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UNITED STATES
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D.C. 20549
________________________________________
FORM 10-K
________________________________________
(Mark One)
ANNUAL REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2020
OR
TRANSITION REPORT PURSUANT TO SECTION 13 OR 15(d) OF THE SECURITIES EXCHANGE ACT OF 1934
For the transition period from                      to
Commission File Number: 001-39264
________________________________________
KEROS THERAPEUTICS, INC.
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
________________________________________

Delaware81-1173868
(State or other jurisdiction of
incorporation or organization)
(I.R.S. Employer
Identification Number)
99 Hayden Avenue,
Suite 120, Building E
02421
Lexington, Massachusetts
(Address of principal executive offices)(Zip Code)
Tel: (617) 314-6297
(Registrant's telephone number, including area code)
________________________________________
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Title of each classTrading SymbolName of each exchange on which registered
Common Stock, $0.0001 par value per shareKROSThe Nasdaq Stock Market LLC
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes ☐ No ☒
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or 15(d) of the Act. Yes ☐ No ☒
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant: (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days. Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has submitted electronically every Interactive Data File required to be submitted pursuant to Rule 405 of Regulation S-T (§232.405 of this chapter) during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the Registrant was required to submit such files). Yes ☒ No ☐
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act.
Large accelerated filer  Accelerated filer 
    
Non-accelerated filer  Smaller reporting company 
       
    Emerging growth company 

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided pursuant to Section 13(a) of the Exchange Act. 
1


Indicate by check mark whether the registrant has filed a report on and attestation to its management’s assessment of the effectiveness of its internal control over financial reporting under Section 404(b) of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (15 U.S.C. 7262(b)) by the registered public accounting firm that prepared or issued its audit report.
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes  No ☒
The aggregate market value of the voting and non-voting common equity held by non-affiliates of the registrant as of June 30, 2020, the last business day of the registrant's most recently completed second fiscal quarter, was $386.0 million, based on a closing price of $37.51 per share of the registrant’s common stock as reported on the Nasdaq Global Market. The calculation does not reflect a determination that certain persons are affiliates of the registrant for any other purpose.
As of March 19, 2021, there were 23,270,717 outstanding shares of the registrant's common stock, par value $0.0001 per share.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the registrant’s proxy statement to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission pursuant to Regulation 14A in connection with the registrant’s 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, which will be filed subsequent to the date hereof, are incorporated by reference into Part III of this Form 10-K. Such proxy statement will be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission not later than 120 days following the end of the registrant’s fiscal year ended December 31, 2020.



2


TABLE OF CONTENTS
PAGE
PART I.
Item 1.
Item 1A.
Item 1B.
Item 2.
Item 3.
Item 4.
PART II.
Item 5.
Item 6.
Item 7.
Item 7A.
Item 8.
Item 9.
Item 9A.
Item 9B.
PART III.
Item 10.
Directors, Executive Officers and Corporate Governance
Item 11.
Executive Compensation
Item 12.
Security Ownership of Certain Beneficial Owners and Management and Related Stockholder Matters
Item 13.
Certain Relationships and Related Transactions, and Director Independence
Item 14.
Principal Accounting Fees and Services
PART IV.
Item 15.
Item 16.
F-1



i


SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS
This Annual Report on Form 10-K contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. All statements other than statements of historical facts contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K are forward-looking statements, including statements about:
the timing of announcement of data for our Phase 2 clinical trial for our lead protein therapeutic product candidate, KER-050, in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes;
the timing of initiation of and announcement of data for our Phase 2 clinical trial for KER-050 in patients with myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias;
the timing of initiation of and announcement of data for our three Phase 2 clinical trials for our lead small molecule product candidate, KER-047;
the timing of initiation of and announcement of data for our Phase 1 clinical trial for our third product candidate, KER-012;
risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which may adversely impact our business, preclinical studies and clinical trials;
our ability to receive the required regulatory approvals and clearances to successfully market and sell our products in the United States and certain other countries;
our ability to successfully advance our pipeline of additional product candidates;
our ability to develop sales and marketing capabilities;
the rate and degree of market acceptance of any products we are able to commercialize;
the effects of increased competition as well as innovations by new and existing competitors in our market;
our ability to obtain funding for our operations;
our ability to establish and maintain collaborations;
our ability to effectively manage our anticipated growth;
our ability to maintain, protect and enhance our intellectual property rights and proprietary technologies;
our ability to operate our business without infringing the intellectual property rights and proprietary technology of third parties;
costs associated with defending intellectual property infringement, product liability and other claims;
regulatory developments in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other foreign countries;
our ability to attract and retain qualified employees;
our expectations regarding the period during which we qualify as an emerging growth company under the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012;
statements regarding future revenue, hiring plans, expenses, capital expenditures, capital requirements and stock performance; and
the future trading prices of our common stock and the impact of securities analysts’ reports on these prices.

In some cases, you can identify forward-looking statements by the words “anticipate,” “believe,” “continue,” “could,” “estimate,” “expect,” “intend,” “may,” “might,” “objective,” “ongoing,” “plan,” “predict,” “project,” “potential,” “should,” “will,” or “would,” or the negative of these terms, or other comparable terminology intended to identify statements about the future. These statements involve known and unknown risks, uncertainties and other factors that may cause our actual results, levels of activity, performance or achievements to be materially different from the information expressed or implied by these forward-looking statements.
In addition, statements that “we believe” and similar statements reflect our beliefs and opinions on the relevant subject. These statements are based upon information available to us as of the date of this report, and while we believe such information forms a reasonable basis for such statements, such information may be limited or incomplete, and our statements should not be read to indicate that we have conducted an exhaustive inquiry into, or review of, all potentially available relevant information. These statements are inherently uncertain and investors are cautioned not to unduly rely upon these statements.
You should read the section titled “Risk Factors” set forth in Part I, Item 1A of this Annual Report on Form 10-K for a discussion of important factors that may cause our actual results to differ materially from those expressed or implied by our forward-looking statements. Moreover, we operate in an evolving environment. New risk factors and uncertainties may emerge from time to time, and it is not possible for management to predict all risk factors and uncertainties. As a result of these factors, we cannot assure you that the forward-looking statements in this Annual Report on Form 10-K will prove to be accurate. Except as required by applicable law, we do not plan to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statements contained herein, whether as a result of any new information, future events, changed circumstances or otherwise.
ii


You should read this Annual Report on Form 10-K, completely and with the understanding that our actual future results may be materially different from what we expect. We qualify all of our forward-looking statements by these cautionary statements.
SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING COMPANY REFERENCES
Throughout this Annual Report on Form 10-K, “Keros,” the “Company,” “we,” “us” and “our” refer to Keros Therapeutics, Inc. and its subsidiaries.
SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING TRADEMARKS
All trademarks, trade names and service marks appearing in this Annual Report on Form 10-K are the property of their respective owners.



iii


SUMMARY OF SELECTED RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH OUR BUSINESS
Our business faces significant risks and uncertainties. If any of the following risks are realized, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially and adversely affected. You should carefully review and consider the full discussion of our risk factors in the section titled “Risk Factors” in Part I, Item 1A of this Annual Report. Some of the more significant risks include the following:
We have a limited operating history, have incurred net losses in every year since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur net losses in the future.
We will need substantial additional funding in order to complete the development and commence commercialization of our product candidates. Failure to obtain this necessary capital when needed may force us to delay, reduce or eliminate certain of our product development or research operations.
We are heavily dependent on the success of our product candidates, which are in early clinical development. If we are unable to advance our current or future product candidates through clinical trials, obtain marketing approval and ultimately commercialize any product candidates we develop, or experience significant delays in doing so, our business will be materially harmed.
All of our product candidates are in preclinical or early clinical development stages. Clinical trials are difficult to design and implement, and they involve a lengthy and expensive process with uncertain outcomes. We may experience delays in completing, or ultimately be unable to complete, the development and commercialization of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any future product candidates.
If we are unable to successfully commercialize any product candidate for which we receive regulatory approval, or experience significant delays in doing so, our business will be materially harmed.
We face significant competition from other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and our operating results will suffer if we fail to compete effectively.
Our success depends in part on our ability to protect our intellectual property. It is difficult and costly to protect our proprietary rights and technology, and we may not be able to ensure their protection.
We rely, and expect to continue to rely, on third parties, including independent clinical investigators, contracted laboratories and contract research organizations, to conduct our preclinical studies and clinical trials. If these third parties do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or meet expected deadlines, we may not be able to obtain regulatory approval for or commercialize our product candidates and our business could be substantially harmed.
We rely on third parties to supply and manufacture our product candidates, and we expect to continue to rely on third parties to manufacture our products, if approved. The development of such product candidates and the commercialization of any products, if approved, could be stopped, delayed or made less profitable if any such third party fails to provide us with sufficient quantities of product candidates or products or fails to do so at acceptable quality levels or prices or fails to maintain or achieve satisfactory regulatory compliance.
Our future collaborations will be important to our business. If we are unable to enter into new collaborations, or if these collaborations are not successful, our business could be adversely affected.
The COVID-19 pandemic could adversely impact our business, including the timing or results of our preclinical studies and clinical trials.
iv


PART I
ITEM 1. BUSINESS
Overview
We are a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel treatments for patients suffering from hematological and musculoskeletal disorders with high unmet medical need. We are a leader in understanding the role of the Transforming Growth Factor-Beta, or TGF-ß, family of proteins, which are master regulators of red blood cell and platelet production as well as of the growth, repair and maintenance of muscle and bone. We have leveraged this understanding and developed a discovery approach to generate large and small molecules to address diseases of these tissues. Targeting TGF-ß signaling pathways has been clinically proven to elicit robust changes in blood cells, muscle and bone, which we believe provides a precedent and strong rationale for our strategy. Our lead protein therapeutic product candidate, KER-050, is being developed for the treatment of low blood cell counts, or cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS, and in patients with myelofibrosis. We have initiated a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with MDS and expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in mid-2021. We also plan to initiate a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with myelofibrosis in mid-2021. Our lead small molecule product candidate, KER-047, is being developed for the treatment of anemia resulting from iron imbalance, as well as for the treatment of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP, a rare musculoskeletal disorder. We have completed our expanded Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 and expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials in the second half of 2021, one in patients with iron deficiency anemia, or IDA, and one in patients with iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia, or IRIDA. Our third product candidate, KER-012, is being developed for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, or PAH. We plan to progress KER-012 into a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2021. We believe KER-047 and KER-012 offer substantial opportunities for us to continue to apply our understanding of TGF-ß signaling pathways and expand our development programs in related hematological and musculoskeletal disorders with high unmet medical need.
KER-050 is an engineered ligand trap comprised of a modified ligand-binding domain of the TGF-ß receptor known as activin receptor type IIA, or ActRIIA, that is fused to the portion of the human antibody known as the Fc domain. KER-050 is designed to increase red blood cell and platelet production by inhibiting the signaling of a subset of the TGF-ß family of proteins to promote hematopoiesis. We believe KER-050 has the potential to provide benefit to patients suffering from red blood cell and platelet differentiation and maturation defects occurring across the spectrum from early through terminal stages of hematopoiesis, and consequently may be effective for many patients that have limited treatment options or are refractory to available therapies. We have completed a Phase 1 clinical trial evaluating the safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of KER-050 in healthy post-menopausal women. In this trial, we observed rapid and sustained increases in red blood cells, hemoglobin and reticulocytes, in addition to clinically meaningful increases in platelets after a single dose. Based on these findings and the results from preclinical studies, we believe KER-050 has a differentiated pharmacologic effect on red blood cells and platelets and has the potential to treat multiple cytopenias in diseases of ineffective hematopoiesis. In October 2020, we announced the dosing of the first two participants in our Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating KER-050 for the treatment of anemia and thrombocytopenia in very low-, low-, or intermediate-risk MDS. We expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in mid-2021. Additionally, we plan to commence an open-label Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating KER-050 for the treatment of patients with myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias in mid-2021 and expect to report initial data from this trial in 2022.
