The newest, $86M Third Rock start­up chas­es the tiny bi­o­log­i­cal ma­chines in­side of you

It took 23 years from the iso­la­tion of the gene for cys­tic fi­bro­sis to the ap­proval of the first drug to tar­get it, and an­oth­er 7 for a drug that could treat the vast ma­jor­i­ty of CF pa­tients. Third Rock Ven­ture’s lat­est start­up thinks they can build sim­i­lar drugs a whole lot faster.

MO­MA Ther­a­peu­tics has raised $86 mil­lion to in­ves­ti­gate and drug a class of en­zymes known as mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chines. These pro­teins in­clude every­thing from en­zymes in­volved in DNA re­pair to the trans­port pro­teins that go awry in cys­tic fi­bro­sis — over 400 dif­fer­ent types, by MO­MA’s count. And yet, MO­MA con­tends, they have been over­looked to date, with re­searchers both fail­ing to un­der­stand them as a co­he­sive group and fail­ing to em­ploy sys­tem­at­ic ways of find­ing and drug­ging them.

Ver­tex’s CF drugs and pro­ton-pump in­hibitors, both of which go af­ter ma­chines, are red her­rings, MO­MA wrote in a blog post ac­com­pa­ny­ing the launch: Their suc­cess is a sign of both the field’s po­ten­tial and bio­phar­ma’s over­all fail­ure.

“Not on­ly do these med­i­cines fur­ther un­der­score the ther­a­peu­tic po­ten­tial of these en­zymes,” MO­MA wrote, “they al­so il­lus­trate bio­phar­ma’s rudi­men­ta­ry ap­proach­es to pros­e­cut­ing them — near­ly all were dis­cov­ered from nat­ur­al prod­ucts, through serendip­i­ty or with­out a sys­tem­at­ic ap­proach to in­ter­ro­gat­ing the bio­chem­istry of the pro­teins them­selves.”

Reid Hu­ber

Al­though the young biotech has yet to an­nounce any tar­gets, the blog post points em­pha­sizes the role of these mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chines in can­cer and rare dis­eases. Like most Third Rock star­tups, it will be led by a firm part­ner: in this case, Reid Hu­ber, who most re­cent­ly served as CSO of In­cyte. And the com­pa­ny’s R&D ef­forts will be led by Blue­print vet­er­ans Christoph Lengauer and Tim Guzi, who step in as CSO and SVP of drug de­vel­op­ment, re­spec­tive­ly.

The com­pa­ny’s ap­proach comes large­ly out of the Howard Hugh­es Med­ical In­sti­tute, where Dorothee Kern, Eva No­gales and Jo­hannes Wal­ter col­lab­o­rat­ed. A fourth founder, Third Rock en­tre­peneur-in-res­i­dence Timur Yusufzai, will head up pro­tein sci­ences at the biotech.

Dorothee Kern

Mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chines are, as the New York Times once put it, the world’s small­est me­chan­i­cal de­vices. Sci­en­tists have just be­gun syn­the­siz­ing ar­ti­fi­cial ones, but hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent types of these puny mo­tors are run­ning in the body at every minute, break­ing down and build­ing DNA, fer­ry­ing salt and wa­ter in­to and out of cells, forc­ing mus­cles to re­lax and con­tract.

Nor­mal­ly, these mo­tors func­tion by shift­ing be­tween iso­forms — dif­fer­ent struc­tures with the same chem­i­cal make­up. But a sin­gle mu­ta­tion, such as those seen on the CFTR mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chine in cys­tic fi­bro­sis, can act like a faulty valve, caus­ing var­i­ous de­grees of mal­func­tion. Tu­mors, mean­while, can some­times de­pend heav­i­ly on one of these mo­tors to grow.

Their struc­tur­al changes are their weak­ness, Hu­ber told End­points News. Al­though all pro­teins change shape, mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chines do so at an un­par­al­leled scale. MO­MA will search for those ma­chines with ge­nom­ic da­ta and try to use small mol­e­cules to in­ter­vene, po­ten­tial­ly cor­rect­ing mal­func­tion in rare dis­eases and crip­pling tu­mors.

Think of it like the dif­fer­ence be­tween walk­ing to the mail­box at the end of the dri­ve­way vs. get­ting in a car and dri­ving to Ohio — mol­e­c­u­lar ma­chines are the lat­ter. They open, they close, they twist, they slide, they un­wind on a mas­sive scale — all in or­der to pro­duce work,” Hu­ber wrote in an email. “This unique de­pen­dence on such large changes in shape pro­vides the key op­por­tu­ni­ty for MO­MA Tx — if we can dis­rupt those changes with small mol­e­cules, we may be able to dis­cov­er nov­el med­i­cines and do it in a sys­tem­at­ic way across the en­tire class.”

Up­dat­ed: FDA re­mains silent on or­phan drug ex­clu­siv­i­ty af­ter last year's court loss

Since losing a controversial court case over orphan drug exclusivity last year, the FDA’s Office of Orphan Products Development has remained entirely silent on orphan exclusivity for any product approved since last November, leaving many sponsors in limbo on what to expect.

