February 15, 2012

Xconomy

Hydra Makes Progress in Pain With First Trial and New Partnership

Two years ago, Cambridge, MA-based Hydra Biosciences generated some buzz when a Series D funding round brought its total venture haul to $69 million and it formed a pact with Cubist Pharmaceuticals to develop its non-narcotic pain drugs. Now the company’s efforts are starting to bear fruit, with two milestones reached since the start of the year.
 
Hydra is preparing to launch its first human test of a molecule it is developing with Lexington, MA-based Cubist (NASDAQ: CBST), CB-625, which is part of a novel class of pain drugs called TRPA1 agonists. The FDA filing to start that trial triggered a $5 million milestone payment from Cubist. It was the first regulatory filing under Hydra’s licensing deal with Cubist, which the companies extended last year, says Hydra CEO Russell Herndon. “Cubist is continuing to pay all the costs for development of the compound through 2012,” he says. Herndon adds that getting the first drug into clinical trials is a “huge step forward” for Hydra, which was founded in 2001.
 
And on February 9, Hydra formed a collaboration with Cambridge, MA-based Zalicus (NASDAQ: ZLCS) to develop multiple novel drug candidates for the treatment of pain. Zalicus will provide an up-front payment and has agreed to fund development at Hydra for two years. Although the dollar value of the deal was not announced, Herndon said in a statement about the deal that it was important for providing non-dilutive capital to fund Hydra’s internal research.
 
Hydra’s specialty is searching for pain drugs that are potent but that don’t have the side effect risks of opioids such as hydrocodone and morphine. TRPA1 (which stands for Transient Receptor Potential Ankyrin repeat 1) is a type of ion channel—a protein membrane that controls the flow of charged molecules in and out of cells. In animal models, Hydra has shown that targeting TRPA1 relieves pain without
causing side effects such as depression and stomach upset. Herndon says the drug developed with Cubist is so selective that it shouldn’t cause the addiction issues seen with opioids, either. “There’s a potential [CB-625] could be used in lieu of opioids,” Herndon says.
 
Hydra’s collaboration with Zalicus will focus on ion channel modulators that Zalicus has discovered but not yet advanced into clinical trials. The two companies will work together on development activities necessary to move those molecules forward, the companies said.
 
Herndon says Hydra’s executives are gaining key drug development experience that he hopes will pay off with products that are further back in its pipeline. He says the company is working on one TRP compound to treat neuropathic pain and another that is showing early promise in both anxiety and pain.
 
Hydra is adequately funded through this year, Herndon says, but will be looking to raise more capital soon. “We are interested in establishing additional partnerships around our earlier pipeline programs,” he says. “We’re not looking to partner all of our assets—we do have a goal of moving at least one of these compounds through ourselves—but we’re definitely interested in looking for additional relationships.”
 
As for the need for non-opioid pain relievers, Herndon believes the rapid aging of the population will create a rich market opportunity. “Drug interactions and side effects with opioids in the elderly is very challenging,” he says. “Being able to provide a medication that doesn’t interfere with your activities of daily living would be incredibly valuable to physicians, patients, and the economy.”