Iron Horse Therapeutics Launched By Avalon Ventures and GlaxoSmithKline
November 9, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
San Diego-based, Avalon Ventures along with GlaxoSmithKline , have expanded their collaboration relationship to fund and launch early-stage life science companies. They simultaneously announced the launch of their seventh collaborative company, Iron Horse Therapeutics, to identify and develop drugs for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Avalon and GSK inked their original collaboration deal in April 2013. The plan was for London-based GSK to provide up to $465 million in funding with an option to buy any of the companies. Avalon provided up to another $30 million in funding. The companies operate out of COI Pharmaceuticals in San Diego, which is dubbed a shared “community of innovation” that has a fully equipped research and development facility and various operational support and executive leadership personnel.
The original funding was under Avalon X. The new extension, and future investments with GSK, will be made from Avalon XI, which is currently in development by Avalon. “We had to have a new agreement with the new fund,” Avalon’s Jay Lichter told Xconomy. “So we said we like this deal, we want to keep it going, and we sought slightly better terms.”
In addition to being a partner at Avalon, Lichter is the managing director of Avalon Ventures. He is also president of COI Pharmaceuticals.
So far, the collaboration has spun off Sitari Pharma, Silarus Therapeutics, Inc., Thyritope Biosciences, Adrenergics, CadheRx Therapeutics, and Calporta Therapeutics. Each company focuses on a specific disease or disorder with a lead technology already in place.
Iron Horse Therapeutics will work on treatments for ALS that modulate the activity of EphA4, a protein that has been linked to ALS. Patients that have less expression of EphA4 live longer and have a version of the disease that is less severe. Interfering with EphA4 signaling appears to protect motor neurons from degeneration.
The research came out of Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, and is expected to start a human clinical trial in the next year or two. The research has been conducted in zebrafish and mice. EphA4, in humans, is associated with a milder form of ALS.
“If you combine the genetic data from the zebrafish models and the mouse models with these observations,” said Maurizio Pellecchia, a professor of translational research at Sanford Burnham, whose research is the core of the new company, “the scientific community is unanimous in declaring ApheA4 a possible disease-modifying gene for ALS.”
“Avalon Ventures and COI Pharmaceuticals foster the type of innovative thinking that the pharmaceutical industry needs,” said Lon Cardon, senior vice president, Alternative Discovery & Development at GSK in a statement. “The entrepreneurial and nimble companies we have founded in collaboration with Avalon will continue to build GSK’s portfolio of innovative therapeutics.”
The new deal provides a possible extra $60 million in combined funding and earn-outs for Avalon if the spinout company develops a marketable product. They were $50 million under the original deal terms.
“The commitment by GSK has allowed us to move with unprecedented speed in transitioning concepts and ideas into functioning companies addressing unmet clinical needs,” said Lichter in a statement. “The newest, Iron Horse Therapeutics, is pioneering a novel approach to ALS, a disease in critical need of solutions.”