KER-047 is designed to selectively and potently inhibit activin receptor-like kinase-2, or ALK2, a TGF-ß receptor. We believe that KER-047 has the potential to ameliorate excessive ALK2 signaling, which is directly implicated in anemias arising from iron imbalance and musculoskeletal disorders where the transformation of soft tissue into bone, referred to as heterotopic ossification, leads to devastating immobility. We are developing KER-047 for the treatment of anemia resulting from iron imbalance as a direct consequence of elevated ALK2 signaling, including our initial target, IRIDA. We are also developing KER-047 as a treatment for FOP, a rare genetic disease resulting from mutations in the ALK2 receptor that results in gain-of-function activity. In these patients, soft tissue, including muscles and tendons, develops normally, but remodels into bone after injury. In August 2020, we announced the completion of our planned single and multiple ascending dose cohorts in a Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 in healthy volunteers, as well as the expansion of this trial to evaluate additional cohorts of healthy volunteers. We evaluated one additional cohort of healthy volunteers in the trial expansion. The data from this cohort supported the observations from the planned cohorts, after which we concluded the trial. We reported topline data from this trial in December 2020. We expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials in the second half of 2021, one in patients with IDA and one in patients with IRIDA, and expect to report initial data from both trials in 2022.
KER-012 is designed to bind to and inhibit the signaling of TGF-ß ligands, including activin A and activin B, which are key regulators of bone remodeling that act to suppress bone growth, to potentially increase bone mass. We believe that
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KER-012 has the potential to increase the signaling of bone morphogenic protein, or BMP, pathways through this inhibition of activin A and activin B signaling, and consequently treat diseases such as PAH that are associated with reduced BMP signaling due to inactivating mutations in the BMP receptors. We are developing KER-012 for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of PAH. In a rat model of PAH, rats receiving a rodent version of KER-012, or RKER-012, were protected from the thickening of the right ventricular wall. In addition, rats receiving a rodent version of KER-012 were protected from PAH-associated bone loss which we believe demonstrates proof-of-mechanism of KER-012 for the treatment of PAH and bone loss. We plan to advance KER-012 into a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2021 and expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in the first half of 2022.
Our strategy focuses on the role of members of the TGF-ß family of proteins in the development of blood cells, muscle and bone. Aged and damaged cells are routinely replaced by new cells in normally functioning organs. These new cells are derived from stem cells that have the ability to differentiate into cells with specialized function when appropriate signals are provided to maintain the homeostatic state of the tissue. Members of the TGF-ß family of proteins, including activins and bone morphogenetic proteins, or BMPs, provide the necessary signals for this process of self-renewal and repair.
We seek to address the limitations of current therapeutic approaches to treating diseases whose manifestations are linked to dysfunction of TGF-ß signaling pathways by:
Leveraging our comprehensive insights into the TGF-ß signaling pathways to discover therapeutics to treat hematological and musculoskeletal disorders.
Expanding our library of proprietary molecules that are engineered to induce desired biological effects, such as increased blood cell production, inhibit heterotopic ossification and increased muscle and bone mass.
Engineering proprietary molecules to selectively target specific proteins in the TGF-ß signaling pathways to provide therapeutic benefit while potentially minimizing safety risks.
Developing product candidates for the treatment of diseases where targeting the TGF-ß signaling pathways has clinical validation or biological rationale to improve our probability of success in the clinic.
Targeting the TGF-ß family of proteins, which are highly conserved throughout evolution, permitting the use of animal models to potentially predict with high confidence the therapeutic benefit in patients.
We are led by a highly experienced management team and scientific advisory board who have more than 100 combined years of research and development on therapeutics in the TGF-ß family of proteins. Our team has collectively worked on marketed therapeutics such as Reblozyl, Tecfidera, Kalydeco and Waylivra, and led drug discovery and clinical development at companies including Acceleron Pharma Inc., Biogen Inc., Wyeth Pharmaceuticals Inc., Seres Therapeutics, Inc., Vertex Pharmaceuticals Incorporated and Akcea Therapeutics, Inc.
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Our Pipeline
The following table sets forth our product candidates, their current development stages and anticipated upcoming milestones.
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*Anticipated clinical milestones are subject to the impact of COVID-19 on our business.
Our Strategy
Our mission is to deliver significant clinical benefit to patients suffering from hematological and musculoskeletal diseases by developing differentiated product candidates that are designed to alter TGF-ß signaling pathways. The key elements of our strategy include:
Rapidly advance the clinical development of KER-050 for the treatment of patients with MDS- and myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. We have initiated a Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating KER-050 for the treatment of anemia and thrombocytopenia in participants with very low-, low-, or intermediate-risk MDS who either have or have not previously received treatment with an erythropoiesis-stimulating agent. We also plan to commence an open-label Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating the treatment of patients with myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias in mid-2021 and expect to report initial data from this trial in 2022.
Rapidly advance the clinical development of KER-047 for the treatment of anemias resulting from iron imbalance and musculoskeletal disorders where heterotopic ossification leads to devastating immobility. In August 2020, we announced the completion of our planned single and multiple ascending dose cohorts in a Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 in healthy volunteers. We subsequently expanded the trial and evaluated one additional cohort of healthy volunteers. We terminated the trial after determining that the data from this cohort, in addition to the data from the planned cohorts, were sufficient to inform the design of the expected Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047, and reported topline data from this trial in December 2020. We also expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials in the second half of 2021, one in patients with IDA and one in patients with IRIDA, and expect to report initial data from both trials in 2022. Following the completion of the expected Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with IDA, we plan to commence a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with FOP. We also may develop KER-047 as a potential treatment option for patients who manifest anemia caused by iron imbalance as a secondary consequence of more common diseases.
Advance KER-012 into and through clinical development for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of PAH. We have generated preclinical data that we believe demonstrated proof-of-mechanism of KER-012 for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of PAH. We plan to advance KER-012 into a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2021 and expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in the first half of 2022.
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Pursue development and, if approved, commercialization of our product candidates in indications and regions where we believe we can maximize their value independently or through strategic collaborations. We plan to independently advance our product candidates in indications and regions that we believe have clearly defined regulatory paths and commercialization strategies. We intend to opportunistically evaluate strategic collaborations to maximize the potential commercial value of our product candidates and discovery programs.
Leverage our proprietary discovery approach and knowledge base to develop new therapeutics. Our discovery efforts are focused on expanding our pipeline of wholly-owned assets for the treatment of hematological and musculoskeletal diseases. Accordingly, we intend to identify and develop product candidates to treat diseases where targeting the TGF-ß signaling pathways has clinical validation or biological rationale.
Our Hematology Program
Our two lead product candidates, KER-050 and KER-047, are designed to target TGF-ß signaling pathways to address diseases that arise from ineffective hematopoiesis as well as anemias that result from iron imbalance.
Hematopoiesis
The primary cellular components of blood are red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The function of red blood cells is to distribute oxygen to tissues throughout the body and to carry waste carbon dioxide back to the lungs. White blood cells are responsible for the immune response through coordinated surveillance and targeting of pathogens, infected or aberrant cells and cell debris. Platelets are a key component of the coagulation system and are responsible for stopping bleeding by forming a blood clot.
Hematopoiesis is the production of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets from common progenitor stem cells, or progenitor cells. This process begins when a hematopoietic progenitor cell becomes committed to a specific cellular lineage. These cells progress through a series of intermediate stages before becoming a mature cell with a specialized function. At any given time, pools of each progenitor cell are maintained and primed to rapidly respond to a reduction of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. The graphic below depicts the stages of hematopoiesis for red blood cells and platelets.
Stages of Hematopoiesis
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TGF-ß signaling pathways involving activins prevent differentiation in order to maintain progenitor cells in a quiescent state while others involving BMPs promote differentiation of progenitor cells. Homeostasis of this process is essential to ensure all cell types are properly replenished in the blood.
In many hematological disorders, there is abnormal proliferation and differentiation of the progenitor cells for red blood cells, platelets and neutrophils. This failure to produce fully mature cells is termed ineffective hematopoiesis, and may be due to single or multiple defects that can lead to a hyperproliferation or a shortage of progenitor cells.
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These changes have clinical consequences: a lack of red blood cells leads to anemia, a lack of platelets hampers clotting, resulting in increased incidence of bleeding events, and a lack of neutrophils increases susceptibility to infection. The failure of progenitor cells to differentiate can also lead to a build-up of these cells, resulting in bone marrow failure and fibrotic disease. The graphic below provides an illustration of the difference in the number of progenitor cells and mature bloods cells that are produced in normal hematopoiesis and in ineffective hematopoiesis.
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Another critical component in red blood cell development is the production of hemoglobin, an iron-containing protein that delivers oxygen to cells and removes carbon dioxide. The synthesis of hemoglobin requires that sufficient levels of iron are present in the bone marrow and if iron levels are too low, it can result in a failure to produce sufficient numbers of red blood cells. Anemia is a common consequence of diseases where normal iron mobilization is hindered.
KER-050: For the Treatment of Ineffective Hematopoiesis to Address Cytopenias
We are developing KER-050, our lead protein therapeutic product candidate, for the treatment of cytopenias that occur due to ineffective hematopoiesis, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with MDS and in patients with myelofibrosis. KER-050 is designed to benefit patients suffering from defects in red blood cell and platelet differentiation and maturation across the spectrum from early through terminal stages of hematopoiesis. Consequently, KER-050 may be effective for many patients that have limited treatment options or are refractory to available therapies.
Myelodysplastic Syndromes
Myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS, is a collection of bone marrow disorders characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, often with a dramatic expansion of progenitor cells that are unable to mature into functioning blood cells. In the United States, there are 60,000 to 170,000 patients with MDS and 15,000 to 20,000 new cases of MDS reported each year. MDS predominantly affects older adults, with approximately 75% of patients aged 60 years or older at diagnosis. Median survival ranges from approximately nine years for very low-risk patients to less than a year for high-risk patients.
Cytopenias in MDS are caused by defects occurring across the various stages of hematopoiesis, from the self-renewal of progenitor cells to differentiation in early through terminal stages. Anemia is the most frequent consequence of ineffective hematopoiesis in patients with MDS due to low red blood cell production, and impacts 90% of MDS patients, with approximately 40% becoming transfusion dependent. Another consequence is thrombocytopenia, a deficiency of platelets in the blood, which is impaired blood clotting that can cause bleeding. The prevalence of thrombocytopenia in patients with MDS has been reported at 40% to 65%. A deficiency of neutrophils in the blood, or neutropenia, also increases the risk of serious infections in patients with MDS and has been reported to affect approximately 20% of patients with MDS.
To guide decisions on risk stratification and the treatment of patients with MDS, clinicians typically use the International Prognostic Scoring System-Revised, or the IPSS-R. The IPSS-R incorporates information on bone marrow blast percentage, karyotype and presence and severity of cytopenias in order to classify patients with MDS into groups based on the risk of progression to acute myeloid leukemia, ranging from very low-risk to high-risk. Patients are further classified into high transfusion burden and low transfusion burden categories based on the number of units of transfused red blood cells they receive.
A second classification system is the World Health Organization, or WHO, system, which is based on a combination of morphology, immunophenotype, genetics and clinical features. The WHO classification system includes a subgroup of patients with MDS that show the presence of iron deposits around the mitochondria, known as ring sideroblasts. These patients are commonly referred to as RS positive and comprise approximately 15% of incident patients with MDS, and splicing factor mutations, such as SF3B1, are highly correlated with these patients. Patients with splicing factor mutations often have been observed to have defects in the differentiation of red blood cells at the terminal stage. The majority of patients with MDS that develop cytopenias lack ring sideroblasts or a single, defining splicing factor mutation
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and are termed non-RS. These non-RS patients have differentiation and maturation defects occurring across the spectrum from early through terminal stages of hematopoiesis.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for Cytopenias in Patients with MDS
Patients with MDS-associated anemia are generally treated with red blood cell transfusions and erythroid stimulating agents, or ESAs, which are not approved for such treatment. The treatment of MDS-associated thrombocytopenia is platelet transfusions and platelet-stimulating agents.
Severe cytopenia and transfusion dependence are independent predictors of poor prognosis for patients with MDS and are inversely correlated with quality of life. Red blood cell and platelet transfusions provide temporary benefits to patients with MDS, but are associated with both acute and chronic health risks, including risk of bacterial infection and allergic reactions to the donor blood, and place a significant burden on both the patient and the healthcare system. Red blood cell transfusions are also associated with iron overload, which can lead to organ dysfunction over time. Additionally, the benefit from a platelet transfusion is typically short-lived and availability is limited. Platelet-stimulating agents for the treatment of thrombocytopenia, which are not currently indicated for MDS, carry the risk of thromboembolic events and bone marrow fibrosis.
