BioIntervene Raises $30M to Move Nerve Pain Drug Into the Clinic

Xconomy San Diego — 

In the past seven years BioIntervene has been working to develop “ultra-selective” compounds to target an adenosine receptor associated with pain relief.

Now the San Diego-based biotech has $30 million and a chief scientific officer, Charles Cohen, to guide its lead compound, BIO-205, into human testing for neuropathic pain. The company announced the Series A financing round and CSO hire on Monday.

BioIntervene’s BIO-205 is an A3 adenosine receptor (A3AR) agonist, which means it homes in on and activates the A3 receptor on adenosine.

BioIntervene’s new CSO, Cohen, in a prepared statement, said BIO-205’s preclinical data demonstrated activity in models of neuropathic and inflammatory pain by itself and in combination with morphine and gabapentin, drugs used currently to manage such conditions. If the data are reproducible in humans, the drug could provide clinicians more options for pain management, he said.

Cohen was most recently vice president of biology at Xenon Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: XENE). His experience includes positions at Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX), Merck (NYSE: MRK), and Bayer.

“Our belief is that when there’s nerve damage, there is an ongoing inflammatory state, and that inflammatory state is mediated and can be quelled and suppressed by an adenosine agonist that hits the A3 receptor only,” Ed Hurwitz (pictured), BioIntervene’s chairman, told Xconomy.

Hurwitz is a managing director at MPM Capital, the Boston-based healthcare investment firm that led BioIntervene’s financing round.

“By agonizing with these molecules this particular receptor subtype, we’ve been able to get away from side effects that are seen when you agonize other adenosine receptors, and really have a pure analgesic effect,” he said.

That’s what BioIntervene has seen in animal models, at least. The proceeds from the Series A will be used to move BIO-205 through human proof-of-concept studies in neuropathic pain, testing the company plans to start in the second half of this year.

Neuropathic pain, often called nerve pain, can occur when certain nerves and parts of the brain are damaged. Nerve pain may result from variety of causes, including physical injury, surgery, cancer drugs, and neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

Current treatments include opioid painkillers such as morphine and gabapentin, an anti-seizure medication.

“The world needs drugs other than morphine and opioids because they’re generally not seen as very effective in neuropathic pain, and as a result of that, people overdose and ultimately become addicted, partly because the drugs aren’t very effective,” Hurwitz said. “We saw a really compelling body of animal data that show that this pharmacology and these compounds have the potential to be more potent than morphine and more potent than gabapentin, but also much safer, so that was really the basis for us deciding to make the investment.”

Founded in 2014, BioIntervene was formed to advance work by Daniela Salvemini at Saint Louis University, who discovered the roles of A3AR in neuropathic pain and neurodegenerative conditions, and Ken Jacobson at the National Institutes of Health. A collaboration between Salvemini and Jacobson led to the filing of a portfolio of patents that BioIntervene exclusively licensed.

Company co-founder Gary Bennett is an adjunct professor in the department of anesthesiology at UC San Diego.

Can-Fite BioPharma, an Israeli biotech with a US office in Waltham, MA, is also developing drugs that target A3AR; its experimental treatments, for inflammation and for liver disease, are in clinical testing.