Stewart Campbell, Axial Therapeutics

Treat­ing autism through the gut? Ax­i­al Ther­a­peu­tics re­fu­els on its ex­plo­ration of the gut-brain ax­is

If Stew­art Camp­bell had said five years ago that you could treat con­di­tions of the brain through the gut, you prob­a­bly would have thought he was crazy — or at least that’s what he likes to say.

Since then, a crop of biotechs ex­plor­ing the gut-brain ax­is has got­ten the at­ten­tion of some well-known in­vestors. Camp­bell’s Ax­i­al Ther­a­peu­tics is now the lat­est, un­veil­ing a $37.25 mil­lion Se­ries C round on Wednes­day morn­ing that brings the com­pa­ny’s to­tal raise to just over $90 mil­lion.

The ex­tra cash will be used to con­duct a Phase II tri­al of the com­pa­ny’s lead pro­gram, a gut-re­strict­ed mol­e­c­u­lar ther­a­py for ir­ri­tabil­i­ty in chil­dren with autism called AB-2004.

David Don­abe­di­an

Ax­i­al’s sci­ence traces back to a plat­form that pro­fes­sor Sarkis Maz­man­ian had brew­ing in his lab sev­er­al years ago at Cal­tech. His team pub­lished re­search from an­i­mal stud­ies that es­tab­lished a link be­tween the pop­u­la­tion of tiny mi­crobes in your body and the course of autism spec­trum dis­or­ders. In 2016, he and the Long­wood Fund’s David Don­abe­di­an spun that re­search in­to a com­pa­ny, which Don­abe­di­an ran un­til hand­ing the reins to Camp­bell ear­li­er this year.

AB-2004’s mech­a­nism of ac­tion be­gins with mi­crobes in the gut that di­gest pro­tein down to their com­po­nent amino acids, which are fur­ther di­gest­ed in­to some­thing called small mol­e­cule metabo­lites. A cer­tain class of these metabo­lites are then ab­sorbed by the blood and can trav­el to the brain, Camp­bell ex­plained. There, sci­en­tists have shown that the metabo­lites can al­ter the de­vel­op­ment of cer­tain brain cells — in par­tic­u­lar, cells that pro­duce myelin.

If you think of an elec­tri­cal wire, there’s usu­al­ly a plas­tic coat­ing to in­su­late the wire and keep it from short-cir­cuit­ing, Camp­bell said. That’s what myelin is for neu­rons. When cells that pro­duce myelin are pre­vent­ed from ma­tur­ing prop­er­ly, Ax­i­al be­lieves be­hav­ior is af­fect­ed, like dan­ger sens­ing or fear con­di­tion­ing.

“That’s the way we con­nect all those dots from the gut mi­crobes all the way to be­hav­ior,” he said.

AB-2004 is de­signed to pass through the gut, pick­ing up metabo­lites al­most like a sponge, then pass through the stool, low­er­ing metabo­lite lev­els in the gut, and there­fore in the brain. It’s an oral med­ica­tion that would need to be tak­en three times per day with food (though Camp­bell says they’re work­ing on for­mu­la­tions that could be tak­en twice or even once per day). The com­pa­ny re­cent­ly read out Phase Ia/IIb da­ta that showed the can­di­date was safe, and that it re­duced sev­er­al key GI neu­roac­tive mi­cro­bial metabo­lites in the plas­ma and urine.

“We think it has got a strong safe­ty pro­file, be­cause we don’t need to get it in the body or in­to the brain at all in or­der for it to work,” Camp­bell said.

Ax­i­al is plan­ning on launch­ing a Phase II tri­al soon, which should read out in 2023, Camp­bell said. They’ve al­so got pre­clin­i­cal pro­grams in Parkin­son’s dis­ease and on­col­o­gy in the works.

When asked if an IPO is in the fu­ture, Camp­bell re­spond­ed with a chuck­le: “No idea.”

“We’re so fo­cused right now on just get­ting this ex­e­cu­tion to­ward our mile­stones and (mov­ing) our pro­grams ahead,” he added.

Aus­tralian VC firm On­eVen­tures led Ax­i­al’s lat­est round along with the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo In­no­va­tion Plat­form Com­pa­ny. The Autism Im­pact Fund, Corun­dum Sys­tems Bi­ol­o­gy, the Long­wood Fund, Sev­en­ture Part­ners, Tai­ho Ven­tures, and Do­main As­so­ci­ates al­so chimed in.

Ax­i­al is one of sev­er­al mi­cro­bio­me com­pa­nies ex­plor­ing the gut-brain ax­is, in­clud­ing Kally­ope, which land­ed a $112 mil­lion Se­ries C round last year. No­vo Nordisk has dipped its feet, ink­ing a part­ner­ship with Kally­ope in obe­si­ty and di­a­betes back in 2018.

“Autism and Parkin­son’s are the tip of the ice­berg for us,” Camp­bell said. “This is a very dif­fer­ent way and we hope this is re­al­ly like a phase shift in how we think about neu­ro­log­i­cal dis­or­ders.”

Scoop: Boehringer qui­et­ly shut­ters a PhII for one of its top drugs — now un­der re­view

Boehringer Ingelheim has quietly shut down a small Phase II study for one of its lead drugs.

The private pharma player confirmed to Endpoints News that it had shuttered a study testing spesolimab as a therapy for Crohn’s patients suffering from bowel obstructions.

