vel­op can­cer me­tab­o­lism drugs

A new on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny spun out of Johns Hop­kins School of Med­i­cine is rais­ing up to $40.5 mil­lion to de­vel­op its plat­form of an­ti­cancer ther­a­pies.

Bar­bara Slush­er

The start­up, found­ed just a year ago, is called Dra­cen Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, and its tech is based on work by Bar­bara Slush­er, a pro­fes­sor of neu­rol­o­gy, and Jonathan Pow­ell, a pro­fes­sor of on­col­o­gy at Johns Hop­kins School of Med­i­cine.

The re­searchers al­tered the struc­ture of an ex­per­i­men­tal drug that en­hanced its abil­i­ty to slip through the blood-brain bar­ri­er. Their re­search was pub­lished in Au­gust 2016 in the Jour­nal of Med­i­c­i­nal Chem­istry, which showed in an­i­mal stud­ies that the al­tered drug struc­ture re­sult­ed in ten times bet­ter drug de­liv­ery to the brains com­pared with the rest of an­i­mals’ bod­ies.

Jonathan Pow­ell

The drug they tweaked is called 6-di­a­zo-5-oxo-L-nor­leucine, or DON for short. It’s been used to shrink ad­vanced tu­mors in clin­i­cal tri­als, but its dam­age to the gas­troin­testi­nal sys­tem pre­vent­ed it from mov­ing for­ward.

“We won­dered whether we could make a safer and more tol­er­a­ble form of DON by en­hanc­ing its brain pen­e­tra­tion and lim­it­ing its ex­po­sure to the rest of the body and, thus, tox­i­c­i­ty,” Slush­er said in a 2016 state­ment.

Dra­cen has an ex­clu­sive agree­ment with Hop­kins and the In­sti­tute of Or­gan­ic Chem­istry and Bio­chem­istry in Prague to li­cense the joint­ly-owned tech and de­vel­op pro­pri­etary drug can­di­dates.

The com­pa­ny is de­vel­op­ing nov­el glu­t­a­mine an­tag­o­nists that work as in­hibitors of can­cer me­tab­o­lism, chok­ing out tu­mors and their nor­mal meta­bol­ic func­tion. The plat­form might al­so have ap­pli­ca­tions in au­toim­mune dis­or­ders, in­flam­ma­to­ry dis­ease and cen­tral ner­vous sys­tem con­di­tions.

Dra­cen’s CEO Tom Es­tok said Dra­cen might be in the clin­ic by 2019.

The com­pa­ny is search­ing for lab and of­fice space in Bal­ti­more, and plans to hire about 12 em­ploy­ees and con­sul­tants,  Es­tok told the Bal­ti­more Busi­ness Jour­nal (which first re­port­ed the news).

Es­tok told BBJ he wasn’t ready to talk about the fi­nanc­ing — and that makes sense, as Dra­cen has on­ly re­port­ed $8.5 mil­lion raised so far of the hope­ful $40.5 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to an SEC state­ment. It’s like­ly far from be­ing wrapped up. Still, the reg­u­la­to­ry form shows nine in­vestors par­tic­i­pat­ed in the round so far. The in­vestors are uniden­ti­fied on the form. How­ev­er, two part­ners from Deer­field are list­ed as di­rec­tors of the com­pa­ny: Jonathan Leff and Robert Jack­son.

Pi­o­neer­ing Click Chem­istry in Hu­mans

Reimagining cancer treatments

Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, which is nearly one in six deaths. Recently, we have seen incredible advances in novel cancer therapies such as immune checkpoint inhibitors, cell therapies, and antibody-drug conjugates that have revamped cancer care and improved survival rates for patients.

Despite this significant progress in therapeutic targeting, why are we still seeing such a high mortality rate? The reason is that promising therapies are often limited by their therapeutic index, which is a measure of the effective dose of a drug, relative to its safety. If we could broaden the therapeutic indices of currently available medicines, it would revolutionize cancer treatments. We are still on the quest to find the ultimate cancer medicine – highly effective in several cancer types, safe, and precisely targeted to the tumor site.

Ivan Cheung, Eisai US chairman and CEO

Bio­gen, Ei­sai re­fresh amy­loid hy­poth­e­sis with PhI­II show­ing Alzheimer's med slows cog­ni­tive de­cline

In the first look at Phase III data for lecanemab, Eisai and Biogen’s follow-up Alzheimer’s drug to the embattled Aduhelm launch, results show the drug passed with flying colors on a test looking at memory, problem solving and other dementia metrics.

