Vir­tu­al biotech An­ti­va sets out on a big R&D quest, armed with a $22M round for an HPV ther­a­py

Gail Maderis, An­ti­va

For a vir­tu­al biotech with one drug just en­ter­ing the clin­ic, lit­tle South San Fran­cis­co-based An­ti­va Bio­sciences has carved out a very big mis­sion for it­self.

Led by ex-Bay­Bio chief Gail Maderis, the biotech is tar­get­ing pre­can­cer­ous le­sions caused by HPV with an ex­per­i­men­tal top­i­cal ther­a­py. They’ve mapped out a clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment plan that can, in a rel­a­tive­ly short pe­ri­od of time, of­fer some sol­id ev­i­dence of its po­ten­tial. And this morn­ing their ven­ture syn­di­cate has come up with a $22 mil­lion round de­signed to pro­vide enough sup­port to land key da­ta read­outs.

An­ti­va’s ABI-1968 be­gan its first hu­man study just days ago, on its way to tack­ling cer­vi­cal in­traep­ithe­lial neo­pla­sia, a pre­can­cer­ous con­di­tion that con­fronts mil­lions of women world­wide.

“It is a top­i­cal cream that is de­liv­ered in­trav­agi­nal­ly with two mech­a­nisms of ac­tion: an­tivi­ral and an an­tipro­lif­er­at­ing agent,” says Maderis. It’s de­signed to tack­le all forms of pre­can­cer­ous ab­nor­mal cell growth that lead to cer­vi­cal can­cer.

The mol­e­cule was in­vent­ed by a pro­fes­sor at UCSD, Karl Hostetler, an in­fec­tious dis­ease ex­pert who has a long and dis­tin­guished track record in an­tivi­rals.

“We are con­duct­ing a Phase Ia in healthy vol­un­teers in Aus­tralia,” says Maderis, fo­cus­ing on safe­ty and tol­er­a­bil­i­ty. If all goes well, the com­pa­ny will move for­ward in­to a Ib tri­al in the sum­mer, which will be in high grade dis­ease. And while safe­ty is still a big fo­cus, the biotech be­lieves it can get a sol­id look at ef­fi­ca­cy that should be a like­ly pre­dic­tor of larg­er da­ta read­outs.

“The Phase Ib study will be treat­ing pa­tients with FDA ap­proval end­points,” she adds. “We should get some good da­ta on the ef­fi­ca­cy of the drug. We are al­so de­vel­op­ing the same drug for anal neo­pla­sia, with a Phase I al­so in the sum­mer.”

A Phase II tri­al will like­ly have to wait un­til 2019.

Canaan Part­ners and Sofinno­va Ven­tures, two big play­ers on the West Coast, got the com­pa­ny up and run­ning, pro­vid­ing the ear­ly fi­nanc­ing need­ed for much of the pre­clin­i­cal work. They are in the C round an­nounced this morn­ing. But Maderis says its new back­ers al­so il­lus­trate the busi­ness plan at An­ti­va.

Brace Phar­ma Cap­i­tal, the ven­ture arm of Brazil’s largest phar­ma com­pa­ny, EMS, led the round. An­oth­er new in­vestor, NS In­vest­ment, is based in Ko­rea. Os­age Uni­ver­si­ty Part­ners and Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments al­so joined in.

The in­ter­na­tion­al sig­na­ture in the syn­di­cate un­der­scores An­ti­va’s in­ter­est in form­ing re­gion­al part­ner­ships in Latin Amer­i­ca and Asia as they be­gin to lay the glob­al ground­work that will be need­ed to pave out what they hope will one day be a very large roll­out.

Says Maderis: “We are start­ing to plant the seed to look to ge­o­gra­phies in the world where HPV dis­ease has the most preva­lence.”

If their top­i­cal ther­a­py works, An­ti­va will look to de­liv­er a new ther­a­py that can be eas­i­ly ap­plied, at home.

An­ti­va was left with a very large open­ing, says Canaan’s Wende Hut­ton, af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of new HPV vac­cines a decade ago seemed to an­swer this par­tic­u­lar un­met med­ical need. But the vac­cines proved to be a com­mer­cial let­down, and the threat of HPV re­mains a ma­jor threat to women – and men – around the world. Sur­gi­cal in­ter­ven­tions, adds Hut­ton, are not al­ways fea­si­ble.

“HPV is an epi­dem­ic and it’s a sad thing that women, even if screened, don’t have ac­cess to sur­gi­cal ther­a­py,” says Hut­ton.

I sug­gest­ed to Maderis that in most cas­es like this, a small, ven­ture backed biotech would even­tu­al­ly look to ei­ther a buy­out or a li­cens­ing pact with a big play­er which would be able to mar­ket a ther­a­py to a big group like this.

“Those are two good op­tions,” she said with a cheer­ful laugh.

It’s ear­ly days for An­ti­va. But there are a few short­cuts that could be avail­able to the com­pa­ny. One in par­tic­u­lar would be look­ing for an ac­cel­er­at­ed ap­proval on anal neo­pla­sia, where there’s a big un­met need for men. The cer­vi­cal side of the equa­tion would like­ly need to go all the way through a big Phase III.

The sev­en staffers at An­ti­va have a big job ahead.

