Armed with mounds of patient data and a licensing deal with Genentech, Clover Therapeutics is ready to tackle the development of potential therapies for age-related ocular diseases.
Clover Therapeutics, which sprung out of Clover Health, a San Francisco-based Medicare Advantage insurer, is supported by a number of biotech and pharma veterans, including Pfizer veteran Cheng Zhang, who is heading up therapeutics, and Genentech veteran Marcel van der Brug, who is the chief scientific officer for therapeutics. In an interview with BioSpace, Zhang said the formation of Clover Therapeutics is an extension of Clover Health’s mission to improve the lives of the members it serves by accelerating the development of medications and therapies for chronic diseases typically impacting older populations. From its parent company, Clover Therapeutics will be able to harness the electronic health records collected from thousands of patients across varying backgrounds that will hopefully guide the company to direct any medications at the correct targets, Zhang said. The idea is to harness the health records provided by Clover Health to identify sub-groups of patients where they a specific target is driving the disease. Zhang noted that about half of all trial failures is due to the fact that the drug was aimed at the wrong target. By harnessing genetic data, the company believes its chances of successfully developing a therapeutic increase.
“We have the experience understanding the disease and the complexity of it,” Zhang said. “We are imagining a new way forward, to break down the silos of existing medical records and to invite patients from all backgrounds to participate in research.”
Van der Brug added that the company will use existing machine learning models and fuse them with genomic, imaging, and digital biomarker data in order to refine how some diseases are classified. That way, they will be able to identify candidate drug targets and their relationship to phenotypes. Additionally, he said that method will allow the company to “be more creative” in selecting clinical outcome measures for therapeutic clinical trials.
While no pipeline assets were announced at the time, coming out of the gate with a collaborative agreement with Genentech is a sign the company is on the right path, Van der Brug said. Likening working with his former employer as something of a coming home party, van der Brug said they can take the reams of patient data accumulated over years by Clover Health and combine it with the scientific expertise at Genentech to hone in on genetic drivers of age-related ocular diseases. Cheng noted that most biotechs don’t come out of the gate with as much data-supported firepower Clover Therapeutics has in hand, which makes this an exciting venture.
“This is one of the most exciting things that drives me and brought me to this enterprise,” van der Brug said.
The partnership with Genentech will be aimed at gaining a better understanding of the genetic drivers associated with age-related ocular diseases. Zhang said they hope the data and science will be able to drive the development of therapeutics for the Medicare population living with these medical conditions. In a statement sent to BioSpace, James Sabry, global head of pharma partnering at Roche, the parent company of Genentech, said partnering with Clover Therapeutics will “help further our understanding of ocular disease through our shared vision of using clinical and genomic data to develop personalized medicines.”
While Clover emerged from two-years of incubation at Clover Health, the startup did not provide specifics on the indications it will target, although Zhang noted that something like age-related macular degeneration would be a good example of their focus.
“With our focus on improving health outcomes across a broad range of indications… we believe we can elevate the standard of care for our members and Medicare patients at large,” Zhang said. “By partnering with our members to study the clinical and genetic drivers of ocular diseases, combined with Genentech’s pioneering history of drug discovery and development in this area, we hope to improve the quality of life for seniors living with these conditions.”
While it is still early to talk about the planned research, van der Brug and Zhang said the company plans to submit research to various publications for peer review in order to gain feedback for its planned pipeline of therapeutics for age-related diseases.