That silence means that for more than 70 orphan-designated indications for more than 60 products, OOPD has issued no public determination on the seven-year orphan exclusivity in the Orange Book, and no new listings of orphan exclusivity appear in OOPD’s searchable database, as highlighted recently by George O’Brien, a partner in Mayer Brown’s Washington, DC office.

Tim Pearson, Carrick Therapeutics CEO

Pfiz­er backs $60M in­fu­sion in­to Car­rick, teams up on breast can­cer treat­ment

In a big week for Carrick Therapeutics, the company announced $60 million in funding for its lead breast cancer drug and development of a second program, as well as a collaboration with Pfizer for combo development.

The $35 million from Pfizer comes with an agreement under which Pfizer will support Carrick’s Phase II study of samuraciclib in combination with Pfizer’s Faslodex for advanced breast cancer. Along with the investment, Adam Schayowitz, vice president and development head of breast cancer, colorectal cancer and melanoma at Pfizer global product development, will join Carrick’s scientific advisory board.

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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Romuald Meigneux/Sipa via AP Images)

Sanofi and Am­gen are bring­ing cash to cov­er the ta­ble stakes for the Hori­zon M&A game

With the market cap on Horizon Therapeutics $HZNP pushed up to the $23 billion mark today, one of the Big Pharmas in the hunt for a major league buyout deal signaled it’s playing the M&A game with cash.

Paris-based Sanofi, where CEO Paul Hudson has been largely focused on some risky biotech acquisitions to win some respect for its future pipeline prospects, issued a statement early Friday — complying with Rule 2.12 of the Irish takeover rules — making clear that while the certainty or size of an offer can’t be determined, any offer “will be solely in cash.” And Amgen CEO Robert Bradway came right in behind him, filing a statement on the London Stock Exchange overnight that any offer they may make will “likely” be in cash as well.

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Thomas Gad, Y-mAbs Therapeutics founder and interim CEO

FDA re­jects Y-mAbs’ neu­rob­las­toma drug af­ter tak­ing is­sue with clin­i­cal tri­al de­sign

Uncertainty about clinical trial evidence has led the FDA to hand down a complete response letter for Y-mAbs’ neuroblastoma drug, casting a cloud on the future of a candidate that had gone through a long development journey in a rare pediatric cancer.

Y-mAbs said it’s disappointed “but not surprised” given that the agency’s oncology drug advisory committee had voted 16-0 against its drug’s approval a few weeks ago.

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Philip Tagari switch­es Am­gen's dis­cov­ery lab for in­sitro's ma­chine learn­ing tools; CEO Joaquin Du­a­to to chair J&J's board

In February, Philip Tagari will take a few days of retirement and then immediately return to industry. He won’t be leading the therapeutics discovery unit for a large biopharma, though.

He’ll trade in his Amgen hat for chief scientist at a machine learning startup that has reeled in hundreds of millions in capital to lay the groundwork for a much-hyped new model of drug discovery that aims to speed up the time to new clinical assets.

Raul Rodriguez, Rigel Pharma CEO

Rigel Phar­ma scores FDA ap­proval for leukemia, kick­ing off show­down with Servi­er in IDH1

When Rigel Pharma bought olutasidenib from Forma Therapeutics, it acquired a drug that already secured a PDUFA date at the FDA — for February 2023. But regulators are ready to give their OK sooner than that.

The FDA has approved the IDH1 inhibitor as a treatment for adult patients with relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia who have a susceptible IDH-1 (isocitrate dehydrogenase-1) mutation as detected by an FDA-greenlit test. Rigel will market it as Rezlidhia.

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

As mon­ey pours in­to dig­i­tal ther­a­peu­tics, in­sur­ance cov­er­age crawls



Talk therapy didn’t help Lily with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. But a video game did.

As the 10-year-old zooms through icy waters and targets flying creatures on the snow-capped planet Frigidus, she builds attention skills, thanks to Akili Interactive Labs’ video game EndeavorRx. She’s now less anxious and scattered, allowing her to stay on a low dose of ADHD medication, according to her mom Violet Vu.

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Eli Lil­ly’s Alzheimer’s drug clears more amy­loid ear­ly than Aduhelm in first-ever head-to-head. Will it mat­ter?

Ahead of the FDA’s decision on Eli Lilly’s Alzheimer’s drug donanemab in February, the Big Pharma is dropping a first cut of data from one of the more interesting trials — but less important in a regulatory sense — at an Alzheimer’s conference in San Francisco.

In the unblinded 148-person study, Eli Lilly pitted its drug against Aduhelm, Biogen’s drug that won FDA approval but lost Medicare coverage outside of clinical trials. Notably, the study didn’t look at clinical outcomes, but rather the clearance of amyloid, a protein whose buildup is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, in the brain.

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Uğur Şahin, BioNTech CEO (ddp images/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

BioN­Tech bets on dif­fi­cult STING field via small mol­e­cule pact with a Pol­ish biotech

BioNTech is beefing up its relatively thin small molecule pipeline by adding weight to a clinically difficult corner of oncology R&D: STING agonists. To do so, BioNTech is teaming up with a 15-year-old Polish biotech and doling out €40 million, about $41.5 million, to start.

The deal is broken into two parts: First, BioNTech obtains an exclusive global license to develop and market Ryvu Therapeutics’ STING agonist portfolio as small molecules, whether alone or in combination with other agents.

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