Nearly two decades after first identifying serum amyloid P (SAP) as a key protein in human blood that controls routine tissue-related processes from scarring to healing, Texas A&M University biologists Richard Gomer and Darrell Pilling recently marked another milestone in their celebrated scientific partnership: the sale of the biotechnology company they co-founded in 2006 to further develop their SAP-focused fight against fibrotic disease, a broad class of chronic conditions associated with an estimated 45 percent of U.S. deaths per year.
In November, Swiss drug maker Roche agreed to pay up to $1.4 billion to buy Promedior Inc., whose main drug candidate against the rare and fatal lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is set to begin late-stage trials. The structured deal includes a payment of $390 million, plus the potential for $1 billion more if conditions are met.
Promedior’s lead asset PRM-151, a recombinant form of the SAP Gomer and Pilling initially discovered in the early 2000s, is being studied in IPF, an incurable disease that affects the air sacs in the lungs and can lead to permanent scarring, making it difficult to breathe. In previous trials, PRM-151 helped to improve lung function in combination with current therapies, including the drug Esbriet, which Roche already owns and accounted for sales slightly in excess of $1 billion in 2018.
According to Promedior’s news release announcing the sale to Roche, phase 2 trial results published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2018 showed that PRM-151 is the “first molecule to show significant lung function improvements on top of current therapies in IPF.” In the randomized study, PRM-151 slowed the decline of lung function and stabilized six-minute walk distance, appearing to suggest that the drug has a benefit in slowing overall functional decline for IPF patients. PRM-151 also has shown early promise in treating myelofibrosis, a life-threatening scarring of bone marrow, and potentially other fibrotic diseases.
“Due to Roche’s strong expertise in IPF, hematological cancer and other fibrotic disorders, we believe Roche is ideally positioned to bring the potential of our platform to patients and provide new treatment options within these areas of urgent unmet medical need,” said Jason Lettmann, CEO of Promedior.
Gomer and Pilling made SAP their primary focus when they joined the Texas A&M Department of Biology faculty in 2010. After making their original SAP breakthrough during their studies at Rice University while investigating white blood cells as one of the human body’s first mechanisms for defense, they have become nationally recognized as preeminent authorities on fibrotic research, collaborating on several SAP-related advances to control routine processes, from wound-healing to scarring.
Their first big break after founding Promedior came in 2007, when they and colleagues found that SAP is effective at preventing fibrotic disease in the lungs and hearts of laboratory animals. In 2013 and 2014, Promedior announced that early clinical trials of PRM-151 indicated a successful reduction of symptoms in patients with lung fibrosis and myelofibrosis.
Previously in 2015, New York-based global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb announced an agreement to give Promedior $150 million to fund further clinical trials, with the potential to acquire Promedior for up to $1.25 billion, but had since backed away from the latter part of that deal.
Gomer, holder of a Thomas W. Powell ’62 Chair in Science, earned his Ph.D. in biology from the California Institute of Technology and was a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at Rice University for 21 years prior to coming to Texas A&M, where he conducts research in three primary areas of biomedicine: tissue size regulation, tissue cell composition and fibrosing diseases. He also is known for his research on the single-celled amoebae Dictyostelium and is co-author of a number of astrophysical research papers, courtesy of his undergraduate degree in physics and lifelong love of astronomy. A former Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, he has authored more than 200 high impact publications, earning previous recognition as a 2011 Texas Inventor of the Year by the State Bar of Texas, a 2013-2014 National Academies Education Fellow in the Life Sciences and a 2016 finalist for NPR’s Golden Mole Award for Accidental Brilliance for discovering SAP.
Last December, Gomer was named to the inaugural class of National Academy of Inventors Senior Members in recognition of his worldwide achievement and contributions, which include 14 patents to date and several more pending. In addition, he has received the Texas A&M Sigma Xi Chapter’s Outstanding Distinguished Scientist Award (2017), a Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Research (2016) and a Texas A&M System Technology Commercialization Excellence in Innovation Award (2016). A fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, he serves on the editorial boards of four journals.
For more information about Promedior and its fibrosing disease-related advancements, visit https://promedior.com.
Learn more about Gomer’s teaching, research and service.
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