ESAs are a class of drugs that work on the proliferation stage of red blood cell development by expanding the pool of early-stage progenitor cells. While ESAs have been shown to alleviate anemia in a subset of patients with MDS, patients that have elevated endogenous erythropoietin levels are unlikely to respond. In two controlled Phase 3 clinical trials evaluating darbepoetin alfa (Aranesp) for the treatment of MDS-associated anemia, 15% to 31% of patients responded. However, this response was limited to patients with mildly elevated endogenous erythropoietin levels and to patients who largely did not require regular red blood cell transfusions. These treatment options also represent a significant burden to patients, as they must be administered up to three times a week. Additionally, the effect of ESAs is limited to the red blood cell lineage and, therefore, ESAs only treat MDS-associated anemia and do not provide benefit to cytopenia of other cell lineages, including thrombocytopenia and neutropenia.
Reblozyl, a TGF-ß-based erythroid maturation agent, is designed to promote the terminal differentiation of red blood cells through inhibition of selected endogenous TGF-ß superfamily ligands. The characteristics of response were defined in a Phase 2 clinical trial of Reblozyl in patients with MDS. Consistent with the mechanism of Reblozyl on the terminal stages of erythropoiesis, the majority of responders were determined to have an SF3B1 splicing factor mutation. Additionally, the responders were characterized as having increased erythroid progenitor cells in the bone marrow, while patients with fewer erythroid progenitor cells in the bone marrow did not achieve hematological improvement. We believe this indicates that Reblozyl is limited to its effect on terminal differentiation of erythropoiesis and does not affect the early stages of differentiation.
Reblozyl received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA, in April 2020 for the treatment of anemia in adult RS positive patients with very low- to intermediate-risk MDS that failed an erythropoiesis stimulating agent and required two or more units of red blood cells over eight weeks. The approval was based on a single Phase 3 clinical trial of Reblozyl that was conducted in RS positive, very low- to intermediate-risk patients with MDS. This trial included both patients with low transfusion dependence requiring fewer than four units of red blood cells over eight weeks and patients with high transfusion dependence requiring four or more units of red blood cells over eight weeks. In this trial, 37.9% of the RS positive patients treated with Reblozyl achieved the primary endpoint of transfusion independence, compared to 13.2% of patients that received placebo. The highest proportion of responders to Reblozyl were those with low transfusion dependence, while only a few high transfusion burden patients achieved transfusion independence despite being RS positive patients.
Accordingly, we believe that additional treatment options will be needed to address anemia in the heterogeneous non-ring sideroblast MDS population, to provide clinical benefit to the RS positive population regardless of transfusion burden and to address other cytopenias, such as thrombocytopenia.
KER-050 is designed to alter TGF-ß signaling pathways at multiple stages of hematopoietic differentiation in both red blood cells and platelets. Consequently, we believe KER-050 has the potential to provide therapeutic benefit in a broader subset of patients with MDS that have varying defects in commitment, differentiation and maturation of multiple cell types found in blood.
Myelofibrosis
Myelofibrosis is a group of rare cancers of the bone marrow in which the marrow is replaced by scar tissue and is not able to produce healthy blood cells. Myelofibrosis is characterized by ineffective hematopoiesis, an enlarged spleen, bone marrow fibrosis and shortened survival. Patients often experience multiple disease-associated and treatment-emergent cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia.
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The ineffective hematopoiesis in myelofibrosis is driven by molecular abnormalities in the Janus kinase 2, or JAK2, -signal transducers and activators of transcription, or JAK-STAT, signaling pathway of transcriptional activators. Specifically, JAK2 activation leads to proliferation of red blood cell progenitors and platelet progenitors, or megakaryocytes, that fail to mature to platelets. Additionally, megakaryocyte dysplasia/hyperplasia has been implicated in inducing bone marrow fibrosis in patients with myelofibrosis. The inability of megakaryocytes to fully differentiate leads to the release of pro-inflammatory and pro-fibrotic factors that results in scarring of the bone marrow, which further exacerbates the myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias.
Myelofibrosis is a relatively rare condition with an identified prevalence of 16,000 to 18,500 patients in the United States. Approximately 3,000 new patients are diagnosed with myelofibrosis each year, and the median age at diagnosis is approximately 60 years. Currently, there are limited therapeutic options to address the myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. Within a year of diagnosis, 38% of patients with myelofibrosis are red blood cell transfusion dependent and eventually nearly all will develop transfusion dependence. Additionally, within a year of diagnosis, 26% of patients with myelofibrosis will develop thrombocytopenia and 51% will develop anemia.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for Cytopenias in Patients with Myelofibrosis
There are no approved pharmacological treatments for myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. The National Comprehensive Cancer Network describes all therapeutic options to address myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias, including transfusions, as only minimally effective.
Currently approved products for the treatment of myelofibrosis, including JAK inhibitors ruxolitinib (Jakafi) and fedratinib (Inrebic), have been observed to exacerbate myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. In a third-party Phase 3 clinical trial of Jakafi and a third-party Phase 3 clinical trial of Inrebic, treatment led to significant reductions in spleen volume and improvement in total symptom scores. However, JAK inhibitors interfere with normal hematopoiesis and treatment with Jakafi and Inrebic also resulted in clinically significant anemia and thrombocytopenia in these Phase 3 trials. Approximately 45% of patients in the Phase 3 clinical trial of Jakafi developed treatment-related grade 3 or 4 anemia. Grade 3 or higher adverse events of anemia and thrombocytopenia were observed in approximately 34% and 12%, respectively, of patients evaluated in the Phase 3 clinical trial of Inrebic. The treatment-related cytopenias led to severe complications, dose reductions and reduced compliance.
We believe KER-050 has the potential to ameliorate myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias.
Our Solution: KER-050
KER-050 is a ligand trap comprised of a modified ligand-binding domain of ActRIIA that is fused to the portion of the human antibody known as the Fc domain. KER-050 is designed to bind to and inhibit the signaling of TGF-ß ligands involved in the regulation of hematopoiesis, resulting in increased red blood cell and platelet production. Combined data from our preclinical studies and our Phase 1 clinical trial demonstrate that treatment with KER-050 increased red blood cell and platelet production. These data indicate that KER-050 is differentiated from available therapies because it appears to have both sustained and rapid effects on multiple cellular lineages in the hematopoietic pathway. We believe KER-050’s promotion of differentiation of early- and terminal-stage progenitor cells contributes to these
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sustained and rapid effects, respectively, and consequently, KER-050 may be effective for many patients that are refractory to available therapies and may potentially provide benefit in multiple cytopenias simultaneously.
Mechanism of Action of KER-050
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We intend to develop KER-050 for the treatment of both MDS- and myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. We believe KER-050 has the potential to overcome limitations of current treatment options for MDS- and myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias. We believe the potential advantages of KER-050 compared to current treatment options include:
Dual mechanism affecting both the early and terminal stages of erythropoiesis. Patients with MDS can have defects occurring anywhere along the differentiation and maturation spectrum of erythropoiesis, and often have multiple mutations that cause ineffective erythropoiesis. By acting on cell types throughout the erythropoiesis pathway, KER-050 may lead to robust responses in RS positive patients who have a characteristic defect in terminal maturation, and may also address anemia in the broader MDS population that has defects in earlier-stage erythroid cell development.
Increased platelet counts in blood. Ineffective hematopoiesis in patients with MDS and in patients with myelofibrosis can result in thrombocytopenia, which can lead to an increased risk of bleeding events. We believe treatment with KER-050 has the potential to address the MDS- and myelofibrosis-associated thrombocytopenia.
Reduced accumulation of progenitor cells. Ineffective hematopoiesis in patients with MDS and in patients with myelofibrosis can be caused by excessive production of blood cell progenitors that are unable to complete differentiation and ultimately become mature blood cells. We believe treatment with KER-050 will stimulate these progenitors to progress to maturation, ameliorating the accumulation of these cells that lead to MDS- and myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias.
Robust and sustained increase in red blood cells, hemoglobin and reticulocytes, supporting monthly or less frequent dosing. ESAs can require dosing up to three times a week. We believe that treatment with KER-050 has the potential to reduce the frequency of dosing to every four weeks or less frequently, thereby decreasing the burden on patients and potentially improving compliance. 
Ongoing Phase 2 Clinical Trial in Patients with Myelodysplastic Syndromes
We are conducting an open label, two-part, multiple ascending dose Phase 2 clinical trial to evaluate KER-050 in participants with very low-, low-, or intermediate-risk MDS who either have or have not previously received treatment with an ESA.
The primary objective of this trial is to assess the safety and tolerability of KER-050 in participants with MDS that either have ring sideroblasts (RS+) or do not have ring sideroblasts (non-RS). We expect to use the data from Part 1 of this trial to help define the dose level to be evaluated in Part 2 of this trial, in which the primary objective is confirmation of
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the safety and tolerability of the selected dose levels. The secondary objectives of this trial are to evaluate the pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics and efficacy of KER-050. The trial design is summarized in the figure below.
Phase 2 Clinical Trial Design
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Clinical Development Strategy
We expect to report initial data from Part 1 of the Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with MDS in mid-2021. We also expect to commence an open-label Phase 2 clinical trial evaluating the treatment of patients with myelofibrosis-associated cytopenias in mid-2021 and expect to report initial data from this trial in 2022.
Completed Phase 1 Clinical Trial
In January 2020, we completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-part, dose-escalation Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-050 in 48 healthy post-menopausal women. The primary objectives of this trial were safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics. We also investigated changes in hematology and bone biomarkers in this clinical trial.
In Part 1 of this trial, 30 subjects received a single dose of KER-050 and eight subjects received a single dose of placebo, each administered subcutaneously with a 12-week safety follow-up. The subjects were enrolled in sequential single-ascending dose escalation cohorts of up to ten subjects each. In Part 2 of this trial, eight subjects received KER-050 and two received placebo, administered subcutaneously, on two occasions 28 days apart, with a 12-week safety follow-up after the second dose. In Part 2 of this trial, only one dose level was evaluated, as it was deemed to provide the necessary data, in addition to that from Part 1 of the trial, to inform the design of the Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-050 in patients with MDS and in patients with myelofibrosis.
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The trial design is summarized in the figure below.
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Observed tolerability data
KER-050 was well tolerated in this Phase 1 clinical trial at dose levels up to 4.5 mg/kg, the highest dose level tested, and multiple doses of 0.75 mg/kg. While one subject in the placebo group withdrew consent, there were no discontinuations due to treatment-related adverse events. No treatment-related serious adverse events were reported. The most common adverse events observed in subjects in this trial were nausea, gastroenteritis, injection site erythema and, consistent with the mechanism of action of KER-050, increased hemoglobin and hypertension. The reversible, mild hypertension events were observed in subjects with an approximately 3 g/dL increase in hemoglobin.
Long half-life observed, potentially supporting monthly or less frequent dosing
We observed that KER-050 drug levels were dose proportional in Part 1 of this trial, with a mean half-life of approximately ten to 12 days. The half-life coupled with the pharmacodynamic effect observed in the hematologic parameters support the potential for administration of monthly or less frequent dosing, which we believe will decrease the burden on patients and improve compliance.
Rapid and sustained increases in mean reticulocyte counts, hemoglobin, red blood cell counts and platelet counts observed
In Part 1 of this trial, we observed rapid and sustained increases in mean reticulocyte counts, hemoglobin, red blood cell counts and platelet counts. Consistent with the underlying biology, increases in reticulocytes were observed early with increases of hemoglobin following thereafter. Increases in reticulocytes were observed as early as Day 2 and reached a peak around Day 15. Increases in hemoglobin concentration were also observed as early as Day 2, reached a peak around Day 29 and remained elevated for several weeks.
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We also observed a dose-dependent increase in the proportion of subjects with hemoglobin increases of at least 1.5 g/dL. We believe a 1.5 g/dL increase would be considered clinically meaningful in patients with low red blood cell counts.
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In addition to the changes in erythroid parameters, robust, dose-dependent increases in platelet count were observed after a single dose of KER-050. All subjects who received a 4.5 mg/kg dose of KER-050, the highest dose evaluated, demonstrated an increase of 30 x 109 cells/L or greater at any one point in the trial, which we believe would be considered clinically meaningful in patients with low platelet counts.
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We believe the rapid onset and durability of increased hemoglobin and platelet count observed in our Phase 1 clinical trial supports the potential for a dual effect of KER-050 on both early-stage differentiation and terminal maturation.
Additionally, we observed reductions in follicle-stimulating hormone, a biomarker of activin inhibition, following administration of KER-050, which we believe is indicative of target engagement and activin inhibition. We also observed
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an increase in bone-specific alkaline phosphatase, a biomarker of bone remodeling, which we believe demonstrates that KER-050 has the potential to increase bone mass.
