Len Post and Sofie Qiao (Vivace)

Vi­vace Ther­a­peu­tics scores $30M Se­ries C to take on­col­o­gy can­di­date for 'Hip­po' path­way to hu­man tri­al next year

Named for the Ital­ian term in­di­cat­ing a piece of mu­sic should be played at an up­beat and live­ly tem­po, Cal­i­for­nia-based Vi­vace Ther­a­peu­tics seems to have lived up to its name­sake.

In the mere five years the small-mol­e­cule drug dis­cov­ery and de­vel­op­ment com­pa­ny has been in busi­ness, its sci­en­tists and re­searchers have de­vot­ed sig­nif­i­cant amounts of time and mon­ey to­ward ther­a­peu­tics that tar­get a path­way in the body that can cause can­cer­ous tu­mors to de­vel­op if cer­tain pro­teins are ac­ti­vat­ed. Now, with $30 mil­lion in Se­ries C fi­nanc­ing, Vi­vace is aim­ing to test one of its can­di­dates against that path­way start­ing in ear­ly 2021.

The pro­teins, called YAP, in­vade cells through what’s called the Hip­po path­way — a sig­nal­ing sys­tem in the body that con­trols tis­sue re­gen­er­a­tion and tells or­gans when it’s time to stop grow­ing. If ac­ti­vat­ed, YAP can dis­rupt the path­way in a way that caus­es the can­cer­ous tu­mors to form.

CEO Sofie Qiao told End­points News that ex­am­in­ing the re­la­tion­ship be­tween YAP and the Hip­po path­way was the rea­son she found­ed Vi­vace in 2015 — it’s a nov­el re­la­tion­ship, es­pe­cial­ly in terms of its con­nec­tion to can­cer. For the first two years, Qiao said, the com­pa­ny op­er­at­ed in stealth mode, but in May 2017, Vi­vace raised a $25 mil­lion Se­ries B to be­come a com­mer­cial-fo­cused on­col­o­gy com­pa­ny.

Now, the work to un­der­stand and po­ten­tial­ly treat a pro­tein mu­ta­tion that may cause lung, gas­tric, colon, cer­vi­cal, ovar­i­an, breast, melanoma, he­pa­to­cel­lu­lar car­ci­no­ma and squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma can­cers has paid off in the biggest way yet for Qiao and Vi­vace with the lat­est $30 mil­lion round.

“Most of the on­col­o­gy play­ers in our in­dus­try have been watch­ing this path­way for quite a few years, and many of them have proac­tive­ly ap­proached us for dis­cus­sion since we do have a pub­lic pres­ence,” Qiao said. “To the best of our knowl­edge, no one has sent any mol­e­cule to the clin­ic, so we are po­si­tioned to be the first com­pa­ny to test a mol­e­cule tar­get­ing this path­way in hu­man set­ting.”

No­table in­vestors for this round in­clude: Canaan Part­ners, WuXi Health­care Ven­tures, Cen­o­va Cap­i­tal, Se­quoia Cap­i­tal Chi­na, Box­er Cap­i­tal and RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment.

Qiao said near­ly all of the $30 mil­lion would be put in­to the hu­man clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment process of Vi­vace’s drug can­di­date. The ini­tial process­es will tar­get tu­mors that are known to be en­tire­ly de­pen­dent on ac­ti­vat­ed YAP, and Vi­vace said in a news re­lease that pre-clin­i­cal R&D showed that its clin­i­cal can­di­date is ac­tive as a monother­a­py and in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er an­ti-can­cer ther­a­pies against tu­mors that re­ly up­on dys­func­tion of the Hip­po path­way.

Len Post, Vi­vace’s chief sci­en­tif­ic of­fi­cer, said in an in­ter­view that un­til now, no sci­en­tif­ic progress had re­al­ly been made on how to dis­rupt the Hip­po path­way if YAP pro­teins were ac­ti­vat­ed. Vi­vace’s work, he said, dis­cov­ered how cer­tain com­pounds work in the con­text of the path­way and what has to hap­pen to in­hib­it the path­way from form­ing can­cer­ous tu­mors.

For YAP pro­teins to ac­ti­vate, they have to find an­oth­er pro­tein called a tran­scrip­tion­al en­hanced as­so­ciate do­main. Vi­vace’s com­pounds block those TEAD pro­teins by pre­vent­ing the ad­di­tion of a fat­ty acid that would al­low the two pro­teins to bond.

The $30 mil­lion round brings Vi­vace’s to­tal in­vest­ment haul just since 2017 to rough­ly $70 mil­lion. Qiao said that those fig­ures in­di­cate a clear in­ter­est from the biotech in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ty in the Hip­po path­way and its po­ten­tial im­pact on the field of on­col­o­gy.

“That shows how much en­thu­si­asm and in­ter­est the in­vestor com­mu­ni­ty has for this path­way,” she said. “I think they re­al­ly like our da­ta and our team and the po­ten­tial of our mol­e­cule re­al­ly gen­er­at­ing clin­i­cal ef­fi­ca­cy.”

