Glenmark Pharmaceuticals, which has made generic drugs for about four decades, on Tuesday formally spun off its drug R&D unit as an independent business aiming to advance a handful of novel molecules the Indian company has developed in recent years.
The new company, called Ichnos Sciences, emerges with a clinical-stage pipeline that has experimental treatments for cancer, immune disorders, and pain management.
Following years of gradual price declines for its primary products, Glenmark is the latest generic drug maker to commit to more potentially lucrative business areas—and, in the process, go head-to-head with the biotech and pharmaceutical companies vying to develop new patentable treatments.
Glenmark has been working on its own drugs for about 20 years, but has yet to bring any of them to the market. Earlier this year the company said it had pulled in some $250 million through eight licensing deals involving some of the experimental drugs it has come up with.
Now it has identified five of its clinical-stage drugs, plus others in preclinical development, for the Paramus, NJ-based spinout to take forward.
Ichnos is headed by cancer R&D veteran Alessandro Riva, who joined the new biotech about six months ago from his previous role as an executive at Foster City, CA-based Gilead Sciences (NASDAQ: GILD), where he oversaw that company’s oncology therapeutics and cell therapy efforts. Prior to joining Gilead, Alessandro spent 12 years at Novartis (NYSE: NVS), where he oversaw development of many cancer drugs.
Glenmark is the sole investor behind Ichnos, named for a Greek word meaning footprint. (Its pronunciation, however, doesn’t follow the Greek: The first syllable is pronounced “Ike,” as in President Eisenhower’s nickname.) But the company’s establishment as an independently governed subsidiary better positions it to potentially seek outside investment.
Riva says the past six months have been spent preparing Glenmark’s “innovation” division, which has more than 350 employees in the US, Switzerland, and India, to step out on its own as Ichnos—and deciding how best to allocate its resources.
Proprietary technology that Glenmark developed, now housed within Ichnos, helps its scientists more efficiently discover and produce what are called bispecific antibodies, or drugs designed to stimulate a patient’s immune system to attack tumors more efficiently by binding to two molecular targets, according to the company. That was among the factors that attracted Riva to the post.
Bispecific antibody drugs have been discussed as a potential alternative to CAR-T cell therapy, another newer type of cancer drug, which takes a patient’s T cells and engineers them to target specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells. The treatment works in some patients, but can cause dangerous or even fatal side effects.
Bispecific antibodies are being developed to target some of those same cell-surface proteins, called antigens.
The Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) drug blinatumomab (Blincyto), used to treat a rare form of leukemia, got the first FDA approval for a bispecific antibody drug in 2014. Other companies are also working to advance such drugs for cancer.
Ichnos has two investigational cancer drugs in early-stage testing: a potential treatment for breast cancer that it designed to target human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) and the protein CD3, and an experimental multiple myeloma drug designed to bind to CD38 and to CD3.
Other drugs in its pipeline include a Phase 2b candidate for atopic dermatitis, a chronic skin condition that causes redness and itchiness, and two potential non-opioid pain management treatments, also in Phase 2b testing. However, Ichnos doesn’t plan to add to its pain management lineup, Riva said, instead focusing on cancer and immune treatments.
Other biotechs, such as Pandion Therapeutics, are also working to develop bispecific antibodies for immune disorders. The Cambridge, MA-based company raised $58 million in January 2018 to advance its lead compounds into clinical trials. The year prior, Roche subsidiary Genentech won FDA approval for a bispecific antibody drug meant to prevent bleeding in hemophilia A patients.