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Preclinical Data
KER-050 was observed to inhibit ligands that signal through activin receptors in in vitro assays, and to potently regulate hematopoiesis in in vivo studies. Specifically, KER-050 demonstrated in these studies:
high affinity for and potent inhibition of ligands involved in the regulation of hematopoiesis;
increased maturation of early- and terminal-stage erythroid progenitors in wild-type mice;
increased serum erythropoietin levels in wild-type mice;
increased red blood cell production in mice and non-human primates; and
increased platelets in wild-type mice.
KER-050 observed to target ligands that signal through ActRIIA and ActRIIB
KER-050 is a modified ActRIIA ligand trap that contains sequences from both wild-type ActRIIA and wild-type activin receptor type IIB, or ActRIIB. KER-050 was observed to bind to and inhibit multiple ligands that signal through these cell surface receptors, including activin A, activin B and growth differentiation factor 11. These ligands are key regulators of hematopoiesis that restrict blood cell progenitors from continuing through differentiation and developing into mature cells with specialized function. The KER-050-mediated inhibition of these regulators stimulated the progenitors to progress to maturation and, consequently, increased the number of mature cells in the blood.
Mouse version of KER-050 observed to potently stimulate red blood cell parameters and to increase the populations of erythroid progenitors
In a preclinical study conducted in mice, a single, subcutaneous 10 mg/kg dose of a mouse version of KER-050, or RKER-050, increased red blood cell parameters, including red blood cell number and reticulocytes, as early as 12 hours. We believe the rapid onset of the effect is consistent with terminal maturation of late-stage erythroid precursors. RKER-050 has been modified to have a murine Fc domain in place of the human Fc domain present
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in KER-050, in order to minimize results confounded by the development of anti-drug antibodies in mice treated with a human protein.
Increase in Red Blood Cells and Reticulocytes in Mice
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* P value <0.05; ** P value <0.01; NS = not significant
We also observed increases in colony forming unit-erythroid progenitors as soon as Day 2, consistent with an effect on early stages of erythropoiesis, followed by changes in polychromatophilic/early-orthochromatic erythroid precursors as soon as Day 4 and late orthochromatic erythroblasts/reticulocytes by Day 7, which is consistent with progression of cells through erythropoiesis.
RKER-050 also observed to increase numbers of erythroid progenitors in mice
To evaluate the mechanism of action of RKER-050 in erythropoiesis, we collected and analyzed bone marrow from RKER-050-treated mice for erythroid progenitors. We observed a RKER-050-mediated increase in the proerythroblast, or Pro-E, population in a flow cytometry analysis that used antibodies directed against cell surface markers to label-specific cell populations.
Increase in Overall Numbers of Proerythroblasts in Mice
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The rapid expansion of the Pro-E population also coincided with decreased numbers of erythroid burst-forming units and erythroid colony-forming units, the cells that give rise to Pro-E cells, which demonstrates that treatment with RKER-050 stimulated the erythroid burst-forming units and erythroid colony-forming units into erythroid differentiation. Since treatment with RKER-050 stimulated the earliest progenitors in the erythroid lineage to progress to maturation and increased the Pro-E pool, the first cells to start synthesis of hemoglobin, we believe KER-050 has the potential to affect the early stages of erythropoiesis.
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RKER-050 also observed to increase serum erythropoietin and bone marrow erythropoietin receptor expression in mice
In addition, a single dose of RKER-050 increased red blood cells and hemoglobin through at least Day 51 (+8.5% and +3%, respectively). Concurrently, despite increased erythropoiesis, erythropoietin levels were greater than two-fold higher than controls, starting at Day 4, continuing through Day 37 and returning to baseline by Day 51.
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* P value <0.05; ** P value <0.01; **** P value <0.0001
We believe that these results suggest that RKER-050 potentially elicits the combined effects of stimulating terminal maturation of late-stage erythroid precursors to rapidly increase red blood cells and potentially mobilizes a prolonged supply of progenitors through expansion of early-stage precursor populations that allows for sustained upregulation of erythropoiesis. Additionally, we believe the observed increase in erythropoietin could contribute to the durability in red blood cell production we observed in preclinical studies and supports the durability of the red blood cell increase we observed in our Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-050 in healthy post-menopausal women.
Given that KER-050 increased early erythroid precursor cell pools in this preclinical study and its effect on upregulating serum erythropoietin, we believe KER-050 has the potential to treat patients with MDS that have hypocellular bone marrow. We believe the observed increases in serum erythropoietin in mice that were dosed with KER-050 support the potential of KER-050 as a therapy for patients with low serum erythropoietin across a diverse set of diseases, including chronic kidney diseases and polycythemia.
KER-050 also observed to increase red blood cells in non-human primates
We believe that our observations in preclinical studies of KER-050 in non-human primates indicate that the red blood cell effects of KER-050 also translate to higher-order species. In this study, cynomolgus monkeys received subcutaneous administration every other week for three months of either vehicle or doses of 3 mg/kg, 10 mg/kg or 50 mg/kg of KER-050. Hematology was measured at baseline and on Day 92. Red cell mass, including red blood cell number, hematocrit and hemoglobin were dose-dependently increased in the cohorts receiving KER-050. These data demonstrate the translatability of red blood cell, hematocrit and hemoglobin increases observed in preclinical studies of KER-050 from mice to non-human primates.
Increase in Red Blood Cells, Hematocrit and Hemoglobin in Cynomolgus Monkeys
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KER-050 observed to stimulate platelet release into circulation in wild-type mice
To evaluate the effect of KER-050 on blood cell types other than red blood cells, mice were administered a single, subcutaneous 7.5 mg/kg dose of KER-050 and had blood sampled and analyzed 4 days post-dose. Mice that received KER-050 were observed to have increased platelet counts compared to mice in the vehicle cohort.
Observed Increase in Platelet Count in Mice
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**** P value <0.005
We believe that the findings from our preclinical studies and from our Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-050 in healthy post-menopausal women demonstrate the translation of biological action from rodents to humans. We also believe that data from our preclinical studies and clinical trials support that treatment with KER-050 has the potential to address ineffective hematopoiesis in diseases where multiple cytopenias arise from the blockage in progression of progenitor cells to mature blood cells, such as in MDS and myelofibrosis.
KER-047: For the Treatment of Anemia Arising from Iron Imbalance
We are developing KER-047, our lead small molecule product candidate, for the treatment of anemia resulting from iron imbalance. We believe KER-047 is a potent and selective inhibitor of ALK2, a receptor whose excessive signaling is the underlying cause of the elevated levels of hepcidin, the key regulator of iron absorption and recycling, that leads to low iron bioavailability and anemia in a broad range of diseases. In August 2020, we announced the completion of our planned single and multiple ascending dose cohorts in a Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 in healthy volunteers, as well as the expansion of this trial to evaluate additional cohorts of healthy volunteers. One additional cohort of healthy volunteers was evaluated in the trial expansion. Data from this cohort supports the effect of KER-047 observed in the planned cohorts. We terminated the trial after determining that the data from this cohort, in addition to the data from the planned cohorts, were sufficient to inform the design of the expected Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047, and reported topline data from this trial in December 2020.
Hepcidin and Iron Homeostasis
Iron supply in the bone marrow is critical for erythropoiesis, as iron is an essential component of hemoglobin. Although iron is required for many functions in the body, including erythropoiesis, high iron levels are toxic, so circulating levels are regulated to avoid iron overload. To maintain this balance, absorption of dietary iron is tightly controlled and recycled iron is held in the liver and macrophages, which we refer to as the storage tissues, to be mobilized quickly when circulating iron levels are too low. These storage tissues also act to sequester away iron when levels are too high. Hepcidin, a hormone produced by the liver, is the key regulator of iron absorption and recycling, and controls both the recirculation of iron from storage tissues as well as the absorption of dietary iron from the intestine.
Hepcidin levels are upregulated through activation of the ALK2 receptor, which is a BMP receptor belonging to the broader TGF-ß family of proteins. Hepcidin levels are tightly regulated by liver cells through BMP6 signaling via ALK2. High serum iron triggers the expression of BMP6, which then acts to increase hepcidin expression, resulting in iron sequestration, decreased iron absorption and reduced serum iron. Hepcidin is controlled by a feedback loop, and serum hepcidin levels are inversely related to serum iron levels. This feedback loop prevents this system from shifting out of balance. The system is down regulated through the activity of matriptase-2, or MT-2, a cell surface protease,
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which is encoded by the TMPRSS6 gene. This protein reduces the ability of BMP6 to signal through ALK2. The below graphic illustrates a normal functioning of the negative feedback loop.
Regulation of Iron in the Body
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Anemia Arising from Iron Imbalance, including Iron Deficiency Anemia and IRIDA
Failure to suppress ALK2 signaling can result in elevated hepcidin levels, which are associated with decreased dietary iron absorption, increased iron sequestration in storage tissues and low iron bioavailability in the bone marrow. These effects culminate in a shortage of serum iron, which leads to insufficient red blood cell production that manifests as mild to moderate anemia.
Iron deficiency anemia, or IDA, is a common form of anemia that is caused by patients not having enough iron to manufacture healthy red blood cells. IDA is associated with fatigue, lethargy, decreased quality of life, cardiovascular complications, hospitalizations and increased mortality. IDA is prevalent in many different patient populations, including patients with IDA due to chronic kidney disease, chemotherapy-induced anemia and gastrointestinal diseases or disorders. It is estimated that approximately five million people in the United States have IDA and we believe that a small fraction of the patients who are diagnosed with IDA regardless of the underlying cause are currently being treated with intravenous, or IV, iron.
According to a 2021 Grand View Research, Inc. report, the global IV iron market size was approximately $2.2 billion in 2020 and was forecasted to reach $4.2 billion by 2028 at a compound annual growth rate of 8.5% during the forecast period. Approximately $685 million, or 31%, of the total IV iron market in 2020 was associated with the treatment of patients with IDA due to chronic kidney disease, which represented the largest segment. Additionally, the same report estimated that, in 2020, the North American IV iron market share was approximately $887.7 million, or 40%, the European market share was approximately $699.0 million, or 31.5%, the Asia Pacific market share was approximately $456.0 million, or 20.5%, and the Latin American and Middle Eastern/African market share were each approximately $85.0 million to $94.0 million, or 4%.
High hepcidin levels can also be the result of genetic disease. Iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia, or IRIDA, is a rare, inherited form of IDA that results in loss of function of MT-2, resulting in elevated ALK2 signaling and high hepcidin levels. Patients with IRIDA have the typical symptoms of anemia, including fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath, in addition to other symptoms associated with low iron. These symptoms are most pronounced during childhood, although they tend to be mild.
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The prevalence of IRIDA worldwide is estimated to be less than one person in 1,000,000. IRIDA was first described in 1981 with the observation that patients with anemia were refractory to treatment with oral iron. However, the association of mutations in the TMPRSS6 gene with IRIDA was not identified until 2008, and genetic testing for IRIDA is not widely available. Furthermore, affected individuals usually have normal growth and development, so IRIDA is poorly diagnosed. All these factors contribute to an inability to accurately determine the prevalence of IRIDA.
Proinflammatory cytokines can also result in inappropriately high ALK2 signaling, increased hepcidin expression and anemia. Patients with chronic inflammation have mild to moderate anemia resulting from low serum iron that is driven by abnormally high hepcidin levels through sustained cytokine-mediated ALK2 activation. Anemia of inflammation is the second most common cause of anemia worldwide. The prevalence of anemia varies among different inflammatory rheumatic diseases. In the United States, approximately 1,000,000 people older than age 65 suffer from diseases of chronic inflammation, including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and ankylosing spondylitis. Anemia with high hepcidin levels has also been reported in patients with primary myelofibrosis.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for Anemia Arising from Iron Imbalance, including IRIDA
There are no current treatments that address the underlying cause of anemia arising from iron imbalance, including in patients with IDA associated with co-morbidities and in patients with IRIDA.
Currently, there are two common methods of iron therapy used to treat IDA: oral iron supplements and IV iron. While oral iron supplements are used as first-line iron replacement therapy for most patients, they are poorly absorbed and not well tolerated by some patients, which may adversely impact their effectiveness. The beneficial effect of oral iron supplements on increasing hemoglobin levels can require an extended treatment period, and, at times, treatment is inadequate to achieve the targeted hemoglobin levels. Conversely, iron administered by IV infusion allows larger amounts of iron to be delivered to patients in a shorter time frame, which can result in faster rises in hemoglobin levels. However, for patients with IDA associated with co-morbidities, neither of these treatments address the underlying cause of the disease. Additionally, these treatments can also cause mild side effects, such as constipation, diarrhea and cramping, and can increase the risk of very serious, life-threatening side effects, such as hypersensitivity reactions, opportunistic infections and the deposition of excess iron in organs in patients with co-morbidities such as chronic kidney disease.
