Based in Toronto, Ontario, Fibrocor Therapeutics was launched in January 2017. Its focus is on fibrosis, with an early interest in kidney fibrosis.
Mark Steedman, the company’s chief executive officer, came onboard in mid-November 2017.
He told BioSpace, “The company has received about $2 million, primarily through the member partners and founding institutions, the MaRS Innovation and Evotec. Our scientific founders are Richard Gilbert, Darren Yuen and Jeff Wrana. Darren Yuen, a nephrologist at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto has been collecting tissues biopsies for approximately 20 years. Now that the technology for genetic fingerprinting and biomarkers has advanced, the team has been able to link them to clinical outcomes and better annotate the genetic markers associated with kidney diseases.”
MaRS Innovation was created in 2008 and is supported by the government of Ontario through the Ontario Centres of Excellence, which has a portfolio of more than 60 companies.
Another strategic advantage of Fibrocor is its location in Ontario, which has a single-payer healthcare system that allows the company to track over time the functional decline of kidneys and link it back to the tissue samples in the biobank. Steedman says, “We’ve called it a bedside-to-bench-to-bedside approach to drug discovery as compared to the traditional bench-to-bedside approach where you’re screening a variety of different targets. The goal of the company is to leverage the detailed exploration of the fibrotic disease pathways and to develop and commercialize the best-in-class disease-specific therapeutics to treat the underlying cause of fibrosis.”
Mark Steedman – chief executive officer. Steedman is the vice president of Business Development and founder of Interface Biologics and a board member and chair of the Governance Committee of the Ontario Bioscience Innovation Organization (OBIO).
Richard Gilbert – scientific co-founder. Gilbert is the Canada Research Chair in Diabetic Complications and Head of Endocrinology at St. Michael’s Hospital and Scientist with the hospital’s Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science.
Darren Yuen – scientific co-founder. Yuen is a nephrologist with St. Michael’s Hospital and a scientist with its Keenan Research Centre.
Jeff Wrana – scientific co-founder. Wrana is a senior investigator at Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System.
Steedman told BioSpace, “The way the company has been set up, it’s partnered all the drug discovery activities with Evotec, so it’s been operating as a semi-virtual entity. But on a go-forward basis as we build the company out, we will be adding to the executive team, the board of directors and the scientific advisory board.”
The company was launched with $2.8 million (CDN), or about $2.1 million (US), which included cash from MaRS Innovation. Evotec also has an equity stake. It’s quite early in the company’s evolution, but when it acquires more data on its compounds, it is likely to be looking for venture capital down the road. Steedman says, “As far as the operational side goes, we’d like to build up a fairly big effort in the Toronto area because the expertise and infrastructure is here. We have world-class researchers with world-class facilities. If you were draw a line from A to B to C, it would likely include multiple financings along the way and possibly an exit on a public exchange.”
The company has what Steedman calls a “rich pipeline” with some of the targets more advanced than others. The first target is DDR1, which he says, “has been well-validated as a target for fibrotic kidney disease. It’s in preclinical development and we expect to be IND-ready in six to 12 months. We’re accelerating that as fast as we possibly can through our partnership with Evotec.”
Other compounds in the pipeline are for kidney, lungs and liver — nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
There are plenty of companies focused on NASH, including Gilead Sciences and Allergan, and there is a broad industry focus on fibrosis as a large unmet medical need. Steedman says, “Certainly big pharma has an interest in fibrosis broadly, so they have products and internal programs, and some are more interested in NASH. Some are more interested in lung, some are more interested in kidney. It just depends on the strategic focus of the company.”
A smaller group of biotech companies are focusing on developing antibodies or compounds around particular targets related to fibrosis. Steedman says, “No one has the biobank ability we have, which we believe is a strategic competitive advantage. It allows us to go back in time in a retrospective basis and link the data to outcomes. Other companies will have to build it on a prospective basis. We have a significant head start.”
Dollars and Deals
It’s early for the company, although it has a drug discovery and equity relationship with Hamburg, Germany’s Evotec. Steedman says, “We’re having multiple business discussions with potential partners and strategic collaborators. Evotec is a partner, and is capable of taking some of these programs on themselves. They’re an equity holder in the company, however, their business model currently doesn’t contemplate the sale of drugs. Ultimately, the company is seeking some kind of commercial partnership that would allow for the sale of the fibrotic drugs through a big pharma sales channel.”
What to Expect
The company hopes to get its lead compound into the clinic in 2019. If things go according to plan, in three to five years the company plans to have multiple compounds in several indications in the clinic. Steedman, noting that things rarely go as predicted, does say that the hopes are that the compounds “would be in the clinic with the help of a strategic partner to identify a clinical focus provide funding.”
Currently, Fibrocor is focused on getting the DDR1 program to a clinic-ready stage. Steedman says, “We feel there’s a lot of value in the data package, and once it’s reached a certain point it can be of value as a lever to unlock future assets in the company.”