2023 Spot­light on the Fu­ture of Drug De­vel­op­ment for Small and Mid-Sized Biotechs

In the context of today’s global economic environment, there is an increasing need to work smarter, faster and leaner across all facets of the life sciences industry.  This is particularly true for small and mid-sized biotech companies, many of which are facing declining valuations and competing for increasingly limited funding to propel their science forward.  It is important to recognize that within this framework, many of these smaller companies already find themselves resource-challenged to design and manage clinical studies themselves because they don’t have large teams or in-house experts in navigating the various aspects of the drug development journey. This can be particularly challenging for the most complex and difficult to treat diseases where no previous pathway exists and patients are urgently awaiting breakthroughs.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO (Efren Landaos/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Pfiz­er makes an­oth­er bil­lion-dol­lar in­vest­ment in Eu­rope and ex­pands again in Michi­gan

Pfizer is continuing its run of manufacturing site expansions with two new large investments in the US and Europe.

The New York-based pharma giant’s site in Kalamazoo, MI, has seen a lot of attention over the past year. As a major piece of the manufacturing network for Covid-19 vaccines and antivirals, Pfizer is gearing up to place more money into the site. Pfizer announced it will place $750 million into the facility, mainly to establish “modular aseptic processing” (MAP) production and create around 300 jobs at the site.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 154,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Rick Modi, Affinia Therapeutics CEO

Ver­tex-part­nered gene ther­a­py biotech Affinia scraps IPO plans

Affinia Therapeutics has ditched its plans to go public in a relatively closed-door market that has not favored Nasdaq debuts for the drug development industry most of this year. A pandemic surge in 2020 and 2021 opened the doors for many preclinical startups, which caught Affinia’s attention and gave the gene therapy biotech confidence in the beginning days of 2022 to send in its S-1.

But on Friday, Affinia threw in the S-1 towel and concluded now is not the time to step onto Wall Street. The biotech has put out few public announcements since the spring of this year. Endpoints News picked the startup as one of its 11 biotechs to watch last year.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 154,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

Vas Narasimhan, Novartis CEO (Thibault Camus/AP Images, Pool)

No­var­tis bol­sters Plu­vic­to's case in prostate can­cer with PhI­II re­sults

The prognosis is poor for metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer (mCRPC) patients. Novartis wants to change that by making its recently approved Pluvicto available to patients earlier in their course of treatment.

The Swiss pharma giant unveiled Phase III results Monday suggesting that Pluvicto was able to halt disease progression in certain prostate cancer patients when administered after androgen-receptor pathway inhibitor (ARPI) therapy, but without prior taxane-based chemotherapy. The drug is currently approved for patients after they’ve received both ARPI and chemo.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 154,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.

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.

Yuling Li, Innoforce CEO

In­no­force opens new man­u­fac­tur­ing site in Chi­na

Innoforce is off to the races at its new site in the city of Hangzhou, China.

The Chinese CDMO announced last week that it has started manufacturing at the new facility, which was built to offer process development and manufacturing operations for RNA, plasmid DNA, viral vectors and other cell therapeutics. It will also serve as Innoforce’s corporate HQ.

The company said it’s investing more than $200 million in the 550,000-square-foot manufacturing base for advanced therapies. The GMP manufacturing facility features space for producing plasmids with three 30-liter bioreactors. For viral vector manufacturing, Innoforce also has 200- and 500-liter bioreactors at its disposal, along with eight suites to make cell therapies. The site also includes several labs and warehouse spaces.

FDA grants or­phan drug des­ig­na­tion to Al­ger­non's ifen­prodil, while ex­clu­siv­i­ty re­mains un­clear

As the FDA remains silent on orphan drug exclusivity in the wake of a controversial court case, the agency continues to hand out new designations. The latest: Algernon Pharmaceuticals’ experimental lung disease drug ifenprodil.

The Vancouver-based company announced on Monday that ifenprodil received orphan designation in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a chronic lung condition that results in scarring of the lungs.  Most IPF patients suffer with a dry cough, and breathing can become difficult.

Pfiz­er-backed Me­di­ar Ther­a­peu­tics ropes in an­oth­er Big Phar­ma in­vestor

A biotech centered on treating fibrosis — born out of Mass General and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — has received a financial boost.

According to an SEC filing, the company has raised $31,761,186 in its latest funding round, which includes 17 investors. The filing lists six names attached to the company, including Meredith Fisher, a partner at Mass General Brigham Ventures and Mediar’s acting CEO.

Ken Greenberg, SonoThera CEO

Gene ther­a­py goes acoustic as ARCH-backed biotech launch­es with ul­tra­sound gene de­liv­ery plat­form

After co-founding two biotechs off virus-based therapies, one for pain and one for cancer, Ken Greenberg decided to go in a different direction for his newest biotech, SonoThera.

Based out of San Francisco, SonoThera announced Monday morning that it raised $60.75 million to develop new gene therapies — but delivered by ultrasound, which Greenberg says can address the major challenges facing more conventional viral gene therapies.

Endpoints News

Keep reading Endpoints with a free subscription

Unlock this story instantly and join 154,000+ biopharma pros reading Endpoints daily — and it's free.