Roivant launches lung-focused Respivant with phase 2 IPF drug

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Respivant plans to launch a phase 2b trial of its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis cough drug in early 2019. (Pixabay)

Roivant Sciences’ spinout machine keeps turning, with the launch of the lung-disease focused Respivant Sciences, a company built around an inhaled drug for treating chronic cough in patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Vivek Ramaswamy’s latest “vant," based in San Diego, will be led by CEO Bill Gerhart, alongside its executive vice president for clinical and regulatory affairs, Ahmet Tutuncu, M.D., Ph.D., and executive VP for development and manufacturing, Pravin Soni, Ph.D.

Respivant's RVT-1601 was acquired earlier this month from Patara Pharma—as were Gerhart, Tutuncu and Soni themselves, who had served as Patara’s co-founders and executive team. In 2015, the company raised $26 million in venture capital to develop the cough medicine.

Formerly known as PA101, the drug is an inhaled cromolyn sodium anti-inflammatory delivered with a proprietary nebulizer. It acts as a mast-cell stabilizer with immune-modulating properties that block the release of histamines.

"Almost all IPF patients suffer from a dry, persistent chronic cough, and for many of them this cough can have a debilitating physical and psychosocial impact on their quality of life," said Gerhart, formerly CEO of Patara, which conducted the drug’s initial development. Respivant estimates that about 115,000 adults in the U.S. have IPF, as well as 3 million to 5 million worldwide.

In a phase 2a clinical trial, the drug showed statistically significant reductions in cough frequency among IPF patients after two weeks of treatment. Respivant plans to begin its own clinical work, with a phase 2b study, in the first quarter of next year.

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Before Patara, Gerhart was president and CEO of Elevation Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired in 2012 by Sunovion. Elevation’s inhaled COPD therapy would later be marketed as Lonhala Magnair. Tutuncu and Soni, meanwhile, had served as chief medical officer and chief technology officer, respectively, at both Patara and Elevation as well.

The move closes the book on Patara Pharma: A statement on the company's website described PA101 as its only asset, and said it would cease operations following its deal with Roivant.

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Respivant's board of directors will be chaired by Frank Torti, M.D., who serves as vant investment chair at Roivant Pharma. A former partner at New Enterprise Associates, Torti helps oversee all of Roivant’s subsidiaries alongside Myrtle Potter, vant operating chair, and former Genentech president and chief operating officer.