Un­pack­ing the Aduhelm de­ci­sion, Ver­tex's half full glass, a $525M J&J breakup, and more

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By now you have surely read about the FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug and all its reverberations. But I’d still recommend checking out the meaty recap below to make sure you didn’t miss all the angles that the Endpoints team has covered. If you’d rather look ahead, look no further than our three-day virtual panels next week at BIO, where we will discuss what the new normal means for every part of the industry.

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What does a clear ma­jor­i­ty of the bio­phar­ma in­dus­try think of the FDA ap­proval of ad­u­canum­ab? 'Hor­ri­fy­ing' 'Dan­ger­ous' 'Con­fus­ing' 'Dis­as­ter'

Over the years, we’ve become used to seeing a consensus emerge early in our industry polls at Endpoints News. And when we took the pulse of drug hunters on the heels of a controversial FDA approval for aducanumab this week, it became immediately apparent that the vast majority of our readers — heavily concentrated among biopharma staffers and execs — were incensed by what they had just witnessed.

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Aaron Kesselheim (Scott Eisen/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Har­vard’s Aaron Kessel­heim re­signs from ex­pert pan­el in wake of ad­u­canum­ab OK, blast­ing FDA for ‘worst drug ap­proval de­ci­sion in re­cent U.S. his­to­ry'

A third member of the FDA’s Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee has resigned in the wake of Biogen’s controversial Aduhelm approval, slamming the agency as he left and further deepening the controversy surrounding the decision.

Harvard University professor Aaron Kesselheim quit in protest Thursday afternoon, calling the Aduhelm OK “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent U.S. history.” Kesselheim follows both Joel Perlmutter, a neurologist from Washington University in St. Louis, and David Knopman, a neurologist from the Mayo Clinic, out the door.

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David Knopman (Mayo Clinic via YouTube)

A sec­ond ad­comm mem­ber aban­dons his post in af­ter­math of con­tro­ver­sial ad­u­canum­ab de­ci­sion

As the fallout from the FDA’s approval of Alzheimer’s med aducanumab grows, a second member of the adcomm overseeing that drug’s review has walked away. But even with two experts now having resigned from that committee in protest, is there enough broad-level outrage to prevent another aducanumab from getting approved?

The FDA on Wednesday lost another member of its Peripheral and Central Nervous System Drugs Advisory Committee as Mayo Clinic neurologist David Knopman hit the exit over the agency’s decision to approve Biogen’s Alzheimer’s drug Aduhelm despite the committee’s near-unanimous vote against it.

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FDA au­tho­rizes about 10M J&J vac­cine dos­es, trash­es 60M more from trou­bled Emer­gent plant

The FDA on Friday released about 10 million doses of J&J’s vaccine for use, and disposed of another 60 million doses that were manufactured at the now-shuttered Emergent BioSolutions facility in Baltimore where cross-contamination occurred.

The agency said it’s not yet ready to allow the Emergent plant to be included in the J&J EUA, but that may occur soon. FDA came to the decision to authorize some of the doses after reviewing facility records and quality testing results.

The IPO 4-1-1: Four fil­ings, a pric­ing and a with­draw­al head­line this week's Nas­daq ac­tion as raise ap­proach­es $7.5B

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

Another week, another horde of biotechs is doing the Nasdaq dance.

This week saw four companies file their SEC paperwork ahead of expected debuts, another hit Nasdaq on Friday and a sixth formally withdrew its bid to go public. Aerovate Therapeutics, Ocean Biomedical and Acumen Pharmaceuticals all penciled in initial raises of $100 million, while Dermata Therapeutics is estimating a modest $18 million raise.

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Keiichi Fukuda, Heartseed CEO

Fresh off $598M deal with No­vo Nordisk, a Japan­ese stem cell com­pa­ny is on its way to the clin­ic with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to treat­ing heart fail­ure

A common approach to treating heart failure with induced pluripotent stem cells involves grafting sheets of cells onto the surface of the heart to improve vascularization and blood flow. It’s the easiest method of transplantation — but you run the risk of not making an electrical connection with the heart and the cells not synchronizing with the patient’s heart muscle.

So what if you could inject spherical clusters of heart cells directly into the heart muscle wall? For Heartseed, that’s now the $37 million question.

Janet Woodcock, acting FDA commissioner, at Thursday's Senate Appropriations hearing (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors lam­bast new Alzheimer’s drug’s price but give Janet Wood­cock a free pass on the ap­proval de­ci­sion

Senate Finance Democrats took aim at Biogen’s pricey new Alzheimer’s drug on Thursday, but members on both sides of the aisle at a separate appropriations hearing didn’t question acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock on the approval.

“I was appalled that Biogen priced their Alzheimer’s drug approved by the FDA at $56,000 per year — I’m not going to debate whether this is effective or not, but it’s double the household median income for Michiganders over the age of 65,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said at the finance hearing.

Reshma Kewalramani, Vertex CEO (BIO via YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Ver­tex strikes out on its lat­est big shot at a rare ge­net­ic dis­ease. But they're go­ing to keep on swing­ing

It’s been several months since Vertex culled one of its small molecules for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), taking a big hit after evidence of liver damage surfaced in a key Phase II trial. Now we learned that the company has whiffed on its second shot, and there’s nothing left in the clinic to treat the rare genetic disease — but that won’t stop it from trying.

Despite avoiding the safety issues that plagued the last candidate, Vertex $VRTX is taking the axe to VX-864 after Phase II results revealed the magnitude of the drug’s response is “unlikely to translate into substantial clinical benefit.” As a result of the news, the company’s stock fell 12.5% after hours.

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