Latigo Launches into Non-Opioid Pain Medicine Space with $135 Million Series A

Non-opioid pain killer

Pictured: Falling Pain Pill Bottles / Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Vertex’s recent announcement that its VX-548, led to “significant improvement” in pain in Phase III clinical trials awakened interest in the long-stalled non-opioid pain medicine field, and on Wednesday, a new player, Latigo Biotherapeutics, debuted with $135 million in Series A financing.

Founded by Westlake Village BioPartners in 2020, Latigo is developing non-opioid-based therapeutics against genetically validated targets for pain—and with the opioid epidemic continuing to ravage the U.S., new options are urgently needed. In an interview with BioSpace, Sean Harper, founding managing director at Westlake, noted a dearth of available programs in which to invest.

“When we began to get into this focus of a pain company, we found that . . . it [was] really hard to find any programs that you could license in,” he said. Additionally, he said it was difficult to find people with expertise in the space, “because there’s so little investment and innovation going on in biopharma or academia in pain. It’s kind of shocking.” 

Fortunately for Westlake, Amgen—where Harper was previously head of R&D—had recently made the strategic decision to get out of the neuroscience space, which included pain, Harper said. “I knew the pain research unit . . . had these fabulous drug hunters with deep expertise in pain, and when they were laid off, we swooped in and we hired them and assembled this team.”

‘Best-in-Class’ Potential

Like Vertex’s VX-548, Latigo’s lead program, LTG-001, is a selective NaV1.8 inhibitor. “There definitely is room for multiple agents targeting NaV1.8,” said Stephen Waxman, a professor of neurology at Yale School of Medicine who previously consulted for Latigo. “At a minimum, there are going to be small nuances of difference.” 

While hitting the primary endpoint of significant reduction of pain intensity from 0 to 48 hours in two Phase III trials, VX-548 missed a key secondary endpoint—superiority to Vicodin—and analysts also questioned the drug’s performance in another secondary endpoint: median time to pain relief. VX-548’s time-to-onset had a “more rapid onset to meaningful pain relief” than placebo, Vertex reported, with median time to pain relief being two hours in patients following abdominoplasty (tummy tuck) and four hours in bunionectomy patients versus eight hours for the placebo group.

In its press release, Latigo stated that LTG-001, currently in Phase I trials, has the potential for rapid onset. Harper said VX-548’s time-to-onset “may not be entirely a characteristic of the target. . . . It may be partially due to the particular characteristics of the compound, and we hope that the particular characteristics of our compound could result in faster time to onset.” 

Desmond Padhi, interim CEO of Latigo, said the team believes LTG-001 has the potential to be best-in-class. “We’re very focused on making sure that we get optimal biodistribution of our compounds to the tissue of interest . . . the peripheral nervous system where the target is expressed, and minimizing exposure in tissues where the target is not expressed,” the central nervous system (CNS).

But Waxman noted that the jury is still out on the benefits of specifically targeting the peripheral nervous system. He pointed to research suggesting that another sodium channel, NaV1.7, must be blocked within the spinal cord in order to get adequate pain relief. This question has not been raised regarding NaV1.8, he said, but “whether peripheral sequestration of the NaV1.8 blocker is an advantage or not, I think, is still up for grabs.”

Alongside Latigo and Vertex in the pain space, Orion Pharmaceuticals is developing also developing a NaV1.8 inhibitor, and Virpax Pharmaceuticals is looking at other targets. 

Harper said he has been interested in the pain space for a long time but has been met a “huge amount of resistance” with people noting the very genericized market. “Of course, that’s what happens when there’s been no innovation for 30 years. Everything’s off-patent.”

“I believe that . . . you have to be a little bit of a contrarian, and kudos to Vertex for having the first real breakthrough here to get it into proof of concept in humans,” he said. “It’s huge for patients.”

Heather McKenzie is a senior editor at BioSpace. You can reach her at heather.mckenzie@biospace.com. Also follow her on LinkedIn.

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