With everything in drug development, you need to have the capital to drive clinical trials. Is the capital and funding still there for those looking to solve Alzheimer’s? Our expert panelists give their opinions on our 3rd installment of the State of Alzheimer’s panel discussion.
- Aaron Burstein – SVP of Clinical Development, vTv Therapeutics
- Sharon Rosenzweig-Lipson – VP of R&D, AgeneBio
- Jay Mohr – CBO, AZTherapies
- Jason Kralic – Co-Founder and CEO, Tellus Therapeutics
Kineticos: How has the investment and partnering landscape evolved over the last 10-15 years with all of the failed trials?
JM: You’re always thinking about the next round, so you never stop. People fall into different buckets, even companies who have committed quite a bit of investment in Alzheimer’s disease. They are diligent and focused to try and continue their efforts. They’re always looking for novel approaches, some of them are still licking the wounds from their recent failures but nevertheless, there is a desire to continue to work in this area. Neuroinflammation is an area of interest to opinion leaders, investors, and pharma partners, so we’ve been able to have some dialogue with large pharma, which is encouraging. Even in the investment community, it seems that the interest is there. We’re heartened by the fact that companies like Denali and Elector seem to be getting traction in the public markets and doing quite well, even well above their initial public offering.
JK: Large pharma is always lagging partly due to its organizational structure. Investment in and emergence of early stage companies targeting alternative approaches to Alzheimer’s is picking up. What you see now are those Pharma companies who are committed to Alzheimer’s have really refocused their efforts to approach some of the mechanisms that we’ve discussed like neuroinflammation. We’re starting to see this in the deals being announced. While there are ten times more clinical candidates in cancer than Alzheimer’s disease today, we’re going to experience a shift towards more new candidates in the clinic for Alzheimer’s disease.
The beta-amyloid hypothesis, at least the original, is being put to rest. The venture capital funding of U.S. companies is way below that for oncology but we’re starting to see those recent numbers improve. We tend to rely quite a bit on industry and investors to support these programs, but I have to applaud organizations like The Gates Foundation and NIH who support programs that are taking alternative approaches to addressing Alzheimer’s disease. These organizations are most interested in addressing the public health issue and are less likely to follow the herd.
AB: My perspective will come from being a privately held company that has subsequently gone public. When I joined vTv Therapeutics in 2012, it was very much “Show me. We want to see data.” That was the hurdle we had to overcome. In 2015, on the heels of the Biogen Fortune article and the Axovant IPO, we went public and were able to get out that year before the window closed. The market and investment community seem to exhibit a cyclical phenomenon in terms of peak interest driven by news.
SR: It depends on where you are trying to enter the investor community and at what stage. When you start to reach the cost of an Alzheimer’s trial, they often will say, “I could do three diabetes, or I could do one Alzheimer’s.” Given the failure, it’s still a high bar to get that late stage investment in a therapeutic.
JK: Given the emerging public health crisis, I believe that drug repurposing and exploring new biomarkers, endpoints and outcomes for Alzheimer’s should receive more attention. For example, Bioscience Pharma Partners is utilizing a respiratory clinical candidate shelved by Pharma to expedite development of its treatment of neuroinflammation for Alzheimer’s disease. While Alzheimer’s disease is the ultimate goal for BPP-1001, the company is pursuing clinical proof of concept first in two surrogate diseases and use of real-world evidence as a means to an end. These novel approaches aim to address investor reticence to embark on a long, expensive study where there’s been a history of failure and to avoid shelving potentially beneficial treatments based on insufficient data.
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