Synta's Surprise - Pharmaceutical Executive


Synta's Surprise
A small molecule for autoimmune diseases? No one expected that.

Pharmaceutical Executive

"We put together a nontraditional group of institutional and individual investors, primarily experienced buy-out investors based out of New York, that were willing to purchase the business from Shionogi," Bahcall says. "A total of over $180 million has gone into the company, and $128 million came from the New York investor group." Bahcall believes it may be the largest equity financing for a private US biotech company in the past three years.

Stop the Cascade
The faith for that investment may have been based on the experience and success of Synta's R&D team. Two drugs they discovered and developed (before the Synta merger) are now in late-stage clinical trials for an HIV indication, one licensed to Pfizer, and one still with Merck KGaA.

Bahcall says the company's high skill-small size character is what gives it an edge: "We're a fully independent pharmaceutical business. I think the closest analogy would be to take a core piece of Merck or Pfizer's R&D group, put them in a building, free them of bureaucracy, and give them strong incentives to discover great new drugs. It's basically a similar chemistry-driven discovery operation, but with the advantage that we can move faster and are able to take the kinds of risks—and attract the high-quality entrepreneurial talent—that is an essential part of making breakthrough discoveries in medicine."

Clear PathSince the merger, the R&D team has moved quickly on its most promising compound, the IL-12 inhibitor, also known as STA-5326. As R&D progresses, the team is in the fortunate position of having the trail cleared by other companies that are developing large-molecule drugs for the same target. Abbott Labs and Johnson & Johnson both recently announced positive data for the monoclonal antibodies they have in development to inhibit IL-12.

"Two Big Pharmas have just done much of the hard work and heavy lifting of telling us which diseases, which patients, and what trials will work," Bahcall says. "It puts us in a very unusual historical position: two Big Pharmas paving the way with proteins, while a small biotech fast-follows with a pill. That's the opposite of how the biotech industry developed."

In this case, being third to market—assuming all three products get approved—will not likely be a barrier to gaining market share, given the advantages of a pill over an injection. Finding doctors and patients for clinical trials is also not a problem. Bahcall describes a typical interaction: "We call up physicians and say, 'We have a cytokine inhibitor. We are interested in adding your site or your center to our clinical trial program.' They say, 'That's interesting, but I have four or five other protocols of injectable drugs for my patients.' Then we say, 'It's a pill.' They say, 'Sign me up.'"

The pharma industry is also starting to take note. "We've been cold-called quite often," says Bahcall. "People see on our website or hear at a conference that we have an oral IL-12 inhibitor, and they are very intrigued. So we have quite a few pharmaceutical companies that are waiting for us to tell them what the next step is."


blog comments powered by Disqus

Source: Pharmaceutical Executive,
Click here