The latest company in Star Therapeutics’ universe of biotech offshoots debuted on Tuesday with plans to develop a drug for a common and chronic blood disorder.
Vega Therapeutics is backed by $40 million in financing from Star and many of its investors, among them Westlake Village Biopartners and OrbiMed. The new company is the second to launch this year from Star, a biotech that’s creating a web of startups each purpose-built to develop specific drugs for a range of diseases.
“We think of the thousands of rare diseases as stars,” said Adam Rosenthal, Vega’s CEO and co-founder. “The numbers are overwhelming but if you group them together like a constellation, you can find a drug to treat all of them in the right way.”
Vega’s focus is on von Willebrand disease, or VWD, a blood disorder that, like hemophilia, prevents the blood from clotting correctly. It is estimated to affect up to 1% of the U.S. population.
Though treatments exist for VWD, they have flaws. Patients can get drugs that replace the clotting protein they lack, but those medicines require frequent infusions or injections. Other therapies, like the nasal spray desmopressin and the clotting drug Amicar, may not prevent the spontaneous bleeds or joint damage that can occur in patients whose disease is more severe.
Vega’s answer is a preventive antibody that’s meant to last longer than existing treatments and is given via a subcutaneous injection, much like Roche’s hemophilia A drug Hemilbra. Called VGA039, Vega’s treatment is designed to restore generation of a blood-clotting enzyme by targeting a molecule known as protein S.
“The whole idea is providing a patient-friendly therapy that is safe and effective, where they can take it wherever they need to, so there’s not a high treatment burden,” Rosenthal said.
In a snippet of preclinical data set to be presented at the American Society of Hematology meeting next week, researchers found evidence VGA039 helped promote clotting in non-human primates, suggesting it may hold promise as a tool for multiple blood disorders, among them VWD.
The company has received clearance from regulators in Austria to begin its first human trial. It expects to start that study in the first half of 2023, Rosenthal said.
“Seeing the reality of a therapeutic antibody for prophylaxis against bleeding associated with hemophilia A has inspired us at Vega to achieve the same for VWD,” Benjamin Kim, Star’s vice president of clinical development, said in a blog post.
The company is based in South San Francisco, near another Star spinout, Electra Therapeutics, which is developing a treatment for a rare immune disorder.
Star is one of several drugmakers with a “hub-and-spoke” model, in which a central company manages and supports a web of subsidiaries. BridgeBio Pharma and Centessa Pharmaceuticals are two notable examples, while PureTech Health and Roivant Sciences have also used the approach to form multiple biotechs across a variety of therapeutic areas.