Intrexon Corp. aligned with and dished out some dough to two start-ups pledging to pursue human therapeutics. The Germantown, Md.-based firm inked exclusive channel collaborations (ECCs) with Relieve Genetics Inc., which intends to explore a non-opioid gene therapy approach to treat neuropathic pain, and Exotech Bio Inc., which plans to employ an exosome-based platform to deliver therapeutic RNA to treat select cancer indications.
The start-ups will leverage technologies developed by Intrexon. Both are backed by the Harvest Intrexon Enterprise Fund, a $245 million investment vehicle that closed in January with the sole aim of funding companies that use Intrexon’s inventions, discoveries and technologies. The fund is overseen by Harvest Capital Strategies LLC, a unit of investment banking and asset management group JMP Group LLC.
Terms of the ECCs called for Intrexon to receive a technology access fee in the form of equity equaling 25 percent of each start-up, reimbursement for R&D costs and potential milestones and royalties.
SEC filings on behalf of the start-ups, dated Monday, indicated that Relieve Genetics completed a private equity offering of approximately $17.3 million, with an initial sale of about $4.3 million, while Exotech offered $20 million, with an initial sale of about $5 million. Harvest Capital Strategies executives Craig Johnson and David Mauney were listed as executive officers and directors of both start-ups.
In a statement, Intrexon said Relieve Genetics will use a viral vector delivery system to target delivery of an immunomodulatory protein, alone or in combination with multiple therapeutic effectors under the control of Intrexon’s Rheoswitch Therapeutic System, with the goal of providing steady but localized drug delivery that can be regulated to manage pain.
The effort could be a first. Although hundreds of mostly early stage gene therapy efforts are under way across dozens of indications, none appear to be active in neuropathic pain, according to Thomson Reuters Cortellis Competitive Intelligence.
The collaboration with Exotech is focused on developing engineered cell lines to produce tumor-targeted allogeneic exosomes that carry bioactive RNAs to act directly on intracellular cancer pathways, suppressing or eliminating specific tumor cells.
Exosomes are micro-vesicles present in biological fluids that naturally contain RNA, proteins and small-molecule metabolites. They’re transmitted between the body’s cells to facilitate intercellular communication, immune modulation and developmental cell differentiation.
Some research suggests that exosomes also can be re-engineered to transport drugs, including various RNA classes, to produce therapeutic responses against cancer. The thesis is being explored by Cambridge, Mass.-based Codiak Biosciences Inc., which last year lured Biogen Inc. veteran Doug Williams to be its founding president and CEO and marshaled a scientific platform from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center to attract a combined series A/B financing that topped $140 million. (See BioWorld Today, Nov. 18, 2015.)
Intrexon has expertise in the design of subcellular localization motifs, protein-protein interaction motifs, multimeric miRNAs and other RNA-based modalities that can be used alone or in combination to enhance the effectiveness of cancer therapeutics while reducing their side effects. The company cited its work in engineering complex miRNAs as a type of scientific template for an exosome-based platform that could address certain cancers for which conventional approaches have failed.
In 2011, Intrexon inked an agreement with Ziopharm Oncology Inc., of Boston, to develop and commercialize DNA-based cancer therapies using Intrexon’s Ultravector technology, with Ziopharm gaining the rights to two clinical-stage candidates. Intrexon purchased about 5 percent of Ziopharm’s outstanding shares in a private placement of approximately $11.6 million, with the partners agreeing on additional downstream economics.
During last year’s J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Intrexon unveiled a larger collaboration with Ziopharm and MD Anderson as part of a broad exclusive licensing agreement to develop nonviral adoptive cellular cancer immunotherapies. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 15, 2015.)
The three-way pact quickly attracted the attention of Merck Serono, the biopharmaceutical division of Merck KGaA, of Darmstadt, Germany, which swooped in weeks later with a potential $941 million immuno-oncology deal with Intrexon. (See BioWorld Today, March 31, 2015.)
The first two CAR T-cell targets of interest have been advanced as part of the Merck Serono deal, Intrexon officials said during the company’s 2015 fourth quarter earnings call in February.
In the meantime, the Ziopharm partnership has made “significant progress” in pursuing gene and adoptive cellular therapies against multiple cancer types, according to Intrexon, which said the collaboration with start-up Exotech introduces another potential modality to treat cancer in patients who have limited therapeutic options.
Intrexon did not respond to BioWorld Today inquiries seeking additional details about the new ECCs.
With its synthetic biology approach, Intrexon has devoted considerable attention in recent months to vector control against the Zika virus outbreak, using genetically modified mosquitoes developed by its subsidiary, Oxitec, whose lead vector control program is focused on the Aedes aegypti mosquito – the principal vector for transmitting the Zika as well as dengue and chikungunya viruses.
But with tentacles stretching across almost every segment of animal and human health as well as energy and the environment, Intrexon continues to expand its reach aggressively through its ECCs, which now target not only cancer but also wet age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, arthritis, rare diseases, metabolic disorders, orphan skin conditions, infectious diseases, tissue repair and synthetic biology-mediated production of active pharmaceutical ingredients.
On Wednesday, Intrexon’s shares (NYSE:XON) closed at $35.69 up $2.70.