Continuing clinical programs during the COVID-19 challenge and advancing novel approaches to cancer, inflammation, and viruses
Spring Bank Pharmaceuticals is in early clinical development with novel compounds in oncology, inflammation, and antivirals. Its lead cancer drug, coded SB 11285, is an IV drug undergoing a Phase 1 trial for treating solid tumors, and various antitumor ADCs (antibody-drug conjugates) are completing preclinicals, all designed as agonists of STING (stimulator of interferon genes), which regulates the innate immune system. In the autoimmune/inflammatory area, oral drug SB 11736 is a preclinical candidate and antagonist of STING. Spring Bank is also investigating the potential of other compounds to combat COVID-19. The company’s drugs employ a unique mechanism: resembling natural nucleotides and nucleic acids, they act to upregulate or downregulate disease-related proteins.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
A new drug platform, more than $100 million and 20 years in R&D, and hope for treating hepatitis B and other viral infections were all stymied by a pivotal trial. Spring Bank had placed its bets and put its cards on the table, only to lose the first round at the end of 2019. Its remaining options were to leave the game or stick to it. Now, with programs in other areas well underway, the company faces an entirely new but equally unexpected challenge. Disruption and potential opportunity have both emerged in a universally shared crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic. Experience and caution leaven its response.
The one area you might expect a company to suffer disruption during the pandemic is plainly operations. But industry veteran Martin Driscoll, Spring Bank’s president and CEO, assures otherwise: “Fortunately, the impact of COVID-19 on our operations has been limited thus far,” he says. “We are a small biopharmaceutical research company with one current clinical trial ongoing. We don’t have any commercial products, so we don’t have the issues with supply chain or a sales force standing down that bigger companies are facing.”
At this point, the company’s most important operations are the Boston-area laboratories supporting numerous research programs with STING-targeting compounds. So far, a directive by the Massachusetts governor classifies biopharmaceutical research companies as essential businesses, so the labs remain open. “We are practicing staggered workloads and other intervention measures for social distancing, and there has been no negative impact on our laboratory operations thus far,” says Driscoll.
Raising capital might also be an obvious source of difficulty in “these uncertain times.” Here, Driscoll is strictly realistic but with good reason for optimism. “Obviously, the equity markets have been hit hard with this virus, but we have not been significantly impacted yet because we do not intend to secure a major financing in the near term. We currently believe that our operations are funded through the first quarter of 2022.”
Most importantly, Spring Bank appears to be navigating through the largest hazard a research-based biopharma can face — the risk of interruption in its clinical development. “Many companies are having to halt or suspend their clinical trials because hospitals, where the investigators are, won’t allow them, for fear that they will be overwhelmed. But we’re still dosing patients in our trial, so we’re fortunate.” Meanwhile, the company has drawn on its antiviral knowledge to begin a program for potential COVID-19 treatment. “We’re trying to do our part with our limited resources. Some of our compounds are active against respiratory viruses similar to COVID-19, but we’re just in the early stages of testing various assays. We’ll see how that progresses.”
Driscoll is optimistic about the role the industry and his company will play in getting the world through this gigantic challenge and back to the business of meeting others. For Spring Bank, that means fighting old foes such as cancer and in relatively unexplored areas such as inflammation. Although no one can predict its outcome, this company seems to possess the strengths it will need.
Employees: 20 Headquarters: Hopkinton, MA
$135M Total raised
Largest institutional investors: Biotechnology Value Fund and MPM Capital
Clinical trial supply agreement with Roche for SB 11285 Phase 1a/1b trial
Latest Updates April 2020: Update on business operations & clinical program progress during COVID-19 pandemic April 2020: SB 11285 Phase 1a/1b trial escalates to next planned dose level