To have a therapeutic effect, drugs need to bind to proteins. But since it isn’t always possible to find an appropriate receptor, Coda Biotherapeutics is designing receptors, which it plans to deliver via engineered viruses, that respond only to a specific drug.
On Wednesday the South San Francisco-based biotech announced it acquired a company called Attenua and its three experimental central nervous system drugs to pair with its pipeline of engineered neurotransmitter receptors. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
The idea is to use the combination of the engineered receptors and small molecule drugs to treat a variety of neurological conditions by controlling neurons. Coda aims to treat chronic neuropathic pain and focal epilepsy, then other neurologic diseases and disorders. The receptors it has engineered are designed to be inactive, to minimize potential side effects, except when responding to specific small molecule therapeutics. The gene therapy would be delivered using standard neurosurgical procedures.
“Rather than start from scratch on small molecules and do medicinal chemistry … we elected to go the lower-cost, lower-risk, and faster route of using molecules that have already been well tested in man, that are safe, but were ineffective for the original design,” Coda president and CEO Michael Narachi told Xconomy in an interview. “Think of it as a box of keys that are perfectly good, but they just don’t work on human locks, but we can engineer that receptor to work with those well-validated keys.”
The trio of investigational Attenua drugs have been tested in humans, Coda says. That means Coda gets a leg up on the costly clinical testing process, positioning the company to test its combined drug rather than separately evaluating a small molecule and the viral delivery system first.
Narachi says Coda decided to acquire proprietary drugs rather than generics because of its proposed business model: “We think we can drive better patient access if we can charge a certain amount for the gene therapy, then charge—for only those patients who are having a good response—for the drug therapy,” he said. “If we’re going to split value and have built in value-based pricing mechanisms, we want a full proprietary system.”
Coda, which emerged from stealth in September 2018, has raised $34 million in Series A financing from investors including Versant Ventures, MPM Capital, and Astellas Venture Management.
Prior to the Attenua acquisition, Coda worked with the San Mateo, CA-based company to engineer receptors that can be controlled by its drugs, Narachi told us. Attenua acquired the compounds in 2016 from Catalyst Biosciences (NASDAQ: CBIO), which inherited them through its reverse merger with Targacept in the year prior.