New SoCal Biotech Jecure Therapeutics Makes Debut and Will Take on NASH

New SoCal Biotech Jecure Therapeutics Makes Debut and Will Take on NASH February 15, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

San Diego – Jecure Therapeutics launched today with a $20 million Series A commitment. The sole funder was Versant Ventures.

Jecure will focus on liver disease, specifically programs for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and fibrosis. NASH, sometimes called the “silent” liver disease,” resembles alcoholic liver disease, but appears in people who drink little or no alcohol. However, it can be quite severe and lead to cirrhosis. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, NASH affects 2 to 5 percent of people in the U.S. There are currently no specific treatments aside from weight loss, increased physical activity, and avoiding alcohol and unnecessary medications.

The company’s scientific founder is Ariel Feldstein, division chief of Gastroenterology at UCSD School of Medicine. The company apparently does not have any drug candidates yet, but its technology is based on Feldstein’s research and licensed from UCSD.

The platform incorporate siRNA-based murine fibrosis models that are used for target identification and validation. In addition, it proposes the use of knock-in models for in vitro screening, and what it refers to as “a unique NASH model that captures key features of the disease for in vivo screening.” Currently, aside from symptoms, NASH is diagnosed by biopsy.

Jeffrey Stafford will be the new company’s chief executive officer. James Veal will be the chief scientific officer. Both were senior managers at Quanticel Pharmaceuticals, which was founded by Versant and acquired by Celgene in 2015.

“The series A backing of Jecure renews a successful partnership with Versant, and provides us the opportunity to build another transformational company in a field that is starving for innovation,” Stafford said in a statement. “We continue to have ongoing discussions with strategic and financial partners while we independently build a pipeline of drug candidates based on the discoveries from the UCSD NASH platform.”

As there are no current approved treatments for NASH aside from changes in diet and exercise, a number of companies have focused on the market. Intercept Pharmaceuticals (ICPT)’s Ocaliva was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the rare liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis, and is currently running late-stage trials of the drug for NASH.

Gilead Sciences acquired a subsidiary of Nimbus Therapeutics, Nimbus Apollo, to pick up NDI-010976 for $400 million as a potential treatment for NASH. And Allergan has made several acquisitions to jump feet first into the NASH market. It acquired Tobira Therapeutics in September for $1.695 billion, which has Cenicriviroc (CVC) and Evogliptin, both for NASH. A day later Allergan bought Akarna Therapeutics, which has a lead program for NASH and other liver diseases.

Projections for the NASH market range from about $10 billion to $40 billion, although the higher end is probably overly optimistic. NASH patients range greatly in severity and the advanced fibrosis stage (F3/F4) is when patients typically note symptoms that make them feel unwell and want treatment. The lower figures represent that more severe disease population.

Other companies trying to enter that market include Genfit , Novo Nordisk , Shire , Novartis (NVS), Galmed (GLMD) and Conatus. Most analysts believe Intercept is closest to the market.

Jecure has also developed a Scientific Advisory Board made up of:

Scott Friedman, dean for Therapeutic Discovery and chief of the Division of Liver Diseases at Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Gregory Gores, executive dean for research, chair of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Reuben R. Eisenberg Professorship at Mayo Clinic

Nizar Zein, chair and medical director of Global Patient Services, Mikati Foundation Endowed Chair in Liver Disease and Transplantation at Cleveland Clinic

Ariel Feldstein

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