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Biotechs in the US Capital: seven key players based in Washington DC

Washington D.C. is positioned as a growing hub in the biotech industry, largely due to the presence of significant institutions like the National Institutes of Health, only 10 miles away from the U.S. capital. The D.C. metro area is recognized as a flourishing life sciences hub, hosting a significant number of biotech and pharma-related meetings and conventions. Today, we focus on the metropole area of Washington D.C. Here are seven biotech companies based in Washington D.C. you should know about.

Table of contents

    Emergent BioSolutions

    In 2023, Emergence BioSolutions announced it would reduce its investment in its Contract Development and Manufacturing Organization (CDMO) activities to focus on its “core products business.” This strategic shift came with the lay-off of 400 people to realign its workforce with its objectives.

    The project the Washington D.C. biotech company is focusing on is a response to the opioid crisis. Narcan (naloxone HCl) nasal spray is designed to reverse the effects of opioid overdose rapidly. Approved by the FDA for prescription use in 2015, and later for over-the-counter (OTC) use in March 2023, Narcan Nasal Spray is the first and only FDA-approved, needle-free formulation of naloxone for emergency treatment of opioid overdose. This approval made it the first naloxone product available without a prescription in the U.S​​. The approval of Narcan as an OTC medication was a significant public health milestone, aimed at reducing drug overdose deaths primarily driven by illicit opioids such as fentanyl. 

    Other notable projects include UniFlu, a universal influenza vaccine, and a range of vaccines targeting Lassa fever, Marburg virus, Sudan virus, and Ebola, among others.

    Financially and operationally, Emergent BioSolutions has successfully secured substantial contracts with U.S. government agencies. Notably, the company entered into a contract with the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) for the development of an rPA (recombinant protective antigen) anthrax vaccine, valued at up to $186.6 million. This contract is part of a broader commitment by the U.S. government to bolster the development of medical countermeasures against anthrax​​.

    Medcura

    Medcura, based in Riverdale, outside of Washington D.C., is a biotech company focused on hemostasis – the process of stopping bleeding. The company has developed a proprietary biosurgical technology platform that has shown effectiveness in controlling surgical bleeding through various preclinical models. This technology allows for the development of diverse product solutions, from surgical applications to consumer products​​.

    Medcura has gained attention for its first-of-its-kind surgical hemostat platform, particularly with its flagship product, LifeGel Absorbable Surgical Hemostat, which received the FDA’s Breakthrough Device Designation. This designation is significant as it recognizes LifeGel for its unique no-swelling property, crucial for reducing adverse events like nerve damage and paralysis in surgeries, particularly in the spine and cardiothoracic procedures​​. Another notable product currently in development is LifeFoam, an injectable biopolymer that expands to treat hemorrhages.

    Medcura raised $7.4 million in funding to expand its product line and further develop its leading surgical candidates for clinical evaluation. The company also received a $1 million investment from TEDCO in 2022.

    Neuroene Therapeutics

    Neuroene Therapeutics, founded in 2015 and based in Washington, D.C., is a biotech company dedicated to the discovery of therapeutics for neurological disorders. The company is notably focused on developing a mitochondrial modulator drug discovery platform. This platform is designed to identify clinical candidates for diseases characterized by underlying mitochondrial dysfunction.

    One of the company’s focuses is medication-resistant epilepsy. A research team led by the co-founder of the company developed a modified form of vitamin K to stop epilepsy seizures. The drug was successful in eliminating seizures in all the mice tested in their research. Today, the treatment options for medication-resistant epilepsy consist of invasive or inconvenient options such as a ketogenic diet, vagus nerve stimulation, epilepsy surgery, or the implantation of a neurostimulation device in the brain.

    In the context of Dravet Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy that begins in infancy and is characterized by frequent, prolonged seizures, the development of Neuroene’s Dravet syndrome candidate, NT102, could represent a significant advancement in treatment options for patients.

    NT102 is still in the pre-clinical stage and received the FDA’s orphan drug designation. This designation provides various incentives to the drug developer, including tax credits for clinical testing, relief from prescription drug user fees, and potentially seven years of market exclusivity upon approval.

    The company has raised a total of $2.7 million over three funding rounds.

    Remedy Plan Therapeutics

    Remedy Plan Therapeutics focuses on the development of small molecule therapeutics that target NAMPT inhibition, a novel approach in the treatment of various diseases including solid tumors, hematologic malignancies, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. NAMPT inhibition involves targeting a crucial enzyme in the body known as nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT). This enzyme plays a vital role in the nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) salvage pathway, which is essential for generating NAD+, a critical coenzyme in cellular energy metabolism. The inhibition of NAMPT has gained attention, particularly in the field of oncology, due to its role in cancer cell metabolism. Cancer cells often have altered metabolic requirements and may rely on the NAD salvage pathway for their increased energy demands.

    Remedy Plan Therapeutics’s drug discovery platform is designed to identify drugs that target critical signaling pathways in cancer stem cells, ensuring the development of novel, chemically distinct drugs with potent and reproducible activity​​.