A spokesperson for the company tells Endpoints:

Taking into consideration the current therapeutic landscape and ongoing clinical development programs, Boehringer Ingelheim decided to discontinue our program in Crohn’s disease. It is important to note that this decision is not based on any safety findings in the clinical trials.

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Vas Narasimhan (Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

No­var­tis de­tails plans to axe 8,000 staffers as Narasimhan be­gins sec­ond phase of a glob­al re­org

We now know the number of jobs coming under the axe at Novartis, and it isn’t small.

The pharma giant is confirming a report from Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger that it is chopping 8,000 jobs out of its 108,000 global staffers. A large segment will hit right at company headquarters in Basel, as CEO Vas Narasimhan axes some 1,400 of a little more than 11,000  jobs in Switzerland.

The first phase of the work is almost done, the company says in a statement to Endpoints News. Now it’s on to phase two. In the statement, Novartis says:

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Lina Gugucheva, NewAmsterdam Pharma CBO

Phar­ma group bets up to $1B-plus on the PhI­II res­ur­rec­tion of a once dead-and-buried LDL drug

Close to 5 years after then-Amgen R&D chief Sean Harper tamped the last spade of dirt on the last broadly focused CETP cholesterol drug — burying their $300 million upfront and the few remaining hopes for the class with it — the therapy has been fully resurrected. And today, the NewAmsterdam Pharma crew that did the Lazarus treatment on obicetrapib is taking another big step on the comeback trail with a €1 billion-plus regional licensing deal, complete with close to $150 million in upfront cash.

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How pre­pared is bio­phar­ma for the cy­ber dooms­day?

One of the largest cyberattacks in history happened on a Friday, Eric Perakslis distinctly remembers.

Perakslis, who was head of Takeda’s R&D Data Sciences Institute and visiting faculty at Harvard Medical School at the time, had spent that morning completing a review on cybersecurity for the British Medical Journal. Moments after he turned it in, he heard back from the editor: “Have you heard what’s going on right now?”

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(AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Some phar­ma com­pa­nies promise to cov­er abor­tion-re­lat­ed trav­el costs — while oth­ers won't go that far yet

As the US Department of Health and Human Services promises to support the millions of women who would now need to cross state lines to receive a legal abortion, a handful of pharma companies have said they will pick up employees’ travel expenses.

GSK, Sanofi, Johnson & Johnson, BeiGene, Alnylam and Gilead have all committed to covering abortion-related travel expenses just four days after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and revoked women’s constitutional right to an abortion.

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Aurobindo Pharma co-founders P. V. Ram Prasad Reddy (L) and K. Nityananda Reddy

Au­robindo Phar­ma re­ceives warn­ing let­ter from In­di­a's SEC fol­low­ing more FDA ques­tion marks

Indian-based generics manufacturer Aurobindo Pharma has been in the crosshairs of the FDA for several years now, but the company is also attracting attention from regulators within the subcontinent.

According to the Indian business news site Business Standard, a warning letter was sent to the company from the Securities Exchange Board of India, or SEBI.

The letter is related to disclosures made by the company on an ongoing FDA audit of the company’s Unit-1 API facility in Hyderabad, India as well as observations made by the US regulator between 2019 and 2022.

New Charles River Laboratories High Quality (HQ) Plasmid DNA Centre of Excellence at Bruntwood SciTech’s Alderley Park in Cheshire, United Kingdom. (Charles River)

Charles Riv­er Lab­o­ra­to­ries to start cell and gene ther­a­py man­u­fac­tur­ing at UK site in Sep­tem­ber

While Massachusetts-based Charles River Laboratories has been on an acquisition spree, they are not against planting their flag. The latest move by the company sees them crossing the pond to establish a manufacturing site in the UK.

The company on Tuesday opened its cell and gene therapy manufacturing center at Bruntwood SciTech’s Alderley Park in Cheshire, United Kingdom. The expansion follows Charles River’s acquisition of Cognate BioServices and Cobra Biologics in 2021 for $875 million. Cognate is a plasmid DNA, viral vector and cell therapy CDMO.

Bristol Myers Squibb (Alamy)

CVS re­sumes cov­er­age of block­buster blood thin­ner af­ter price drop fol­lows Jan­u­ary ex­clu­sion

Following some backlash from the American College of Cardiology and patients, Bristol Myers Squibb and Pfizer lowered the price of their blockbuster blood thinner Eliquis, thus ensuring that CVS Caremark would cover the drug after 6 months of it being off the major PBM’s formulary.

“Because we secured lower net costs for patients from negotiations with the drug manufacturer, Eliquis will be added back to our template formularies for the commercial segment effective July 1, 2022, and patient choices will be expanded,” CVS Health said in an emailed statement. “Anti-coagulant therapies are among the non-specialty products where we are seeing the fastest cost increases from drug manufacturers and we will continue to push back on unwarranted price increases.”

#Can­nes­Lions2022: Con­sumer health ex­ecs call on agen­cies to in­volve pa­tients in cre­ative process

CANNES — When Tamara Rogers joined GSK back in 2018, “science was king and R&D were the gods.” Now the global chief marketing officer of consumer healthcare wants to make room for another supreme being: the consumer.

As health and wellness becomes more relevant to consumers amid the pandemic, four health-focused executives called on marketers to involve patients in their creative process in a panel discussion at the Cannes Lions advertising creativity festival.

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