Karuna Therapeutics is potentially betting hundreds of millions of dollars on the idea that a shuttering drugmaker’s experimental medicines for kidney diseases could become useful treatments for psychiatric and neurological disorders.
Through a deal announced Thursday, Karuna will get an exclusive global license to develop, manufacture and market these medicines from Goldfinch Bio, which target a type of protein known as transient receptor potential channels. Goldfinch’s most advanced drug, GFB-887, has been studied in mid-stage clinical trials that tested it across several kidney illnesses, including diabetic nephropathy and focal segmental glomerulosclerosis.
According to reporting from Fierce Biotech, Goldfinch is going out of business after failing to secure additional funding. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company launched in late 2016 with $55 million from Third Rock Ventures and a mission to usher in a “new era of therapeutic development targeting the molecular basis of progressive kidney diseases.”
Goldfinch’s work later attracted the attention of Gilead Sciences, which, in the spring of 2019, agreed to a multiyear collaboration focused on diabetic kidney disease as well as “orphan” kidney disorders. The heavily backloaded agreement carried a nearly $110 million upfront payment for the smaller company.
About a year after announcing the Gilead deal, Goldfinch secured another $100 million in a financing round led by Eventide Asset Management. Gilead also participated in the round, as did new investors like Wellington Management and Ally Bridge Group.
Yet, like many biotechnology companies with big ambitions, Goldfinch has faced setbacks. Last year, for instance, one of the studies testing GFB-887 delivered mixed results. And since then, a historic downturn in the biotech sector made it far more challenging for Goldfinch and many others to raise money.
"Unfortunately, we had funding challenges, just like I think the rest of the environment, particularly private companies, in the current macro environment," Tony Johnson, Goldfinch’s CEO, told Fierce Biotech.
With the Karuna deal, Goldfinch, through the assignee of its assignment estate, will receive $15 million upfront. It is also eligible for up to $520 million in milestone payments for each candidate that gets licensed.
Specifically, the deal gives Karuna access to drugs directed at the protein channels “TRPC4” and “TRPC5,” which the company believes could have beneficial applications in the brain. Karuna said it intends to study GFB-887 for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders, and will share more details on the drug’s development plans in the second half of this year.
So far, Karuna’s research efforts have largely revolved around KarXT, an experimental therapy that clinical trials showed to be helpful in the treatment of schizophrenia. Karuna expects this year to ask the Food and Drug Administration to approve KarXT, and is also evaluating the therapy in patients with Alzheimer’s disease psychosis.
Goldfinch’s medicines therefore help to diversify Karuna’s research.
“We believe that the TRPC4/5 mechanism could represent a completely novel approach to treating mood and anxiety disorders and complements our existing pipeline,” Bill Meury, Karuna’s newly minted CEO, said in a statement.
Meury added that the Goldfinch agreement “aligns with our strategic goal to become a fully integrated neuroscience company with treatments that could offer much more than just incremental benefits to patients.”