Jonathan Sporn, Gilgamesh CEO

The Har­vard sci­en­tist act­ing as ATAI's trea­sure trove launch­es a new psy­che­delics firm fo­cused on drug 'ana­logues'

A for­mer Har­vard and NIH sci­en­tist is re­turn­ing to the psy­che­delics field with a new biotech af­ter sell­ing his last ef­fort to the buzzy ATAI Life Sci­ences.

Gil­gamesh Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals com­plet­ed its $27 mil­lion Se­ries A on Thurs­day, the com­pa­ny an­nounced, with plans to use the cash to prep four pro­grams for INDs and con­tin­ue ex­pand­ing its lead­er­ship team. The biotech is led by CEO Jonathan Sporn, and it’s not his first rodeo in psy­che­delics.

Sporn pre­vi­ous­ly found­ed Per­cep­tion Neu­ro­science, fo­cus­ing on R-ke­t­a­mine for treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion, and sold it to ATAI in ear­ly 2019. Per­cep­tion’s can­di­date is in ear­ly hu­man tests and is among the most ad­vanced in ATAI’s port­fo­lio.

Two oth­er mem­bers of his lead­er­ship team— his CSO and co-founder — al­so sold a com­pa­ny cen­tered around opi­oid use dis­or­der to ATAI last year in Kures. The col­lec­tive ex­pe­ri­ences among the group have cer­tain­ly helped Gil­gamesh get off the ground, Sporn told End­points News, but they want­ed to do things a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent­ly this time around.

Sporn be­gan putting a team to­geth­er of what he called “un­usu­al” peo­ple for the space, main­ly med­i­c­i­nal chemists in­clud­ing the for­mer Kures lead­ers. These folks, Dal­i­bor Sames and An­drew Kruegel, had ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in cre­at­ing and en­gi­neer­ing ana­logues to some of the more com­mon psy­che­del­ic drugs out there like ibo­gaine.

It’s the cre­ation of these ana­logues where Gil­gamesh will al­so spend its time and mon­ey, Sporn said, rather than try­ing to use things like syn­thet­ic psilo­cy­bin — the psy­choac­tive in­gre­di­ent in mag­ic mush­rooms that Com­pass Path­ways fo­cus­es on — or some­thing a bit more off­beat, like the drug col­lo­qui­al­ly known as ‘toad ven­om.’

“What we see with these oth­er com­pa­nies in the field, they seem to be fo­cus­ing more on things that al­ready ex­ist and where it’s a more com­plex process to try to pro­tect these things,” Sporn told End­points. “We’re more fo­cused on cre­at­ing the right group of peo­ple … we’re pulling to­geth­er the right peo­ple, it’s all very IP-cen­tric and very med­i­c­i­nal chem­istry-cen­tric.”

Gil­gamesh has al­so part­nered with NJ-based Psy­chogen­ics to use their AI plat­form, which he says was the first of its kind in psy­chi­a­try. Re­searchers ad­min­is­ter ex­per­i­men­tal drugs to mice and are ob­served by cam­eras that cat­a­logue their be­hav­ioral pat­terns, al­low­ing Gil­gamesh to mea­sure which dos­es are most ef­fec­tive and how long their ef­fects last af­ter leav­ing the body.

The com­pa­ny ex­pects to en­ter IND-en­abling stud­ies for two of its pro­grams over the next few months, the first of which is an oral ke­t­a­mine ana­logue like­ly to be stud­ied for treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion and opi­ate use dis­or­der. This can­di­date’s ap­peal, Sporn says, is the oral for­mu­la­tion it­self: Gil­gamesh’s pill al­lows for few­er dis­so­cia­tive ef­fects and is much safer for home use or dur­ing psy­chother­a­py.

Sporn al­so high­light­ed an ana­logue of DMT Gil­gamesh is work­ing on, which is in­tend­ed to short­en the ther­a­peu­tic ef­fect from six hours to about one or two hours. That would ease the bur­den on the health­care sys­tem, as psy­chi­a­trists won’t have to spend all that time ob­serv­ing pa­tients af­ter tak­ing the drug. Gil­gamesh’s oth­er two pro­grams in­volve the sero­tonin re­cep­tor 5-HT2A.

With his ex­pe­ri­ence at Per­cep­tion and now at Gil­gamesh, Sporn says he’s been grate­ful to have a front row seat at this bur­geon­ing field. And he’s al­ready seen in­ter­est from mid-size phar­ma com­pa­nies in­ter­est­ed in ac­quir­ing Gil­gamesh. But for now, the fo­cus re­mains on build­ing out the team and en­sur­ing its pro­grams are full steam ahead.

“They’re start­ing to dip their toe in­to the wa­ter to look at ac­qui­si­tions in this space, or part­ner­ships in this space,” Sporn said. “It’s clear they’re in­ter­est­ed, and I think you’ll start to see more of that, more of those peo­ple be­gin­ning to cre­ate part­ner­ships around the space, and that will help, I think, a good deal.”

A new era of treat­ment: How bio­mark­ers are chang­ing the way we think about can­cer

AJ Patel was recovering from a complicated brain surgery when his oncologist burst into the hospital room yelling, “I’ve got some really great news for you!”

