Eikon snaps up clinical pipeline thanks to 'buyer's market,' while internal pipeline remains covert

Eikon Therapeutics emerged with the promise of Nobel Prize-winning molecule tracking technology. But now, CEO Roger Perlmutter, M.D., Ph.D., and co. are using their more than $600 million war chest for something else: buying up clinical-stage drugs. 

The biotech's leaders—many coming from Perlmutter's former haunt Merck & Co.—didn't have to work hard to find the right projects, despite keeping its internal ambitions close to the vest. Eikon took meetings with more than 30 companies at this year's J.P. Morgan conference in San Francisco with many clamoring to strike up partnerships. 

“It is clearly a buyer's market,” said Perlmutter, wryly, in an interview with Fierce Biotech.

And buy, Eikon has. In the biotech's most significant splash since raising more than $600 million in two financing rounds, more than four drugs will be brought in, building a clinical pipeline in the process. It's as if Eikon threw a surprise birthday party for its J.P. Morgan guests, rather than the other way around.

In keeping with the biotech's buttoned-up public persona, Perlmutter is not disclosing financial terms, but described the prices as “fair in today's environment.” He described Eikon as a company with the competitive makeup to take the baton from biotechs that simply didn't have the resources to pursue their own projects. That's been a huge theme for biotech this year, as companies try to offload assets to save themselves and prioritize more streamlined pipelines.  

"As you can imagine, people were willing to work with us on terms that we thought were very favorable," he said. 

And what would an Eikon announcement be if it didn’t include news of additional cash inflow? The company is adding $106 million in series C funds, a fraction of the $518 million series B closed in January 2022, though Perlmutter says this is just the first tranche and more is coming. He acknowledged that this has been a more difficult funding environment than the first two rounds, but that closing the first stage now gave the company enough funds to pay for early clinical development of its new assets.

“It was a window of opportunity because people were eager to come in now and they might not have been eager to come in later,” he said. “So let's do it now.”

A brand new pipeline

Leading the haul for Eikon are global rights to two toll-like receptor 7 and 8 agonist immune modulators from Seven and Eight Biopharma, BDB001 and BDB018, respectively. BDB001 is in a phase 2 trial for solid tumors as both a monotherapy and combo treatment alongside anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 treatments. BDB018 has been touted as Seven and Eight's “next generation” agonist, but recruitment in a phase 1 trial has continued for almost two years and remains ongoing, according to the clinical trial record

Eikon will also take hold of ex-greater China rights to a PARP inhibitor from China-based IMPACT Therapeutics called IMP1734. The two companies plan to ask the FDA to enter into human trials in the third quarter of this year. Eikon will also collaborate with IMPACT on a second brain-penetrant PARP inhibitor but did not specify which one.  

The cherry on top is a “suite of preclinical compounds” from Cleave Therapeutics. Like the other two deal announcements, financial details were not included. Cleave has disclosed one preclinical VCP/p97 to treat neurodegeneration, though a specific disease area has not been declared. 

So just like that, Eikon goes from zero clinical prospects to three. Financing aside, Perlmutter attributes Eikon's clinical preparedness to the credibility of Roy Baynes, Ph.D., the chief medical officer who was plucked from Merck last year. Baynes brought on Kevin O’Brien to lead clinical operations after more than 13 years at Gilead and then tacked on Harry Raftopoulos, M.D., as senior vice president of clinical research and head of oncology. Raftopoulos worked with Banes and Perlmutter at Merck before spending five years at Bayer. 

“We built up every aspect of the leadership team in clinical development including head of regulatory, safety, biostatistics, all aspects of the clinical operations, ” said Perlmutter. “And we're moving along just as fast as you can imagine.” 

So what about that internal pipeline—which Eikon said would be developed using super-resolution fluorescence microscopy for drug discovery? The company’s top internal compounds are in the lead optimization stage, according to Perlmutter, roughly 18 months to two years away from the clinic. He did not provide a timeline for formally unveiling the compounds but said the company is “making good progress." Eikon previously said its first programs would focus on oncology, immunology and neurodegenerative diseases.  

Meanwhile, Eikon is accruing massive amounts of data, derived from the company’s single molecule tracking technology that allows the tracking of behavior and movements of individual proteins in a cell. That results in a lot of data—roughly one and a half petabytes every week, or 1.5 million gigabytes. Perlmutter says the largest team in the company of roughly 300 people are software engineers that are using machine learning to help manage all of this information.

Even though the tracking technology serves as a potential boon in terms of target discovery and ultimately internal pipeline creation, Perlmutter says the company is not here to sell. 

“Our goal is to advance programs into development, whether they come from others or come from us, to apply our tools to them at every stage as appropriate, and to ultimately commercialize those programs,” he said. “We're not in the business of selling those things that we do so well.”

He did say, however, that Eikon is working on a user-friendly lab benchtop version of the tracking technology that other companies could someday access.