Spinning a company out of big pharma is "easier said than done," Corvidia Therapeutics Inc. CEO and co-founder Michael Davidson told BioWorld Today. The project needs a worthy asset, the right investors and researchers familiar with the drug. "In this case, we got all three aligned, but it took a while – over a year – to make it happen," he said.
Boston-based Corvidia pulled together $26 million in series A cash and licensed a clinical-stage monoclonal antibody, COR-001, from Astrazeneca plc, of London, from whence hail the starting personnel of Corvidia, who "pretty much left Astrazeneca at the end of January" to launch the new firm, said Davidson. He previously served as chief medical officer of Sofinnova-backed Omthera Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Princeton, N.J., and was instrumental in the buyout of that firm by Astrazeneca in 2013 for $443 million.
Joining him at Corvidia are co-founders Rahul Kakkar and Matt Devalaraja, both of whom previously worked in Astrazeneca's emerging innovations unit, where they developed the science behind genome-guided cardiovascular therapies. Ram Aiyar, an entrepreneur-in-residence at the NIH and Biohealth Innovation, also is part of the founding team. (See BioWorld Today, May 29, 2013.)
"We're doing some new intellectual property [transactions], so we have to be careful" about disclosing details regarding COR-001, which was originally developed by Astrazeneca's biologics arm, Medimmune, and was in phase I trials at the parent pharma firm for an indication other than the one Corvidia will pursue. COR-001 fell into the hands of Astrazeneca's unit that "get[s] drugs that are put on the shelf to look at and repurpose," he said, and workers there "figured out a population that has a certain genomic polymorphism that responds much better to this therapy, specifically for cardiovascular indications. That's what got me intrigued. I've always been a lipidology cardiologist, but focused on genetics as a way to provide a better approach to treating patients – a precision medicine approach. At the time, Astrazeneca's cardiovascular pipeline was full. They really wanted to focus on their existing drugs, so it was an opportunity to look at finding outside investment."
Davidson and Graziano Seghezzi at Sofinnova Partners seed-funded Corvidia. The series A round was led by Sofinnova and Apple Tree Partners. "We can get through phase I/II with the lead asset," Davidson said. "The drug has already been manufactured and produced, which saves us a lot of money. The other key thing about this compound is that we'll have an efficacy readout within 12 months or so. It's almost more like a cancer model than a cardiovascular model. If [the data] look good, we'll be able to raise more financing." The current cash will also carry Corvidia through investigational new drug application-enabling trials with two preclinical assets, he said.
"The future is precision medicine," Davidson said. "We know that LDL lowering is an effective way to reduce cardiovascular events, but there are a number of residual risks associated with genetic factors," and statins simply don't work well in some people. "We're focusing on those patient populations," he said, rather than pursue larger, more popular indications such as hypertension. "There are a lot of therapies available [in that space], and they keep getting better and better," he said. "As an area of therapeutic focus, it's been well-fulfilled. It's hard to come up with a new blood pressure drug that's really necessary."
Corvidia's name derives from "cor," suggesting the heart, while "vidia" indicates life, Davidson said. The firm is leasing space in the Waltham, Mass., "biohub" adjacent to Astrazeneca's offices. "We're very new, just getting started," and will likely stay relatively small, outsourcing much at least for a while, he said. "But we do intend to grow," and with the series A funds, "we have the base to get the company to next phase."