One of the most-watched Alzheimer’s therapies in the clinic, lecanemab met the study’s primary goal on the CDR-SB — Clinical Dementia Rating-Sum of Boxes — giving the biotech the confidence to ask for full approval in the US, EU and Japan by next March 31. The experimental drug reduced clinical decline on the scale by 27% compared to placebo at 18 months, the companies said Tuesday night Eastern time and Wednesday morning in Japan.

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Nooman Haque, head of life sciences and healthcare at Silicon Valley Bank, and John Carroll

I’m head­ed to Lon­don soon for #EU­BIO22. Care to join me?

It was great getting back to a live ESMO conference/webinar in Paris followed by a live pop-up event for the Endpoints 11 in Boston. We’re staying on the road in October with our return for a live/streaming EUBIO22 in London.

Silicon Valley Bank’s Nooman Haque and I are once again jumping back into the thick of it with a slate of virtual and live events on October 12. I’ll get the ball rolling with a virtual fireside chat with Novo Nordisk R&D chief Marcus Schindler, covering their pipeline plans and BD work.

Gilead names 'k­ing­pin­s' in coun­ter­feit HIV med law­suit

Gilead is mounting its counterfeit drug lawsuit, naming two “kingpins” and a complex network of conspirators who allegedly sold imitation bottles of its HIV meds, some of which ended up in US pharmacies.

The pharma giant on Wednesday provided an update on what it called a “large-scale, sophisticated counterfeiting conspiracy,” accusing two new defendants of “leading and orchestrating” a scheme to sell hundreds of millions of dollars in illegitimate drugs posing as meds such as Biktarvy and Descovy.

Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) (Olivier Douliery/Sipa USA (Sipa via AP Images))

Sen­ate pass­es bill to re­work an­i­mal test­ing re­quire­ments for drug de­vel­op­ers

The US Senate passed via unanimous consent on Thursday afternoon a bipartisan bill that would eliminate a federal mandate for animal testing for new drugs.

Touted as a much-needed modernization of FDA’s rules, co-sponsor Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) have said the bill will stop lots of needless suffering of animals.

Pa­tient re­port finds con­sti­pa­tion con­di­tion not well man­aged, open­ing door for bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion from phar­ma

Advertising for constipation treatments often uses light-hearted humor in an effort to spur open discussions about the sometimes stigmatized topic. However, that may not be enough to get people to take the condition seriously, a new patient report from Phreesia finds.

Fewer than one-fifth (17%) of patients with constipation surveyed understand the longer-term health risks of constipation such as hemorrhoids and bowel incontinence. Many are trying to manage their condition with over-the-counter medicines, but often for much longer than recommended. An equal 68% say they use home remedies or OTC meds to manage constipation. But while 90% understand that OTCs are not intended for long-term use, 50% have used an OTC constipation medicine for more than a year.

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Cell and gene ther­a­pies from acad­e­mia: EMA to help 5 projects go­ing af­ter un­met clin­i­cal needs

The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that it’s launching a new pilot program to help academic and other nonprofit researchers developing advanced therapy medicinal products, which includes cell and gene therapies.

Academics have proven to be enormously useful in feeding new products, like chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapies first developed by Memorial Sloan Kettering, and ushered to the market by biopharma companies. Jean Bennett, formerly with the University of Pennsylvania, also saw her research lead to the approval of gene therapy Luxturna, which Roche now owns.

Vlad Coric, Biohaven CEO (Photo Credit: Andrew Venditti)

As Amy­lyx de­ci­sion waits in the wings, Bio­haven’s ALS drug sinks (again) in plat­form tri­al

The FDA’s decision on Amylyx’s ALS drug is set to come out sometime Thursday. In a space with few drugs, any approval would be a major landmark.

But elsewhere in the ALS field, things are a bit more tepid.

Thursday morning, Biohaven announced that its drug verdiperstat failed its arm of an ALS platform trial led by Massachusetts General Hospital. According to a press release, the drug did not meet its primary endpoint — improvement on an ALS functional status test — or any key secondary endpoints at 24 weeks. The trial had enrolled 167 patients, giving them either verdiperstat or placebo twice a day.

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Tar­sus looks to raise aware­ness of eye­lid mite dis­ease in cam­paign aimed at eye­care spe­cial­ists

Eyelid mite disease may be “gross” but it’s also fairly common, affecting about 25 million people in the US.

Called demodex blepharitis, it’s a well-known condition among eyecare professionals, but they often don’t always realize how common it is. Tarsus Pharmaceuticals wants to change that with a new awareness campaign called “Look at the Lids.”

The campaign and website debut Thursday — just three weeks after Tarsus filed for FDA approval for a drug that treats the disease.

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