- Ovid Therapeutics is partnering with privately held biotechnology startup Graviton Bioscience to develop drugs for rare brain disorders with few or no other treatment options.
- The companies, both based in New York, will collaborate on an experimental drug that blocks an enzyme known as ROCK2, as well as other ROCK2-targeting candidates that have proven capable in animal testing of crossing the blood-brain barrier. Their initial focus will be on a type of blood vessel malformation in the brain.
- Ovid will pay $10 million in return for Series A preferred stock in Graviton, which is something of a third act for founder Sam Waksal, who was previously behind ImClone Systems and Kadmon Pharmaceuticals.
As the companies tell it, the research partnership is an opportunity to pair Ovid’s work in neurological disease research and Graviton’s knowledge of ROCK2, an enzyme involved in a range of cellular processes.
“This collaboration complements our pipeline with clinical and preclinical programs and represents an important step in achieving our strategy,” said Ovid CEO Jeremy Levin.
Under Levin, who’s been Ovid’s chief executive since 2015, the company has sought to find overlooked drug candidates elsewhere and develop them for hard-to-treat neurological disorders. But the company has faced some setbacks in the clinic. Its efforts to repurpose a drug for Angelman’s disease ended in 2020 with a Phase 3 trial failure.
The company then turned its attention to soticlestat, an experimental treatment for rare forms of epilepsy that was later licensed to Takeda for $196 million.
Ovid has rebuilt its pipeline, striking a deal in 2022 with the gene therapy startup Gensaic and now partnering with Graviton.
The private startup was founded three years ago by Waksal, a well-known, and controversial, biotech entrepreneur who’s been in the industry for decades. Gravitron extends his work at Kadmon, which won approval of a ROCK2-blocking drug for graft-versus-host disease and was later acquired by Sanofi.
Waksal had to step down from Kadmon when it went public in 2016, constrained by the terms of his conviction for insider trading and wire fraud — the same scandal that resulted in Martha Stewart’s imprisonment in the early 2000s.
“We believe and hope that ROCK2 inhibition will become a future mainstay in the treatment of people with severe brain conditions who have no medicines today,” Waksal said in a statement.
Along with Graviton, the U.K. biotech Redx is developing a ROCK2 inhibitor, but is targeting idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and other fibrotic diseases.
Ovid’s share price dipped briefly in Monday morning trading before rising 1% in the early afternoon.