Sosei spins out 2 CNS companies with help from Medicxi

Chief R&D officer Malcolm Weir. (Sosei Heptares)

When Sosei bought out U.K. biotech Heptares for $400 million four years ago, it inherited a big pipeline of G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR) targeted programs—too many to take forward on its own. Now, its spinning some of those out into two new U.K.-based biotechs that will be bankrolled in part by Anglo-Swiss venture fund Medicxi to the tune of €40 million (around $46 million).

The two new companies—dubbed Orexia and Inexia—have been created to advance various projects targeting the GPCR protein orexin that have grown out of Sosei Heptares’ R&D operations in Cambridge, and specifically agonists of orexin OX1 and OX2 for neurological diseases, including narcolepsy. They will be led by Mario Alberto Accardi, Ph.D., a co-founder of U.K. medtech firm Orthonika.

In an unusual split of responsibilities, the two companies will both work on the targets but Orexia will concentrate on oral drugs while Inexia will focus on intranasal delivery using a system developed by U.S. biotech Optinose.

Inexia licensed rights to the delivery platform from Optinose for an undisclosed upfront fee plus $8 million in development milestones plus another $37 million tied to commercial targets and royalties on any future sales. Meanwhile, parent group Sosei is keeping an equity stake in the two new companies and is in line for milestone payments as the programs progress.

Orexin is thought to be involved in the regulation of various neurological parameters, including behavioral arousal, wakefulness and sleep, and Sosei Heptares suggests that loss of orexin neurons is linked to multiple neurological conditions that could be helped by orexin agonists.

That includes narcolepsy, a disorder which causes people to abruptly and unpredictably fall asleep, as well as cataplexy which is a sudden temporary weakening of muscle tone that can cause people to collapse, it says.

Orexin is already the target of a number of R&D programs in the biopharma sector, although to date these have focused mainly on antagonists of orexin receptors.

Actelion spinout Idorsia is looking at antagonists in insomnia, for example, as are Eisai/Purdue Pharma, although another candidate from GlaxoSmithKline and Actelion was abandoned in 2011 on safety concerns. Meanwhile, U.K. biotech C4XD has a selective OX1 antagonist in early-stage development to fight the cravings associated with tobacco, opioid analgesics and alcohol.

“We see great promise in the orexin agonist program and believe it can be advanced significantly with this focused funding and within these new structures in which we retain a significant stake,” said Malcolm Weir, Sosei Heptares’ chief R&D officer.

“The asset-centric approach pioneered by Medicxi has proved to be very successful for developing discrete and novel assets and for creating significant value and allows us seamlessly to transfer our ongoing activities and IP into these two special purpose vehicles.”