Separately, patients with anemia due to ineffective erythropoiesis that require frequent red blood cell transfusions may have elevated levels of hepcidin with accompanying iron overload in multiple organ systems. This chronic iron overload can lead to multiple organ dysfunction, including in the liver, heart and endocrine. Accordingly, iron chelation therapy is used to reduce iron deposits in those organs.
According to a 2021 GlobalInfoResearch report, the global iron chelation market was estimated to be $1.1 billion in 2019, approximately 82% of which was associated with the treatment of patients with transfusional iron overload. Additionally, approximately 48% and 41% of the market share was in North America and Europe, respectively, in 2019.
We believe that a treatment option that reestablishes normal iron homeostasis has the potential to benefit a broad range of patients, from patients with IDA to patients with anemia associated with iron overload.
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Our Solution: KER-047
KER-047 is an orally-available small molecule ALK2 inhibitor designed to potently inhibit ALK2 signaling, with high selectivity for ALK2 relative to other structurally-similar TGF-ß receptors as well as other kinase families.
Mechanism of Action of KER-047
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We believe that KER-047 has the potential to address the underlying cause of diseases arising from iron imbalance, including IDA, IRIDA and iron overload, by suppressing ALK2 signaling to normalize hepcidin expression and mobilizing iron out of tissues. We believe this effect will result in increased iron bioavailability, resulting in restoration of the production of red blood cells and a reversal of anemia in patients with IDA and patients with IRIDA. By ameliorating anemia arising from iron imbalance, we believe KER-047 can potentially eliminate the need for excessive supplementary iron or IV iron treatments and avoid the adverse events associated with those treatment options. In addition, we believe KER-047, if approved, has the potential to be beneficial in diseases of iron overload by mobilizing excess iron being stored in tissues into the serum. By ameliorating the excess iron in tissues, we believe KER-047 can potentially eliminate or reduce the need for phlebotomy and/or treatment with iron chelators, while allowing patients to avoid the adverse events associated with these treatments and providing benefit to patients where the current treatment options are largely ineffective.
In August 2020, we announced the completion of our planned single and multiple ascending dose cohorts in a Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 in healthy volunteers, as well as the expansion of this trial to evaluate additional cohorts of healthy volunteers. One additional cohort of healthy volunteers was evaluated in the trial expansion. We terminated the trial after determining that the data from this cohort, in addition to the data from the planned cohorts, were sufficient to inform the design of the expected Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047, and reported topline data from this trial in December 2020. We expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047 in the second half of 2021, one in patients with IDA and one in patients with IRIDA, and expect to report initial data from both trials in 2022. Additionally, we intend to develop KER-047 as a potential treatment for patients who manifest anemia caused by high hepcidin levels as a secondary consequence of more common diseases. 
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Completed Expanded Phase 1 Clinical Trial
In November 2020, we completed a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, two-part Phase 1 clinical trial to evaluate single and multiple ascending doses of KER-047 in healthy volunteers. The primary objectives of this trial were to assess safety, tolerability and pharmacokinetics of KER-047. The expanded trial design is summarized in the figure below.
Phase 1 Clinical Trial Design
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Observed tolerability data
The majority of adverse events observed in this expanded Phase 1 clinical trial were mild or moderate in severity, and only two were severe. There were no serious adverse events reported in this expanded trial. The most common adverse events observed in healthy volunteers in this expanded trial were abdominal discomfort, chills, decreased appetite, diarrhea, dizziness, fatigue, gastroenteritis, headache, lymphopenia, myalgia, nausea, neutropenia, pyrexia, rhinorrhea, tonsilitis, upper abdominal pain and vomiting. In Part 2 of this expanded trial, ten of 40 participants administered KER-047 and one of 11 participants administered placebo discontinued study drug due to adverse events. Adverse events that led to study drug discontinuation in three or more participants in the KER-047 groups included lymphopenia and chills. Lymphopenia, which we believe is consistent with KER-047’s mechanism of action, was observed after multiple doses and was reversible after discontinuation of study drug.
Rapid mobilization of iron stores resulted in increased reticulocyte hemoglobin content of newly-produced immature red blood cells
In this expanded Phase 1 clinical trial, we observed rapid, robust and sustained dose-related increases in serum iron and transferrin saturation in the volunteers who received KER-047, which was associated with decreases in ferritin, an effect that is consistent with mobilization of iron stores.
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We also observed a reduction in serum hepcidin in Cohorts 1 through 3 of Part 2 of this expanded trial (50 mg, 100 mg and 200 mg dose groups), which we believe is consistent with KER-047’s mechanism of action. These data were not collected in Part 1 of this trial or in Cohort 4 of Part 2 of this trial (350 mg dose group).
Part 2 of the Expanded Trial: Hepcidin Percent Change from Baseline at Day 7, 8 Hours Post-Dose
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Additionally, we observed a decrease in hepcidin as early as four hours after administration of the first dose in Cohort 5 of Part 2 of this expanded trial (100 mg dose group).
We also observed an increase in reticulocyte hemoglobin in Cohorts 1 through 4 of Part 2 of this expanded trial, starting on Day 4 of treatment.
Mean Reticulocyte Hemoglobin at Each Visit
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We believe the observed decrease in ferritin and hepcidin coupled with the observed increases in reticulocyte hemoglobin content are indicative of increased iron mobilization. Importantly, we believe the mobilized iron is available for incorporation into hemoglobin as evidenced by the increase in reticulocyte hemoglobin, a measure of hemoglobin content from newly-produced immature red blood cells. These erythroid precursors potentially would continue maturation into hemoglobin-rich red blood cells.
We also observed decreases in lymphocytes following peak increases in serum iron in this expanded trial, which we believe is consistent with KER-047’s mechanism of action and suggestive of depletion of tissue iron.
We believe the data from this expanded Phase 1 clinical trial support the potential for KER-047 to be developed as a treatment for diseases arising from iron imbalance.
Observed reductions in total cholesterol
Reductions in total cholesterol, low-density lipoproteins, or LDL, and high-density lipoproteins were observed in Part 2 of this expanded trial. The reductions in total cholesterol and LDL were achieved rapidly with a mean reduction of greater than 20% at the highest dose, following seven days of dosing.
Clinical Development Strategy
In August 2020, we completed the planned single and multiple ascending dose cohorts in this trial. Based upon preliminary analysis, we expanded the Phase 1 trial and evaluated one additional cohort of healthy volunteers. We
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terminated the trial after determining that the data from this additional cohort, in addition to the data from the planned cohorts, were sufficient to inform the design of the expected Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047, and reported topline data from this expanded trial in December 2020. We expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials in the second half of 2021, one in patients with IDA and one in patients with IRIDA, and expect to report initial data from both trials in 2022.
Preclinical Data
KER-047 was observed in preclinical studies to be a potent and highly selective ALK2 inhibitor and to change serum iron levels. Specifically, KER-047 demonstrated in these studies:
selectivity for ALK2 compared to other structurally-related TGF-ß and non-TGF-ß kinases;
increased serum iron levels in rat studies; and
reversal of high hepcidin levels and low hemoglobin levels in a mouse model of IRIDA.
KER-047 observed to be a potent and highly selective ALK2 receptor inhibitor in a biochemical assay
In standard biochemical kinase screenings, KER-047 exhibited low nanomolar potency for ALK2. Under the conditions of this assay, KER-047 exhibited at least an eight-fold selectivity over the other structurally-related TGF-ß kinases. In a 370-member kinase panel, only two non-TGF-ß kinases were inhibited less than 75% at a KER-047 concentration of 1 µM. We believe these preclinical data further support the potency and selectivity of KER-047 for the ALK2 domain.
Highly Selective ALK2 Receptor Inhibitor
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The kinase selectivity of KER-047 is shown in the dendrogram above. Compounds were screened at 1 µM against a panel of over 370 kinases and disease-relevant mutants. Each branch of the dendogram represents an individual human kinase. Kinases bound by the compound are indicated by red circles on the kinome tree. The degree of binding corresponds to the size of the circle. As illustrated by the largest red circle in the above graphic, KER-047 was observed to be a potent ALK2 inhibitor and a weak inhibitor of other members of the TGF-ß family of receptors.
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In cell-based assays that more directly tested the functional ability of KER-047 to suppress receptor signaling, KER-047 exhibited low nanomolar potency. In assays evaluating the effect of KER-047 on receptors with the highest structural homology to ALK2, KER-047 had at least 20-fold selectivity for ALK2, compared to ALK1 and ALK5, which have 77% and 65% homology to ALK2, respectively.
KER-047 inhibition of ALK2 signaling resulted in increased serum iron and transferrin saturation in multiple animal models
We believe that data from preclinical studies support a link between ALK2 signaling, hepcidin expression and serum iron across multiple preclinical species in both healthy and disease models. Serum iron is an indicator of whether there is adequate iron available in the body. Total iron binding capacity is the measure of the maximum amount of iron that can be bound by transferrin, an iron-binding protein, and is a surrogate measurement of serum transferrin levels. Transferrin saturation is calculated by dividing serum iron by total iron binding capacity and is an indicator of how well the body is transporting the iron in blood. Taken together, these values are an indication of the state of iron balance in the body.
We evaluated serum iron, total iron binding capacity and transferrin saturation in Sprague-Dawley rats that received daily, oral administration of either vehicle or doses of 1 mg/kg, 2.5 mg/kg, 5 mg/kg or 15 mg/kg of KER-047 for three months. Rats that were treated with KER-047 were observed to have a dose-dependent increase in serum iron levels and a concomitant increase in transferrin saturation, with no change in total iron binding capacity.
Increased Serum Iron, Total Iron Binding Capacity and Transferrin Saturation in Rats
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These data demonstrate that ALK2 inhibition resulted in increased serum iron and that KER-047 acts by releasing iron into blood without altering the expression or functionality of iron binding proteins. We believe that these data demonstrate that treatment with KER-047 has the potential to alter ALK2 signaling and release iron from storage tissue for transport to other tissues, including in the bone marrow.
Treatment with an ALK2 inhibitor closely related to KER-047 was also observed to reverse anemia in a mouse model of IRIDA. To generate this mouse model, we used an siRNA directed against TMPRSS6, the same gene that is defective in patients with IRIDA, to render the mice TMPRSS6-deficient. We confirmed that mice receiving the TMPRSS6 siRNA had a greater than 85% reduction of target gene expression relative to the control siRNA cohort. This model recapitulated the increased hepcidin levels and reduced hemoglobin that are characteristic of patients with IRIDA. Treatment of the mice receiving the TMPRSS6 siRNA with an ALK2 inhibitor normalized levels of both hepcidin gene
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expression and hemoglobin levels compared to the control siRNA cohort receiving vehicle treatment, which we believe indicates that ALK2 inhibition can reverse anemia resulting from iron imbalance.
Serum Hepcidin and Hemoglobin Levels in Mice with siRNA-induced IRIDA
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The sequence of the ALK2 receptor has been highly conserved through evolution, with greater than 98% amino acid sequence homology between mice and humans. Likewise, the finding that the mouse models with changes in ALK2 signaling recapitulate human disease also provides evidence that the function of the ALK2 receptor is conserved across species. For example, knockdown of the TMPRSS6 gene results in a phenocopy of the disease observed in patients with IRIDA. We believe that the conservation of biology provides confidence that treatments that are efficacious in preclinical models will have similar effects in humans.
We further explored the results we observed in a mouse model of IRIDA by using a mouse model of anemia of inflammation via induced chronic kidney disease. Inflammatory cytokines in chronic kidney diseases results in increased hepcidin, iron imbalance and anemia, and we believe a mouse model of chronic kidney disease is predictive of the broader indication of anemia of inflammation. To generate this mouse model, mice were dosed daily for six weeks with 50 mg/kg of adenine to induce kidney damage, and subsequently developed inflammation-mediated anemia, with corresponding elevated levels of hepcidin and decreased serum iron. Thereafter, mice continued to receive either vehicle or adenine daily, but also received daily treatment of either vehicle or 5 mg/kg of an ALK2 inhibitor closely related to KER-047 for ten days.
At termination of the preclinical study, mice receiving adenine in combination with the ALK2 inhibitor had serum iron values 108.2% higher than the vehicle-treated mice receiving adenine and vehicle. Additionally, serum hepcidin was decreased by 85.4% over vehicle-treated mice. These data substantiate the role of ALK2 signaling in anemia arising from high hepcidin and illustrate the potential therapeutic benefit of specific ALK2 inhibition in these diseases, including anemia of inflammation.
