Jeremy Levin's back, building a rare-disease biotech with failed drugs

Jeremy Levin

Former Teva CEO Jeremy Levin has taken the pilot's seat at a stealth biotech devoted to rare brain diseases and is piloting a course straight into the industry spotlight.

Levin broke the news early this morning that he has taken the helm as CEO of New York-based Ovid Therapeutics, telling CNBC that he plans to build a pipeline out of industry discards. And minutes later Ovid added word that it had in-licensed a drug from Lundbeck with plans to develop it for Angelman syndrome and Fragile X syndrome. Levin already was chairman of Ovid, so it's likely that he relied on some of his old skills as chief dealmaker for Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) in hatching this new pact, which gives him a lead drug and leaves Lundbeck as a minority investor in the company.

At about the same time that Lundbeck was trading a shelved drug for a new role as a minority investor at Ovid, the biotech banked $5 million, according to an SEC filing.

Levin, who was ousted from Teva ($TEVA) in 2013 following a bruising battle with the board over his reorganization plans, will now set out to make a comeback armed with a drug that was tossed onto the scrap heap 8 years ago, after Lundbeck and Merck ($MRK) failed to get it through the clinic for insomnia.

But Levin likes his chances with gaboxadol (now dubbed OV101), which the company now describes as the only small molecule highly selective extrasynaptic GABA(A) receptor agonist tested in clinical trials.

Former Ovid CEO and current CSO Matthew During described the drug this way: "OV101 is the only SEGA that has been tested in clinical trials to date. By restoring tonic inhibition at low doses it has shown promising functional improvement in models of Angelman Syndrome Fragile X Syndrome as well as genetic epilepsy models."

Levin's big gamble is that new scientific insights will reveal the hidden value of failed drugs, a strategy that several other biotechs have been following as well.

"The science of older medicines that had been around for some time was now becoming clearer and clearer as to how they worked on the brain," Levin explained to CNBC's Meg Tirrell. "Some that had been discarded were interesting molecules but weren't being applied to the right disease. Science caught up with some of the medicine-making that was going on."

He'll be taking on some of the toughest targets in biotech. Fragile X has been a frustrating field, defeating biotechs like Seaside and others.

- here's the release on Levin
- and the release on Lundbeck
- here's the CNBC story