    The biotech company’s pipeline includes drug candidates at various stages of development, from discovery to phase I clinical trials. Its lead asset, RPT1G, is a novel oncology therapeutic with a mechanism of action optimized to preserve cellular metabolism in healthy cells while inhibiting activity in malignant cells​​​​. RPT1G has shown efficacy in preclinical studies against acute leukemia, lymphoma, and solid tumors, and is set to advance to clinical trials in 2024.The company has raised a total of $29.2 million over six funding rounds​​.

    Vanda Pharmaceuticals

    One of the key developments for Vanda Pharmaceuticals is the progress made with tradipitant, a drug designed for the treatment of gastroparesis symptoms, for which treatment is still at the stage of symptom management. The exact cause of gastroparesis is often unknown, but it can be a complication of diabetes or result from damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach muscles. Symptoms of gastroparesis may include vomiting, nausea, abdominal bloating, abdominal pain, a feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount of food, acid reflux, changes in blood sugar levels or lack of appetite.

    Vanda Pharmaceuticals has several important regulatory milestones anticipated in 2024, including three Supplemental New Drug Applications (sNDAs). These sNDAs are for HETLIOZ, aimed at treating insomnia characterized by difficulties with sleep initiation, and for Fanapt, targeting the acute treatment of manic or mixed episodes associated with bipolar I disorder. The last sNDA concerns Trapidant.

    Additionally, Vanda Pharmaceuticals acquired the U.S. and Canadian rights to PONVORY (ponesimod), a selective S1P1R modulator approved for treating relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (RMS), from Actelion Pharmaceuticals. Recently, Vanda Pharmaceuticals announced that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has issued a notice of allowance for a patent application related to PONVORY.

    The Washington D.C. biotech company also received FDA approval to proceed with investigational new drug (IND) for two candidates. VCA-894A is a novel antisense oligonucleotide (ASO) targeting Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, axonal, type 2S (CMT2S), linked to specific genetic variants in the IGHMBP2 gene. The second candidate, VTR-297, is a novel topical antifungal candidate aimed at treating onychomycosis. This condition, affecting up to 14% of the U.S. population, can lead to nail discoloration, separation, and thickening, potentially exacerbating peripheral circulation issues.

    VerImmune

    VerImmune is an early-stage biotechnology company developing anti-tumor immune redirection (AIR) based on its novel Virus-inspired Particle (ViP) technology platform.

    The company has been involved in a research collaboration with Janssen Research & Development since 2022, to leverage VerImmune’s Immuno-oncology therapeutic platform, AIR-ViP. More recently, the company announced a research collaboration with A*STAR’s Bioprocessing Technology Institute (BTI) in Singapore. This partnership aims to advance VerImmune’s ViP platform development through the creation of novel manufacturing and analytical solutions, focusing on preclinical manufacturing platforms to generate new ViP-based product candidates beyond their flagship oncology program​​.

    VerImmune secured more than $3 million from follow-on seed financing and a partnership milestone payment. This funding is intended to accelerate GLP and GMP quality standards activities towards an IND for VerImmune’s lead product candidate, VERI-101. VerImmune was also awarded $500K as a small business innovation research phase 2b follow-on funding from the National Science Foundation to further support the development of the ViP technology platform. 

    60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals

    60 Degrees Pharmaceuticals (60P) specializes in developing new medicines for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. 

    ARAKODA is a key focus for the company, already approved in the U.S. for malaria prevention. 60P is leveraging its success to explore additional uses, notably for COVID-19 and babesiosis. In the case of COVID-19, promising results from a phase I study suggest its potential effectiveness, leading to plans for further research. Beyond these, 60P is investigating tafenoquine for fungal infections, effective against Pneumocystis and yeasts, important pathogens in immunocompromised individuals.

    Recently, the biotech company has received IRB (Institutional Review Board) approval for a phase 2a study evaluating the use of Tafenoquine for the treatment of babesiosis, an emerging tick-borne disease. Babesiosis is an infection caused by parasites that infect red blood cells, transmitted by the bite of an infected black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis. It is becoming increasingly common, with an estimated 47,000 cases annually in the U.S., often co-occurring with Lyme disease.Three weeks ago, 60P announced the pricing of a new public offering of $2.4 million. This comes less than a year after 60P initial public offering (IPO) of $7.5 million.

    Washington DC: The heart of the BioHealth Capital Region

    The BioHealth Capital Region (BHCR) encompasses Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C., and more than 1,800 life science and companies are established there. BHCR is among the top-performing biotech clusters in the U.S., with first-class educational facilities, innovative companies, and over 70 federal labs. While the area of Washington D.C. is smaller than Virginia and Maryland where companies are spread across, Washington is still a destination of choice with innovative biotech companies and events

    The BHCR was ranked third biopharma cluster in the U.S. by Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News behind the San Francisco Bay Area and the Boston/Cambridge area. The criteria to measure the performance of these hubs were the National Institutes of Health funding, venture capital funding, the number of biotechnology patents, the total lab space, and the number of jobs. This region, with Washington D.C. at its heart, is one of the most dynamic in the biotech industry. 

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