Our Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Program
We are also developing KER-047 for the treatment of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP. FOP is a rare genetic disease resulting from gain-of-function mutations in the ALK2 receptor. In patients with FOP, soft tissue, including muscles and tendons, develops normally, but remodels into bone spontaneously or after injury. There are
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currently no approved treatments for FOP. We believe KER-047 has the potential to prevent progression of disease in these patients by normalizing ALK2 signaling.
Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva
FOP results from single amino acid mutations in the ALK2 receptor that result in gain-of-function activity of the receptor. An estimated 97% of patients with FOP have an R206H mutation that results in excessive ALK2 receptor signaling. Multiple processes drive this excessive signaling. The ALK2/R206H receptor is inappropriately activated by activins A and B, hyperresponsive to the endogenous BMP ligands and can be active in the absence of ligands. These changes all result in increased kinase-mediated signaling and upregulation of bone-forming cellular activity, such as heterotopic ossification.
Heterotopic ossification in patients with FOP can occur spontaneously or can be triggered by soft tissue trauma, such as from immunizations, falls, surgery or viral illnesses. The bony lesions from heterotopic ossification are painful and restrict movement. These lesions are permanent and their accumulation leads to progressive loss of function and immobility, eventually resulting in patients becoming wheelchair-dependent, making independent living difficult. Patients can have additional morbidity due to severe weight loss resulting from bone developing in and essentially locking the jaw, as well as respiratory problems due to constriction of the rib cage. Additionally, development of pneumonia and heart failure results in a high mortality rate, with a median age of death of 40 years. The International Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva Association estimates that there are 3,500 people worldwide with FOP, with approximately 800 patients identified. There are 285 known cases in the United States.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for FOP
There are no therapies approved to treat FOP. Patients are administered anti-inflammatory agents to minimize tissue damage and alleviate pain, but these treatment options do not reduce or prevent bone formation. Surgical removal of the heterotopic ossification is performed in extreme cases, such as when the bony lesion is hindering jaw movement. However, this intervention only provides temporary benefit, as bone that is surgically removed is quickly replaced by a similar volume of new bone in its place.
Our Solution: KER-047
KER-047 is designed as an ALK2 inhibitor that is also designed to inhibit the ALK2/R206H mutant receptor, which we believe presents the potential to address the underlying cause of FOP as well as prevent the development of new, and the expansion of existing, heterotopic ossification. Additionally, we believe that KER-047 has the potential to prevent the regrowth of bone after surgical resection and de novo bone formation resulting from surgery-induced trauma.
FOP treatments currently in development, such as palovarotene, were observed to hamper the healing process in preclinical studies. We believe treatment with KER-047 would not interfere with a patient’s ability to undergo and recover from surgery. Additionally, treatment with palovarotene has been observed in a Phase 2 clinical trial to cause premature closure of growth plates in pediatric patients. ALK2 signaling is not required for normal skeletal growth and development, and in our preclinical studies, we did not observe changes to normal bone growth when treating mice with dose levels of KER-047 that resulted in a reduction in the amount of heterotopic ossification. Based on these data, KER-047 would not be expected to affect normal skeletal development and could be used to treat patients with FOP of all ages.
Following the completion of our expected Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-047 in patients with IDA, we plan to commence a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with FOP.
Preclinical Data
We have generated compelling biochemical and preclinical data that we believe demonstrated proof-of-mechanism of KER-047 for the treatment of FOP. Specifically, KER-047 demonstrated in these studies:
potent ALK2/R206H mutant receptor inhibitor;
dose-dependent reduction in the formation of heterotopic ossification in multiple mouse models; and
no shortening of long bones in mice receiving the ALK2 inhibitor.
KER-047 observed to be a potent ALK2 receptor inhibitor and ALK2/R206H mutant receptor inhibitor
In an in vitro assay, KER-047 was observed to be a potent ALK2 receptor inhibitor. In cell-based reporter assays, KER-047 also exhibited low nanomolar potency against the ALK2/R206H mutant receptor.
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KER-047 inhibited ALK2 signaling and was associated with reduced bone formation in a mouse model of heterotopic ossification
In patients with FOP, heterotopic ossification is driven by excessive signaling through a mutated ALK2 receptor. We evaluated treatment with KER-047 in an R206H mouse model of FOP and observed a dose-dependent reduction in heterotopic ossification. In our preclinical study, mice were treated with either vehicle or doses of 1 mg/kg or 6 mg/kg of KER-047, dosed daily by oral gavage, starting three days prior to mice receiving the pinch injury and continuing through 14 days post-injury. Micro-CT scans were analyzed for the presence of heterotopic ossification lesions in muscle. In mice with the ALK2/R206H mutant receptor receiving KER-047, a statistically significant, dose-dependent reduction in the formation of heterotopic ossification after pinch injury was observed.
Reduced Formation of Heterotopic Ossification in a Mouse Model of FOP Representative MicroCT Images
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Treatment with a selective ALK2 inhibitor did not affect skeletal development in young mice
Third-party reports have described how treatment of young mice with palovarotene, a RAR-gamma agonist, resulted in growth plate closure in the normal skeleton, which led to a shortening of the long bones. We dosed two-week old mice with a potent ALK2 inhibitor closely related to KER-047 and measured changes in length of the long bones. While ALK2 inhibition failed to alter the length of the long bone, we observed a statistically significant shortening of the long bones in mice treated with palovarotene.
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Our Preclinical Pipeline
KER-012
KER-012 is a ligand trap comprised of a modified ligand-binding domain of ActRIIB that is fused to the portion of the human antibody known as the Fc domain. KER-012 is designed to bind to and inhibit the signaling of TGF-ß ligands, including activin A and activin B, which are key regulators of bone remodeling that act to suppress bone growth, to potentially increase bone mass. We believe that KER-012 has the potential to increase the signaling of BMP pathways through this inhibition of activin A and activin B signaling, and consequently treat diseases such as PAH that are associated with reduced BMP signaling due to inactivating mutations in the BMP receptors. We are developing KER-012 for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, or PAH. We plan to advance KER-012 into a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2021 and expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in the first half of 2022.
Osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a highly prevalent disease characterized by low bone mineral density and deterioration of bone structure, which leads to an increase in bone fractures. It is estimated that more than 200 million people worldwide, including approximately 30% of all post-menopausal women in the United States and Europe, suffer from osteoporosis. It is also estimated that 50% of women and 20% of men over the age of 50 will suffer at least one osteoporosis-related fracture in their remaining lifetime. These fractures can lead to increased morbidity and mortality. With the number of individuals over the age of 50 expected to increase, the incidence of osteoporosis-related fractures is predicted to double or triple in the upcoming decades.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for Osteoporosis
Patients with osteoporosis are generally treated with anti-resorptive agents and anabolic agents. Anti-resorptive agents act to prevent further bone loss by inhibiting the breakdown of bone, while anabolic agents stimulate bone formation to build new, high-quality bone.
Bisphosphonate anti-resorptive agents, including Aredia (pamidronate), Fosamax (alendronate) and Reclast (zoledronic acid), are the current standard of care, and these treatments inhibit the cells that resorb or take away bone. However, bisphosphonates have limited efficacy for non-vertebral fractures, and gains in bone mineral density have been observed to plateau after a few years of treatment. Additionally, bisphosphonate use has been associated with infrequent but serious adverse events, such as osteonecrosis of the jaw and atypical femoral fractures. These side effects, although rare, have created increasing concern among physicians and patients. Accordingly, the number of bisphosphonate prescriptions has declined over 50% in the last decade and physicians are seeking alternatives.
There are several alternatives to bisphosphonates that are approved for the treatment of osteoporosis, including anti-resorptive agents and anabolic agents. The most potent anti-resorptive product that is approved for treatment is Prolia (denosumab). Given twice a year via subcutaneous injection by a physician, Prolia increases bone density and reduces hip, spine and non-vertebral fractures. However, in the past five years, there have been numerous reports about fractures, especially those of the spine, occurring after the cessation of Prolia, which we believe has caused many patients with osteoporosis to refrain from commencing treatment with Prolia.
Anabolic therapies approved for treatment of osteoporosis include Forteo (teriparatide) and Tymlos (abaloparatide). Delivered by daily subcutaneous injection, these products have been observed to improve bone density and reduce vertebral fractures, but have limited evidence for reduction of hip fracture, which is frequently a debilitating fracture for patients. Additionally, use of these products is restricted to two years and their labels include a black-box warning regarding the occurrence of bone cancer in rats treated with Forteo, which is a key deterrent to using these products for many patients.
Evenity (romosozumab-aqqg), an anabolic therapy, increases bone formation briefly while also reducing bone resorption. The reason for the short-term nature of the anabolic effect is unclear. Evenity is delivered via two subcutaneous injections monthly at a doctor’s office, with use restricted to 12 months. Although Evenity exhibited robust anti-fracture efficacy and large gains in bone mineral density in a third-party Phase 3 clinical trial, the Evenity label includes a black-box warning that the product may increase the risk of heart attack, stroke or death from a cardiovascular event.
We believe there is a large unmet need for patients with osteoporosis, as existing therapies have shortcomings in efficacy, tolerability, convenience and safety. Given these shortcomings, we believe there is a significant market opportunity for an anabolic agent such as KER-012, which is designed to be a potent and selective inhibitor of certain TGF-ß ligands, including activin A and activin B, that are key regulators of bone remodeling that act to suppress bone
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growth. Additionally, with a growing population of older adults, the number of patients with osteoporosis is predicted to expand in the coming years.
Osteogenesis Imperfecta
Osteogenesis imperfecta is a group of genetic disorders that mainly affect the bones. People with osteogenesis imperfecta have bones that fracture easily, often from mild trauma or with no apparent cause. Osteogenesis imperfecta affects approximately one out of every 10,000 to 20,000 people worldwide, while an estimated 25,000 to 50,000 people in the United States are living with the condition.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for Osteogenesis Imperfecta
There are no approved therapies for the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta in the United States or the European Union. Current treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta is directed towards the management of fractures with casting or surgical fixation, followed by physical therapy. Preventative surgeries, such as intramedullary, or in-bone, nailing fixation, in which a permanent nail or rod is placed into the center of the bone, are also undertaken. However, these surgical options do not treat the underlying cause of osteogenesis imperfecta. Additionally, bisphosphonates, which are not approved for osteogenesis imperfecta, are commonly used off-label in children. A meta-analysis of randomized trials demonstrated that there was no evidence that current treatments, including bisphosphonates, reduce fracture risk in patients with osteogenesis imperfecta. Controlled clinical trials also showed no improvement in bone pain, a key disability in children with osteogenesis imperfecta. Additionally, we are not aware of any long-term clinical trials demonstrating a reduction in fractures in adults, and the effect of long-term therapy with these existing products remains unclear.
Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
PAH is a debilitating disorder characterized by elevated pulmonary vascular resistance due to severe constriction and progressive obliteration of the pulmonary vessels. PAH results in diminished oxygenation, impaired cardiac output and symptoms stemming from overload of the right ventricle, such as shortness of breath, fatigue, fainting, chest pain, palpitations and swelling of extremities and abdomen. We estimate that in the United States there are 750 to 2,000 new cases of PAH each year and 10,000 to 20,000 individuals living with this condition. Despite current treatment options, survival with PAH remains only slightly above 50% at five years, with mortality typically resulting from right ventricle failure.
Loss-of-function mutations in the gene encoding the BMP type II receptor, or BMPR2, are present in over 70% of cases of heritable PAH, or HPAH, while loss-of-function mutations in certain BMPR2 co-receptors are present in other cases of HPAH and idiopathic PAH. Histology and gene expression studies from the lungs of human and experimental PAH showed diminished BMPR2 expression and BMP signaling even in the absence of loss-of-function mutations, as well as enhanced TGF-ß signaling. Consistent with an imbalance in the signaling of these families of ligands, it was recently found that PAH due to cirrhosis and portal hypertension is marked by a severe deficiency of circulating BMP9, while circulating TGF-ß, activin and growth differentiation factor, or GDF, ligands were found to be increased in PAH, even in the absence of causative mutations. Multiple experimental third-party models also demonstrated the efficacy of augmenting BMP signaling or suppressing TGF-ß, activin or GDF signaling, which we believe supports the notion that imbalanced homeostatic BMP and pathogenic TGF-ß, activin and GDF signaling drive the development and progression of pulmonary vascular disease.