For two years, Patel had been going from doctor to doctor trying to diagnose his wheezing, only to be dealt the devastating news that he had stage IV lung cancer and only six months to live. And then they found the brain tumors.

“What are you talking about?” Patel asked. He had never seen an oncologist so happy.

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Katrine Bosley (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

For­mer Ed­i­tas CEO Ka­trine Bosley goes the VC route, join­ing ear­ly-stage in­vestor

More than three years after abruptly exiting Editas Medicine, Katrine Bosley is leaping to the venture capital side of things.

London-based early-stage investor Advent Life Sciences announced Thursday that Bosley is joining the firm as venture partner. It’s also adding two general partners to the team: Dominic Schmidt, formerly of Syncona, will be in the UK; and Satish Jindal, most recently the CEO of investment fund BioMotiv, will be based in Boston, just like Bosley.

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Serhat Gumrukçu, Enochian BioSciences co-founder (Seraph Research Institute)

LA biotech founder ar­rest­ed, charged in mur­der-for-hire scheme be­hind 2018 death

A biotech founder has been arrested and charged for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme that resulted in the death of a man in Vermont back in 2018.

Serhat Gumrukçu, the co-founder of Enochian BioSciences, was arrested in Los Angeles, where the company is based, according to the Department of Justice. He was charged alongside Berk Eratay of Las Vegas, and a third person, Jerry Banks of Colorado, was previously arrested for kidnapping and allegedly murdering the victim, Gregory Davis.

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Adam Russell, ARPA-H's incoming acting deputy director

NI­H's new, in­de­pen­dent break­through drug ac­cel­er­a­tor ARPA-H gets its first em­ploy­ee

Despite the controversy of housing it in NIH, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra on Wednesday afternoon formally announced the establishment of the Advanced Research Project Agency for Health (ARPA-H) as an independent entity within the NIH, as HHS had previously stipulated that “NIH may not subject ARPA-H to NIH policies.”

Becerra also announced the appointment of ARPA-H’s inaugural employee, Adam Russell, who will serve as acting deputy director.

ProFound Therapeutics founding team

Flag­ship's lat­est biotech could turn some of the thou­sands of new pro­teins it dis­cov­ered in­to ther­a­pies — and it has $75M to start

Flagship Pioneering, the incubator of Moderna and dozens of other biotechs, says it has landed upon tens of thousands of previously undiscovered human proteins. The VC shop wants to potentially turn them into therapeutics.

Like other drug developers that have turned proteins into therapeutics (think insulin for diabetes), Flagship’s latest creation, ProFound Therapeutics, wants to tap into this new trove of proteins as part of its mission to treat indications ranging from rare diseases to cancer to immunological diseases.

Richard Silverman, Akava Therapeutics founder and Northwestern professor

This time around, Lyri­ca's in­ven­tor is de­vel­op­ing his North­west­ern dis­cov­er­ies at his own biotech

Richard Silverman was left in the dark for the last five years of clinical development of the drug he discovered. The Northwestern University professor found out about the first approval of Lyrica, in the last few days of 2004, like most other people: in the newspaper.

What became one of Pfizer’s top-selling meds, at $5 billion in 2017 global sales before losing patent protection in 2019, started slipping out of his hands when Northwestern licensed it out to Parke-Davis, one of two biotechs that showed interest in developing the drug in the pre-email days, when the university’s two-person tech transfer team had to ship out letters to garner industry appetite.

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David Ricks, Eli Lilly CEO (David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Eli Lil­ly set to in­vest $2.1B in home state man­u­fac­tur­ing boost

Eli Lilly is looking to expand its footprint in its home Hoosier State by making a major investment in manufacturing.

The pharma is investing $2.1 billion in two new manufacturing sites at Indiana’s LEAP Lebanon Innovation and Research District in Boone County, northwest of Lilly’s headquarters in Indianapolis.

The two new facilities will expand Lilly’s manufacturing network for active ingredients and new therapeutic modalities, including genetic medicines, according to a press release.

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Up­dat­ed: US sees spike in Paxlovid us­age as Mer­ck­'s mol­nupi­ravir and As­traZeneca's Evusheld are slow­er off the shelf

New data from HHS show that more than 162,000 courses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid were administered across the US over the past week, continuing a streak of increased usage of the pill, and signaling not only rising case numbers but more awareness of how to access it.

In comparison to this week, about 670,000 courses of the Pfizer pill have been administered across the first five months since Paxlovid has been on the US market, averaging about 33,000 courses administered per week in that time.

Pfiz­er and CD­MOs ramp up Paxlovid man­u­fac­tur­ing with Kala­ma­zoo plant ex­pan­sion lead­ing the way

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to evolve, pharma companies and manufacturers are exploring how to step up production on antivirals.

Pfizer is planning to expand its Kalamazoo-area facility to increase manufacturing capabilities for the oral Covid-19 antiviral Paxlovid, according to a report from Michigan-based news site MLive. The expansion of the facility, which serves as Pfizer’s largest manufacturing location, is expected to create hundreds of “high-skilled” STEM jobs, MLive reported. No details about the project’s cost and timeline have been released, but according to MLive, Pfizer will announce the details of the expansion at some point in early June.

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