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development partner as early in the process as possible. “Our hypothesis is if we can prove out pre-clinically that the molecule behaves, in multiple animal species, there will be partners who are interested before the drug ever sees a human being,” he says.
Satori’s management team is so intent on signing on a Big Pharma development partner early that they hired Jonker two years ago and sent him out to cultivate relationships that may lead to development deals. The company is very open, Ehrlich says, about how it’s running the animal studies, and it regularly seeks feedback from potential pharma partners. “We say, ‘Here’s what we’re doing, tell us what you need to see. We’ll build it if you come,'” Ehrlich says.
A number of pharmaceutical and biotech companies are trying to develop more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s, which is considered among the world’s biggest unsolved medical problems. More than 5 million people in the U.S. alone suffer from the disease—a figure that’s expected to skyrocket with the aging of the population. One of the most widely watched experimental treatments is bapineuzumab, a drug being developed by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson that’s now in late-stage trials. And last December, Merck unveiled an early-stage compound that works against an amyloid-promoting enzyme called BACE.
Ives believes that even if those companies don’t want to partner with Satori, the more competitors in the Alzheimer’s space the better. “I expect if Merck is successful with a BACE inhibitor we could have a combination product,” he says. “It’s two different ways of skinning the same cat—we’re both shutting off these neuro-toxic peptides.”
But Satori has a long way to go to prove its compound works. Because its drug will be designed to be taken chronically, starting at the early stages of the disease, Satori will have to run large and lengthy trials to prove it’s safe. “This is a tough population,” Ives says. “They’re in their seventh or eight decade of life and on a multitude of drugs for treating other things like heart disease and arthritis. We don’t want drug interactions. This has to be mother’s-milk clean and safe to be taken for years.”
InterWest Partners, New Enterprise Associates, and Prospect Venture Partners led Satori’s most recent funding round, which will be deployed towards the company’s goal of collecting enough pre-clinical data to generate a Big Pharma deal. Jonker and Ives say they expect to have some data ready to present at the industry’s big annual confab—the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in July. Although they have a bit more work to do, they remain confident someone will be willing to take on the risk of developing their black-cohosh derived drug. “There’s been a lot of interest,” Jonker says. “The magnitude of this disease in terms of its impact socially and economically, relative to the drugs the industry has been able to produce is out of whack. This is the largest unmet medical need right now.”
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