Joe Jimenez's Aditum finds fresh twist on old idea, paying $10M for autoimmune BTK inhibitor

Joe Jimenez’s VC fund has ponied up $10 million to try to crack a nut that defeated a who’s who of top drug developers. The outlay gives the fund, Aditum Bio, near-global rights to a BTK inhibitor with a twist, which is in development in autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis.

A push to treat rheumatoid arthritis by targeting the kinase sputtered in the wake of the failure of assets such as Eli Lilly’s poseltinib and faltered further when AbbVie’s bid to combine inhibition of BTK and JAK also came up short. Expectations that BTK offers a route to a better rheumatoid arthritis drug have fallen to such an extent that The Lancet Rheumatology recently ran a comment piece titled “Et tu, Brutinib? Demise of a kinase target in rheumatoid arthritis?”

Against that backdrop, the VC fund set up by Jimenez and Mark Fishman, respectively the former CEO of Novartis and president of the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, has bet $10 million upfront on a preclinical BTK program and created a biotech to take it into the clinic. 

The deal, which is worth up to $477 million once milestones are factored in, gives the Aditum VC fund near-global rights to DWP213388. Developed by Korea’s Daewoong Pharmaceutical, the molecule is a dual inhibitor of BTK and ITK. The targets are implicated in the activation of B cells and T cells, suggesting the molecule may have synergistic therapeutic efficacy that improves on the lackluster performance of BTK inhibitors in some indications to date. Aditum Bio has bought into the idea.

Aditum Bio has created Vitalli Bio, its ninth portfolio company, to take the drug candidate into the clinic. Human tests of the oral molecule, now renamed VIT-801, are expected to start later this year. Daewoong received FDA clearance to study the drug in humans last year.

“VIT-801 has a unique profile that selectively inhibits a range of relevant immune cells, suggesting it has the potential to represent a safe and effective alternative in these difficult to treat populations,” Jimenez and Fishman said in a statement. The VC fund said VIT-801 may have “a best-in-class profile in immune disorders where multiple cell types are implicated.”

The phase 1 study will mark the start of efforts to translate the signs of efficacy seen in animal studies into humans. Daewoong has presented data showing the candidate improved arthritis in mice, and “the inhibitory effect was more potent than selective BTK inhibitor.” Histological damage in the ankles and knees of mice “markedly improved” after treatment with the dual inhibitor.

Daewoong published the arthritis mouse data in 2018 and released more results in a preclinical model of graft-versus-host disease the next year.