Toad ven­om to treat de­pres­sion? RA Cap­i­tal wa­gers $125M on lat­est psy­che­del­ic biotech

Can an in­haled ver­sion of the psy­che­del­ic known as ‘toad ven­om’ be used to treat tough-to-crack de­pres­sion? For GH Re­search, that’s the $125 mil­lion ques­tion.

The Dublin-based biotech an­nounced Mon­day it closed a Se­ries B round to help ad­vance its lead pro­gram, an in­halant called GH001, for psy­chi­atric and neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders. GH is be­gin­ning with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion and has two as-yet-undis­closed in­di­ca­tions on tap.

Mon­day’s round was co-led RA Cap­i­tal and RTW In­vest­ments, along with ex­ist­ing in­vestor BVF Part­ners. GH de­clined to com­ment be­yond its press re­lease.

The drug in ques­tion is a sci­en­tif­ic mouth­ful — 5-Methoxy-N, N-di­methyl­trypt­a­mine is the of­fi­cial name — but is more com­mon­ly re­ferred to as 5-MeO-DMT or slangi­ly as toad ven­om, due to its pres­ence in a cer­tain toad species na­tive to the south­west­ern US and north­west­ern Mex­i­co. It can al­so be de­rived from plants or made syn­thet­i­cal­ly, with the plant ver­sion used as an en­theogen in some parts of Cen­tral and South Amer­i­ca.

Per a 2018 VICE News re­port, the psy­che­del­ic saw a rapid rise in pop­u­lar­i­ty in the mid-2010s among those try­ing to achieve the ‘ego death’ phe­nom­e­non, in which re­searchers be­lieve the part of the brain re­spon­si­ble for one’s sense of self shuts down tem­porar­i­ly. The drug saw heavy in­ter­est from users on Red­dit and YouTube, VICE re­port­ed, who en­gaged in an “arms race” to boast about their ex­pe­ri­ences get­ting high.

Psy­che­delics-fo­cused biotechs have seen a surge in in­vestor in­ter­est in re­cent years, most no­tably sur­round­ing the Pe­ter Thiel-backed ATAI Life Sci­ences. That com­pa­ny us­es a unique busi­ness mod­el for de­vel­op­ing ther­a­peu­tics cov­er­ing a range of men­tal health dis­or­ders by bring­ing port­fo­lio com­pa­nies un­der one um­brel­la.

Though ATAI has more than 13 pro­grams de­vel­op­ing drugs, GH is much more nar­row­ly fo­cused on its 5-MeO-DMT work. So far, GH001 has com­plet­ed a Phase I study in healthy vol­un­teers, the com­pa­ny said. Re­sults showed GH001 was well-tol­er­at­ed, and it’s now in a Phase I/II tri­al in pa­tients with treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion.

The biotech is al­so work­ing on an in­jectable for­mu­la­tion of 5-MeO-DMT, which they are call­ing GH002 and for which they’re al­so keep­ing po­ten­tial in­di­ca­tions close to the vest.

Treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion oc­curs in pa­tients who see lit­tle to no suc­cess with an­ti­de­pres­sants or psy­chother­a­py, ac­cord­ing to the Mayo Clin­ic. Symp­toms can range from mild to se­vere and there’s gen­er­al­ly not a sin­gle ap­proach that works for every pa­tient.

In ad­di­tion to RA Cap­i­tal and RTW In­vest­ments, oth­er new in­vestors in­clud­ed Acu­ta Cap­i­tal Part­ners, Box­er Cap­i­tal, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Deer­field Man­age­ment Com­pa­ny, Lo­gos Cap­i­tal, Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal, Ven­rock Health­care Cap­i­tal Part­ners and Veri­tion Fund Man­age­ment.

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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