Ex-Teva CEO Becomes Chief of Start-Up Ovid Therapeutics As Orphan Drugs Come Into Focus

Published: Apr 16, 2015

Ex-Teva CEO Becomes Chief of Start-Up Ovid Therapeutics As Orphan Drugs Come Into Focus
April 16, 2015
By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

Stealth New York-based startup Ovid Therapeutics said this week that former Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. head Jeremy Levin will become its new chief executive, and that the company has recently inked its first deal with Danish drugmaker Lundbeck.

The Lundbeck plan now gives Ovid gaboxadol, a pill which it says may be effective in trials to test its two main disease targets, Angelman syndrome and Fragile X syndrome.

"My goal is very, very, very straightforward," Levin told CNBC. "To build a highly focused neurology company whose goal is, hopefully, to become one of the best neurology companies in the world over time."

Levin is perhaps best known for his revamping of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company , which was followed by a stint at Teva, during which he mounted a makeover of the company that ended in his unceremonious departure amid a power struggle in October 2013.

Ovid had a big week in the beginning of March, after news began circulate that Levin is chairing the company, which said in a recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it has raised $5 million. At the time the company was mum about whether or not it would put Levin in an executive position, a stance it has since abandoned, with the official announcement.

Now Levin says he is excited about the new opportunities a startup can provide. "There are new ways of measuring brain deterioration, new assays, new mouse models that have been developed,” he said. “All of this is really, really encouraging."

The filing in March by Ovid disclosed only that it had cobbled the money together from five undisclosed investors, which Levin was tight-lipped about in a recent interview with Xconomy, saying only that the funding happened “a considerable time ago” and came from “major private equity and management.”

Ovid is so new, in fact, that it doesn’t even have a website, and has gone out of its way to fly below the radar of most biotech press. The company targets rare neurological diseases with no current effective treatments, including Angelman Syndrome, a genetic, neurodevelopmental condition that affects balance and speech. It is known by that name because patients with the disorders smile and laugh frequently because they have little to no motor control over those functions. But orphan diseases remain an interesting target, said Levin.

"The goal is to work with drugs that have a mechanism that one can understand," Levin said. "Orphan diseases often are genetic; they have mechanisms you understand and there are no treatments. The consequence is you have the opportunity, if you have the right medicine, of being highly successful and that's exactly what we are going to look to do."

Ovid’s interim CEO Matthew During told a conference in December that the company would be giving gaboxadol (renamed OV-103), a former Merck & Co. and Lundbeck sleeping pill candidate, new life as a treatment for Angelman. Levin would not confirm that Xconomy, however, issuing a terse, “We certainly have great interest in this area and that disease, but I just can’t confirm to you that the info that you have is accurate or complete at this stage.”

Indeed, Levin has given only one interview about his involvement with Ovid, telling BioPharma Reporter that he was excited to take his past experiences and parlay them into continued success for a small but potentially game-changing company.

“I regard it as one of the most exciting companies that I have seen in many years, and it is a privilege to be its chairman,” said Levin.

He was similarly cagey when Xconomy pressed him on what Ovid actually will be studying, saying only that the startup is focused on “novel medicines for orphan diseases of the brain.” When pressed for more specificity, Levin said, “Some of these are genetic, some of these are simply orphan and untreated diseases.”

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