Limitations of Current Treatment Options for PAH
All of the currently-approved therapies for PAH are vasodilators, which are medications that dilate blood vessels. These vasodilators fall into one of three categories: (i) prostanoids, which are agonists of the prostacyclin signaling pathway; (ii) endothelin receptor antagonists, or ERAs; or (iii) (a) phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors, or PDE5i, which are agents that enhance nitric oxide metabolism, or (b) soluble guanylate cyclase activators, which cause downstream cGMP signaling.
One common approach to treating early-stage or mild PAH is an oral combination therapy using ERA and PDE5i medications. More severe PAH generally requires the addition of prostanoid, via oral or inhaled administration, while advanced PAH typically requires continuous parenteral administration. Each of these individual therapies may modestly improve a patient’s functional status and in some cases survival, but is limited by systemic hypotension, systemic side effects and tachyphylaxis, which is an acute, sudden decrease in response to a product after its administration. Additionally, combination therapy is limited by the combined side effect profiles. Although existing treatments may modestly slow the progression of PAH, none appear to halt or reverse the disease’s progression.
While the key physiologic and pathologic features of PAH include vasoconstriction, scar tissue and vascular smooth muscle cell proliferation and inflammation, the main pharmacological effect for all currently approved therapies is believed to be vasodilation. Accordingly, we believe there is a significant unmet need for a treatment that primarily
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targets the proliferative pathological processes and can be used alone or in combination with other PAH therapies. We believe that potent therapies that do not exhibit tachyphylaxis, are orally bioavailable or do not require continuous infusion therapy would have advantages over the currently available treatments for PAH.
Therapies that arrest pulmonary vascular remodeling could have a long-term clinical stabilizing effect in PAH, or reverse vascular obliteration. We believe that KER-012 has the potential to increase the signaling of BMP pathways through the inhibition of activin A and activin B signaling, and consequently treat diseases such as PAH that are associated with reduced BMP signaling due to inactivating mutations in the BMP receptors.
Preclinical Data
We have generated preclinical data that we believe demonstrated proof-of-mechanism of KER-012 for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of PAH. Specifically, in preclinical studies, KER-012:
showed high affinity for and potent inhibition of ligands involved in the regulation of bone homeostasis;
lacked binding to BMP9, a ligand critical in vascular remodeling, vascular stability and vascular quiescence;
increased bone mineral density and trabecular bone volume in wild-type mice and mice with established osteoporosis; and
did not increase red blood cell production in cynomolgus monkeys.
KER-012 targeted ligands that signal through ActRIIA and ActRIIB in preclinical studies
KER-012 is a modified ActRIIB ligand trap that contains sequences from both wild-type ActRIIB and wild-type ActRIIA. In preclinical studies, KER-012 bound to and inhibited multiple ligands that signal through these cell surface receptors, including activin A, activin B and growth differentiation factor 11. These ligands are key regulators of bone remodeling that act to suppress bone growth. BMP9 is a ligand capable of signaling through the ActRIIB and bone morphogenetic receptor II. Inhibition of BMP9 results in disruption of vascular remodeling, which can lead to the development of epistaxis and telangiectasias. KER-012 did not bind BMP9 or inhibit BMP9 signaling in preclinical studies. Consequently, we believe KER-012 has the potential to avoid negative effects on vascular remodeling.
Treatment with KER-012 increased bone mineral density
https://cdn.kscope.io/9fa5c03c143c0787e583b45dc51482c1-kros-20201231_g26.jpg
*** P value <0.001
In preclinical studies conducted in wild-type mice, twice weekly intraperitoneal 20 mg/kg dosing of KER-012 increased bone mineral density compared to vehicle-treated mice 31 days post-treatment. Additionally, we observed that treatment
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with KER-012 statistically significantly increased trabecular bone formation and mineral apposition rate, which we believe is consistent with an anabolic effect on bone.
https://cdn.kscope.io/9fa5c03c143c0787e583b45dc51482c1-kros-20201231_g27.jpg
** P value <0.01
In a separate preclinical study, we observed that treatment with KER-012 increased the ratio of osteoblasts, which are bone forming cells, to osteoclasts, which are bone resorbing cells, which further supports that KER-012 acts via an anabolic effect on bone. We also observed in preclinical studies conducted in mice with established osteoporosis that twice weekly intraperitoneal 20 mg/kg dosing of KER-012 increased bone mass compared to vehicle-treated mice 46 days post-treatment.
Treatment with RKER-012 prevented cardiac hypertrophy in a rat model of PAH
We combined administration of SUGEN5416, a tyrosine kinase inhibitor of vascular endothelial growth factor receptors 1/2, with exposure to chronic hypoxia to recapitulate the biology in PAH. In this model, remodeling of the arterial wall results in wall thickening, increased arterial pressure and impairment of heart function through a thickening of the right ventricle. Treatment with twice weekly subcutaneous 10 mg/kg dosing of the rodent version of KER-012, or RKER-012, was observed to protect against a thickening of the right ventricular wall, which we believe demonstrates that KER-012 has the potential to treat PAH.
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Treatment with RKER-012 prevented bone loss from hypoxia in the rat model of PAH
https://cdn.kscope.io/9fa5c03c143c0787e583b45dc51482c1-kros-20201231_g28.jpg
* P value <0.05; ** P value <0.01
In the rat model of PAH, chronic hypoxia induced a catabolic state that resulted in wasting of tissue, including bone and muscle. Treatment with a subcutaneous 10 mg/kg dose of RKER-012 was observed to prevent bone loss in the rat model of PAH.
CKER-012 did not increase red blood cells in non-human primates
In a preclinical study, cynomolgus monkeys received subcutaneous administration every other week for one month of either vehicle or a 10 mg/kg dose of CKER-012, a monkey form of KER-012 comprised of the same modified ActRIIB fused to a cynomolgus Fc that has a ligand binding profile similar to that of KER-012. We measured hematology at baseline and on Day 35. Changes in red blood cells, hematocrit and hemoglobin over the 35-day study were not statistically significantly different compared to changes observed in the vehicle-treated cohort. Based on these findings that CKER-012 did not increase red blood cell production in monkeys, we believe KER-012 has the potential not to increase red blood cell production in humans.
Based on the findings from our preclinical studies, we believe KER-012 has the potential to treat disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta. Additionally, inhibition of BMP9 signaling can result in endothelial cell apoptosis, remodeling and arterial occlusion in diseases such as PAH. We believe that KER-012 has the potential to increase the signaling of BMP pathways through this inhibition of activin A and activin B signaling, and consequently treat diseases such as PAH that are associated with reduced BMP signaling due to inactivating mutations in the BMP receptors.
Our Proprietary Discovery Approach
We believe, based on our previous experience with ActRII ligand traps using the endogenous and wild-type sequences, that observations in preclinical rodent models have the potential to translate to humans in the clinic. Specifically:
Wild-type ActRIIA-Fc was associated with increased bone growth and red blood cell production in rodents and non-human primates. In a third-party clinical trial of ActRIIA-Fc, increased bone mineral density and red blood cell production was reported in healthy post-menopausal women. In this clinical trial, it was also reported that lower doses elicited the effect on red blood cells compared to bone, and thus, the dominant effect on red blood cell production prevented development in diseases with bone loss.
In third-party preclinical studies in rodents and non-human primates, ActRIIB-Fc was associated with increased bone mineral density and lean muscle mass, but was not associated with changes in red blood cells. However, ActRIIB-Fc was also observed to cause nose and gum bleeding, which we believe is due to its effect of
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disrupting normal vascular remodeling. BMP9 signaling is required for normal vascular remodeling, but is not involved in regulation of muscle or bone tissues. ActRIIB-Fc potently inhibits BMP9 signaling, which is the mechanism behind the bleeding events observed with ActRIIB-Fc treatment.
We have developed a proprietary library of ActRII ligand traps by combining sequences from ActRIIA and ActRIIB. We have engineered molecules that are designed to have the therapeutic properties of either or both parent molecules without the dose-limiting effect on red blood cells observed with ActRIIA-Fc or the negative effect on blood vessels observed with wild-type ActRIIB-Fc. Our ActRII program has produced a broader pipeline of engineered ligand traps and currently contains more than 20 unique variants in preclinical development. These include:
Molecules designed to increase bone mass without the dose-limiting effect on red blood cells observed with wild-type ActRIIA-Fc; and
Molecules designed to increase muscle and bone mass with reduced BMP9 binding without impacting vascular remodeling that leads to weak blood vessels observed with the wild-type ActRIIB-Fc.
Our discovery approach has built on these initial observations to generate product candidates designed to target ActRII receptors without the liabilities observed in third-party preclinical studies and clinical trials of ActRIIA-Fc and ActRIIB-Fc.
We believe that we are well positioned to advance our product candidates and realize the commercial opportunities in diseases where muscle and bone loss result in a debilitating impact on survival and quality of life, if our product candidates are successfully developed and approved. Our deep knowledge and expertise of the TGF-ß family of proteins provides a streamlined approach to screen and develop novel product candidates for hematological and musculoskeletal diseases.
Manufacturing
We rely, and expect to continue to rely for the foreseeable future, on third-party contract manufacturing organizations, or CMOs, to produce our product candidates for preclinical and clinical testing, as well as for commercial manufacture if our product candidates receive marketing approval. We require that our CMOs produce bulk drug substances and finished drug products in accordance with current Good Manufacturing Practices, or cGMPs, and all other applicable laws and regulations. We maintain agreements with our manufacturers that include confidentiality and intellectual property provisions to protect our proprietary rights related to our product candidates.
We have engaged CMOs to manufacture supply for preclinical and clinical use. Additional CMOs are used to label, package and distribute drug product for preclinical and clinical use. We obtain our supplies from these CMOs on a purchase order basis and do not have any long-term supply arrangements in place. We do not currently have arrangements in place for redundant supply. We are closely monitoring the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our ability to procure sufficient supplies for the development of our product candidates. The magnitude of any potential impact will depend on the severity and duration of the spread of the virus, and the actions undertaken to contain COVID-19 or treat its effects. We are working with our CMOs to manage this process. However, we could be unable to find alternative suppliers of acceptable quality, in the appropriate volumes and at an acceptable cost, if needed. As our development programs expand and we build new process efficiencies, we expect to continually evaluate this strategy with the objective of satisfying demand for registration trials and, if approved, the manufacture, sale and distribution of commercial products.
Competition
The biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries are characterized by rapidly advancing technologies, intense competition and a strong emphasis on proprietary rights. While we believe that our product candidates, discovery programs, technology, knowledge, experience and scientific resources provide us with competitive advantages, we compete in the highly competitive markets and face significant competition from many sources, including pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, as well as academic institutions, governmental agencies and private and public research institutions.
We compete in the segments of the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and other related industries that develop and market therapies for the treatment of hematological and musculoskeletal disorders. There are many other companies, including large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, that have commercialized and/or are developing therapies for the same therapeutic areas that our product candidates target. For example, FibroGen Inc., Astellas Pharma Inc. are developing product candidates for the treatment of anemia, and Acceleron Pharma Inc., or Acceleron, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Disc Medicine are developing product candidates targeting diseases associated with MDS and myelofibrosis, including chronic anemia. Additionally, in April 2020, Acceleron received FDA approval of its product, Reblozyl, for the treatment of anemia failing an erythropoiesis stimulating agent and requiring two or more red blood cell
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units over eight weeks in adult patients with very low- to intermediate-risk MDS with ring sideroblasts or with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm with ring sideroblasts and thrombocytosis. In June 2020, Acceleron further announced that the European Commission approved Reblozyl for the treatment of transfusion-dependent anemia in adult patients with MDS or beta thalassemia and in September 2020, Acceleron announced that Health Canada approved Reblozyl for the treatment of adult patients with red blood cell transfusion-dependent anemia associated with beta thalassemia. Sierra Oncology, Inc. is developing momelotinib as a treatment for myelofibrosis. Additionally, Constellation Pharmaceutics, Inc. is also developing a product candidate as a treatment for myelofibrosis.
Other companies that are developing product candidates that are designed to target the TGF-ß signaling pathways include Scholar Rock Holding Corporation, Biogen Inc. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
There are currently no approved drugs for the treatment of FOP. However, Ipsen, through its subsidiary Clementia Pharmaceuticals Inc. and pursuant to a collaboration with Blueprint Medicines Corporation, as well as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Incyte Corporation are developing product candidates for the treatment of FOP that are intended to work, at least in part, through inhibition of aberrant ALK2 signaling.
