Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves Discusses Phoundry Acquisition and Future of Diabetes Treatment

Intarcia CEO Kurt Graves Discusses Phoundry Acquisition and Future of Diabetes Treatment
September 30, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

CHICAGO – BioSpace caught up with Kurt Graves, chief executive officer of Intarcia Therapeutics, Inc., after his company acquired North Carolina-based Phoundry for an undisclosed amount of stock and money to discuss the impact of the acquisition and the direction of Intarcia’s future.

Kurt Graves, CEO, Intarcia Therapeutics
Speaking from a Texas airport, Graves said the combination of Intarcia and Phoundry will create a “new way to target chronic diseases” such as diabetes, obesity and some autoimmune diseases. The acquisition of Phoundry was a first for Intarcia in a year that’s seen billions in M&A activity.

Graves is excited about the future of diabetes and obesity treatment given the results his company’s proprietary GLP-1 program has shown in clinical trials.

With the early successes of the ITCA-650 platform that combines a micro-pump and the GLP-1 exenatide with headways the scientists at newly-acquired Phoundry Pharmaceuticals are making with optimized peptides for the treatment of diabetes and obesity, Graves is confident that Intarcia has a winning combination that will make the company a major player in the global treatment of diabetes.

Acquiring Phoundry, which was launched earlier this year by former GlaxoSmithKline scientists who were laid off after a round of job cuts, brings a strong stable of optimized peptides capable of treating diabetes and obesity to Intarcia, Graves said in a telephone interview with BioSpace earlier this week. “From a strategic point, they’re in the area that we want to be,” Graves said.

The eight Phoundry employees will continue to conduct their peptide research in North Carolina. Graves said the researchers have been working together for years and have a combined 120 years of experience in research and development and he saw no sense in bringing them to Massachusetts. Graves said he was happy leaving the Phoundry team in North Carolina “where they are comfortable and can be productive.”

“They’re a tight-knit group that’s been working together for years on this stuff. It’s rare you can find that kind of experience and bring them all together into a company,” he said.

The aim of ITCA-650 is to provide a once-per-year subcutaneous injection, about the size of a matchstick, and includes a miniature osmotic pump that provides continuous delivery of exenatide. Exenatide, the active agent in ITCA 650, is a glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist currently marketed globally as twice-daily and once-weekly self-injection therapies for type 2 diabetes.

Intarcia’s ITCA-650 would enter a crowded type 2 diabetes field and face competition from established drugs such as AstraZeneca PLC ’s Symlin. However, Symlin and other injectables require daily dosages, while ITCA-650 would dole out the proper dosage all year long before a new one would need to be inserted into the body.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes is expected to double or triple by 2050. The CDC projects as many as one-third of the U.S. population, more than 100 million people, could develop diabetes within that time frame. Currently, about one in 10 Americans has been diagnosed with the disease, the CDC said.

If the drug receives approval from federal regulators, ITCA 650 would represent the first injection-free GLP-1 therapy that can deliver up to a full year of treatment from a single placement. Because the Itca-650 delivers medication to the body throughout the year, Graves said patients developing complications due to forgetting their medication regimen should decline.

“There’s tons of literature that shows patients don’t stick with their routine of taking medicine. On average 70 percent of people stop taking their medicine. It’s why the bad things happen,” Graves said.

Graves said he expects to see Intarcia seek regulatory approval for the Itca-650 delivery system and accompanying drug sometime next year.

In August, Intarcia was emboldened by trial results showing the company’s lead product had a much stronger showing against Merck & Co. ’s Januvia in a head-to-head competition. Intarcia’s ITCA-650 pump led to greater weight loss and lowered blood glucose levels over a one-year period. The study showed that Intarcia’s pumps and exenotide combination reduced glucose levels by 1.5 percent, compared to .8 percent reduction in Januvia patients. Also, those who used the Intarcia combination showed an average weight loss of about nine pounds, compared to about four pounds for Januvia patients.

Graves said he will not discuss a price point for ITCA-650 until it’s closer to being approved by regulatory agencies. Current injectable insulin treatments cost about $6,000 annually and Januvia costs about $4,000 per year, he said.

Last year, Intarcia entered into an agreement with the potential to be worth more than $1 billion with Servier, a French pharmaceutical company, to co-develop ITCA 650 in some markets outside of the United States.

While Intarcia’s ITCA-650 platform may revolutionize type 2 diabetes treatment, the company is not resting. It’s moving into larger digs in Boston and has plans to more than double the size of its workforce to about 300 people by 2017. If ITCA-650 is approved, along with other possible diabetes and obesity treatments, Intarcia could see increased growth by 2020.

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