Nektar Therapeutics created Inheris Biopharma, a new subsidiary helmed by Merck veteran Jay Galeota that will focus on developing and marketing drugs for central nervous system disorders. First up, Inheris will take over the launch prep and commercialization for Nektar’s pain drug, NKTR-181.
NKTR-181 is a long-acting mu-opioid agonist designed to cross the blood-brain barrier more slowly than conventional opioids to ease pain without triggering the euphoria that can lead to abuse and addiction. It beat placebo in improving pain scores for patients with chronic low back pain in a phase 3 study and is now under FDA review. The agency is expected to decide the drug’s fate by Aug. 29.
In addition to NKTR-181, Nektar is handing off its preclinical CNS-focused programs to Inheris. Galeota, who comes to Inheris from G&W Laboratories, has held numerous roles over his 28-year career at Merck. George Shiebler, another Merck and G&W alum, joins Galeota as senior vice president and general counsel, and Dr. Joe Stauffer signs on as chief medical officer.
"We're excited to announce the formation of Inheris and the appointments of Jay, Joe and George, who we believe have the experience and track record to successfully launch and bring a novel, first-in-class medicine like NKTR-181 to patients," said Nektar CEO Howard Robin, in a statement. "Inheris will lead all of the preparations for the potential commercialization of NKTR-181, as well as development of other CNS programs, enabling Nektar to remain focused on advancing our immuno-oncology and immunology development pipeline."
Nektar’s cancer pipeline includes assets at varying stages of development that are in clinical trials as single agents and as part of combination treatments. It will present data for NKTR-214 (bempegaldesleukin) in tandem with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab) in sarcomas, skin cancer and kidney cancer at the upcoming American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting.
Despite earlier data showing a drop in patient response rates to the Nektar-214/Opdivo combination, new data presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer last November showed rates holding steady in a larger number of patients.