Joe Jimenez was in the top spot at Novartis when the Big Pharma tried burying the news that its "breakthrough" muscle drug failed a late-stage trial in 2016. He's giving the drug a second chance, and so are other investors, to the tune of $70 million.
Bimagrumab is getting a new life through Versanis, which emerged Tuesday with the series A funds. The Oakland, California, upstart will use the financing to begin an advanced phase 2 trial of the drug for the treatment of obesity.
The monoclonal antibody blocks the binding of ligands that include myostatin and activin A. Novartis studied the drug in more than a dozen clinical trials enrolling upwards of 1,500 people, Versanis said. The biotech said a recent 48-week treatment regimen with the drug led to a 20.5% loss of total body fat mass in obese patients with diabetes.
Novartis previously culled the drug after it didn't pass muster in a phase 2b/3 study for sporadic inclusion body myositis, a rare, muscle-wasting disease. MorphoSys execs originally put the potential drug's peak sales at $4 billion in spring 2014, with the FDA handing it a breakthrough therapy designation and then it failed in April 2016.
Now, it has a new lease on life in the hands of Versanis, which has in-licensed bimagrumab, an activin receptor type II antagonist for a new disease target. Jimenez's venture firm Aditum Bio seeded Versanis earlier this year and he snagged a seat on the biotech's board to see if the drug could get a green light for obesity.
Versanis' board is also stacked with Mark Fishman, former president of Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research.
“As people age, loss of muscle mass makes it even harder to lose weight. All existing obesity treatments risk further loss of muscle, together with fat. Bimagrumab is a unique therapy that builds muscle while markedly reducing fat, providing a potential breakthrough in the obesity epidemic," Fishman said in a statement.
Atlas Venture and Medicxi co-led the series A with participation from Aditum Bio.