Terns Pharmaceuticals has bagged $80 million to bankroll a pipeline of drugs for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The company, which has one foot in San Mateo, California, and another in Shanghai, unveiled itself in April, announcing the addition of three NASH programs from Eli Lilly and $30 million in series A funding.
The company hopes to start clinical trials for its lead assets next year. TERN-101 and TERN-201 are two of the three NASH candidates Terns picked up from Eli Lilly. The former is a farnesoid X receptor agonist and the latter is a semicarbazide-sensitive amine oxidase inhibitor. The third asset targets an undisclosed “well-validated NASH target” and is still preclinical.
TERN-101 is in phase 1 in Europe, with a bridging study on deck to bring it into phase 1 in China, said CEO Weidong Zhong, Ph.D., in April. TERN-201 is slated to start human studies in China and the U.S.
“We are excited about the progress we’ve made on our clinical and preclinical programs. Our lead programs TERN-101 and TERN-201 are on track to enter the clinic in the first half of 2019 and additional NASH programs are advancing rapidly towards preclinical development. The progress so far has put us one step closer to our goal of discovering effective and safe combination therapies for patients with NASH and liver fibrosis,” Zhong said in a statement.
“Their approach of adopting global or region-specific development strategies for advancing new clinical-stage therapeutics is unique, and they’ve made tremendous progress since they recently launched,” said Carl Gordon, Ph.D., managing partner of OrbiMed, which led the series B alongside Vivo Capital. Decheng Capital and Lilly Ventures Asia—which backed Terns’ series A in 2017—also pitched in.
With its two lead assets, Terns will be racing the likes of Gilead, Allergan and Boehringer Ingelheim to market. Another potential rival, Intercept’s Ocaliva—already approved for primary biliary cirrhosis—is in phase 3 trials for NASH.