There are currently no approved drugs for the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta. However, Mereo BioPharma Group plc is developing an anti-sclerostin product candidate for the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta.
Many of the companies against which we are competing or against which we may compete in the future, either alone or with their strategic collaborators, have significantly greater financial resources and expertise in research and development, manufacturing, preclinical testing, conducting clinical trials, obtaining regulatory approvals and marketing approved drugs than we do. Mergers and acquisitions in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries may result in even more resources being concentrated among a smaller number of our competitors. Smaller or early-stage companies may also prove to be significant competitors, particularly through collaborative arrangements with large and established companies or universities and research institutions. These competitors also compete with us in recruiting and retaining qualified scientific and management personnel and establishing clinical trial sites and enrolling patients for our clinical trials, as well as in acquiring technologies complementary to, or necessary for, our programs.
We could see a reduction or elimination of our commercial opportunity if our competitors develop and commercialize products that are safer, more effective, have fewer or less severe side effects, are more convenient or are less expensive than any products that we may develop. The availability of reimbursement from government and other third-party payors will also significantly affect the pricing and competitiveness of our products. Our competitors also may obtain FDA or other regulatory approval for their products more rapidly than we may obtain approval for ours, which could result in our competitors establishing a strong market position before we are able to enter the market.
Collaborations and License Agreement
2016 Exclusive Patent License Agreement with The General Hospital Corporation
In April 2016, we entered into an exclusive patent license agreement with The General Hospital Corporation, or MGH, which was subsequently amended in May 2017 and February 2018. Under the license agreement with MGH, or the MGH Agreement, we obtained an exclusive, worldwide license, with the right to sublicense, under certain patents and technical information of MGH, to make, have made, use, have used, sell, have sold, lease, have leased, import, have imported or otherwise transfer licensed products and processes for use in the treatment, diagnosis, palliation and prevention of diseases and disorders in humans and animals. We are required to use commercially reasonable efforts to develop and commercialize licensed products and processes, and must achieve certain required diligence milestones.
Under the terms of the MGH Agreement, we made an initial license payment of $100,000 and reimbursed MGH approximately $280,000 of prior patent prosecution expenses related to the licensed patents. We also issued MGH an aggregate of 358,674 shares of our common stock. Additionally, we are required to pay a low-five digit to mid-five digit annual maintenance fee prior to the first commercial sale of our first product or process, a mid-five digit annual maintenance fee after the first commercial sale of our first product or process that is creditable against royalties, certain clinical and regulatory milestone payments for the first three products or indications to achieve such milestones, which milestone payments are $8.6 million in the aggregate, and certain commercial milestone payments for the first three products or indications to achieve such milestones, which milestone payments are $18.0 million in the aggregate. In 2020, we made a single payment of $50,000 with respect to achievement of the clinical and regulatory milestone of filing of an IND in the first country. We are also obligated to pay tiered royalties on net sales of licensed products ranging in the low-single digits to mid-single digits. The royalty rates are subject to up to a maximum 50% reduction for lack of a valid claim, in the event that it is necessary for us to obtain a license to any third-party intellectual property related to the licensed products, and generic competition. The obligation to pay royalties under the MGH Agreement expires on a
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licensed product-by-licensed product and country-by-country basis upon the later of expiry of the last valid claim of the licensed patents that cover such licensed product in such country and ten years from the first commercial sale of such product in such country. We are also obligated to pay a percentage of non-royalty related payments received by us from sublicensees ranging in the sub-teen double digits and a change of control fee equal to a low-single digit percentage of the payments received as part of any completed transaction up to a low-seven digit amount.
The MGH Agreement expires upon expiry of the last remaining royalty obligation for a licensed product or process. Under the MGH Agreement, MGH may terminate the agreement upon our uncured material breach or insolvency, a challenge by us of the licensed patents and certain other specified breaches of the MGH Agreement. We may terminate the agreement for any reason upon specified prior written notice to MGH.
Termination of 2017 Research Collaboration and Exclusive License Agreement with Novo Nordisk
In December 2017, we entered into a research collaboration and exclusive license agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S, or Novo Nordisk. Under the agreement with Novo Nordisk, or the Novo Nordisk Agreement, we are collaborating with Novo Nordisk on research and development of fusion molecules consisting of a ligand binder present as part of a larger molecule, or ligand traps. Pursuant to the Novo Nordisk Agreement, Novo Nordisk had the right to select a prespecified number of ligand traps for further development and commercialization by Novo Nordisk. Following execution, Novo Nordisk selected one existing ligand trap to further develop and commercialize and prior to the completion of the two-year research program, selected a second ligand trap arising from the collaboration.
Upon selection by Novo Nordisk of each ligand trap, we transferred the selected ligand trap to Novo Nordisk for further development and commercialization. We are able to further develop and commercialize all other remaining declined ligand traps, subject to certain limitations as described below.
Under the Novo Nordisk Agreement, we granted Novo Nordisk an exclusive, worldwide, royalty bearing license, with the right to sublicense, under certain of our background intellectual property and collaboration intellectual property to develop, manufacture and commercialize products that contain the initial ligand trap and any selected ligand trap, whether alone or as a combination product, for use in the treatment of diabetes (including diabetes related complications of cardiovascular disease, or CVD, and chronic kidney disease, or CKD), obesity, (including obesity related complications of CVD, CKD and sarcopenic obesity), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and cachexia, and, solely as a combination product for use in CVD and CKD.
Under the terms of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, during the term of the agreement, we are not permitted, directly or indirectly, to research, develop or commercialize any ligand trap or ligand binder for use in the licensed field or any selected ligand trap outside of the licensed field, except that we may research, develop, or commercialize any declined ligand trap for use in CVD and CKD. Under the terms of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, we received an initial license payment of $16.0 million in 2018. Novo Nordisk has paid us $4.0 million in research funding over the two-year research program.
On October 26, 2020, Novo Nordisk gave written notice of termination of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, effective six months following the delivery of notice, on April 26, 2021. Upon termination, all worldwide rights to all ligand traps selected under the Novo Nordisk Agreement, along with all rights to develop our molecules in the fields of diabetes, obesity, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and cachexia, will revert to us. Under the terms of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, Novo Nordisk is obligated to continue to reimburse the Company for certain research and development costs through April 26, 2021. Upon effectiveness of the termination, such reimbursements will cease.
Intellectual Property
Overview
We strive to protect the proprietary technology, inventions and improvements that we believe are commercially important to our business, including obtaining, maintaining, enforcing and defending our intellectual property rights, including patent rights, whether developed internally or licensed from third parties. We rely, in part, on trade secrets and know-how relating to our proprietary technology and drug candidates and continuing innovation to develop, strengthen and maintain our proprietary position. We also plan to rely, in part, on data exclusivity, market exclusivity and patent term extensions if and when available. Our commercial success will depend in part on our ability to obtain and maintain patent and other intellectual property protection for our technology, inventions and improvements; to preserve the confidentiality of our trade secrets; to defend and enforce our proprietary rights, including any patents that we own or may obtain in the future; and to operate without infringing, misappropriating or otherwise violating the valid and enforceable patents and other intellectual property rights of third parties. Intellectual property rights may not address all potential threats to our competitive advantage
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As of February 28, 2021, our patent portfolio consisted of five issued U.S. patents, 41 pending U.S. patent applications, three issued ex-U.S. patents and 56 pending ex-U.S. applications, with expected expiry dates not earlier than between March 13, 2029 and November 9, 2041. Of these, 77 patent applications relate to KER-050, KER-047 and KER-012, and eight issued patents and 20 patent applications relate to other technologies, in each case as described in more detail below. Each of our pending international patent applications has been filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty and has not yet entered any national jurisdictions. Our policy is to file patent applications to protect technology, inventions and improvements to inventions that may be commercially important to the development of our business.
We seek U.S. and international patent protection for a variety of technologies, and own patent applications with claims directed to ActRIIA ligand traps, ActRIIB ligand traps, ActRII chimera ligand traps, GDNF fusion polypeptides, ALK2 antibodies, crystal forms of an ALK2 inhibitor, and uses thereof. We also intend to seek patent protection or rely upon trade secret rights to protect other technologies that may be used to discover and validate targets, and that may be used to manufacture and develop novel products. We are a party to license agreements that give us rights to use specific technologies in our products and in manufacturing our products.
Patent applications directed to our most advanced programs are summarized below.
KER-050
KER-050 is a modified ActRIIA ligand trap that is designed to bind to different TGF-ß ligands that signal through a TGF-ß signaling pathway. We own 10 pending U.S. patent applications and 35 pending ex-U.S. applications that contain claims or supporting disclosure directed to ActRIIA ligand traps and use thereof to treat muscle disease, bone disease, metabolic disease, anemia, fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia. Any patents issuing from these applications will have expiration dates between November 9, 2037 and October 2, 2041, absent any patent term adjustments or extensions.
KER-047
KER-047 is an orally available small molecule ALK2 inhibitor designed to potently and selectively inhibit ALK2 signaling. We own 11 pending U.S. patent applications that contain claims or supporting disclosure directed to crystal forms of an ALK2 inhibitor and uses thereof. Any patents issuing from these applications will have expiration dates between October 25, 2039 and November 9, 2041, absent any patent term adjustments or extensions.
We have exclusively licensed from The General Hospital Corporation rights in one patent family related to novel ALK2 inhibitors. Patents in this family are expected to expire on April 26, 2038, absent any patent term adjustments or extensions.
KER-012
KER-012 is a modified ActRIIB ligand trap that is designed to bind to different TGF-ß ligands that signal through a TGF-ß signaling pathway. We own seven pending U.S. patent applications and nine pending ex-U.S. applications that contain claims or supporting disclosure directed to ActRIIB ligand traps and use thereof to treat muscle disease, bone disease, anemia, fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, metabolic disease, thrombocytopenia, and neutropenia. Any patents issuing from these applications will have expiration dates between January 11, 2039 and October 2, 2041, absent any patent term adjustments or extensions.
Other
We plan to seek United States and international patent protection for a variety of additional technologies. We own 12 pending U.S. patent applications and eight pending ex-U.S. applications that contain claims or supporting disclosure directed to GDNF fusion polypeptides, ALK2 antibodies, and ActRII chimera ligand traps. Any patents issuing from these applications will have expiration dates between November 9, 2037 and October 2, 2041, absent any patent term adjustments or extensions.
Intellectual Property Protection
Individual patents extend for varying periods depending on the date of filing of the patent application or the date of patent issuance and the legal term of patents in the countries in which they are obtained. Generally, patents issued for regularly filed applications in the United States are granted a term of 20 years from the earliest effective non-provisional filing date. In addition, in certain instances, a patent term can be extended to recapture a portion of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, or the USPTO, delay in issuing the patent as well as a portion of the term effectively lost as a result of the FDA regulatory review period. However, as to the FDA component, the restoration period cannot be longer than five years and the total patent term including the restoration period must not exceed 14 years following FDA approval. The duration of patents outside of the United States varies in accordance with provisions of applicable local law, but typically is also 20 years from the earliest effective filing date. However, the actual protection afforded by a patent varies on a
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product by product basis, from country to country and depends upon many factors, including the type of patent, the scope of its coverage, the availability of regulatory-related extensions, the availability of legal remedies in a particular country and the validity and enforceability of the patent.
Furthermore, we rely upon trade secrets and know-how and continuing technological innovation to develop and maintain our competitive position. We seek to protect our proprietary information, in part, using confidentiality agreements with our collaborators, employees and consultants and invention assignment agreements with our employees. We also have confidentiality agreements or invention assignment agreements with our collaborators and consultants. These agreements are designed to protect our proprietary information and, in the case of the invention assignment agreements, to grant us ownership of technologies that are developed through a relationship with a third party. These agreements may be breached, and we may not have adequate remedies for any breach. In addition, our trade secrets may otherwise become known or be independently discovered by competitors. To the extent that our collaborators, employees and consultants use intellectual property owned by others in their work for us, disputes may arise as to the rights in related or resulting know-how and inventions.
Our commercial success will also depend in part on not infringing upon the proprietary rights of third parties. It is uncertain whether the issuance of any third-party patent would require us to alter our development or commercial strategies, or our product candidates or processes, obtain licenses or cease certain activities. Our breach of any license agreements or failure to obtain a license to proprietary rights that we may require to develop or commercialize our future product candidates may have an adverse impact on us. If third parties have prepared and filed patent applications prior to March 16, 2013 in the United States that also claim technology to which we have rights, we may have to participate in interference proceedings in the USPTO, to determine priority of invention. For more information, please see “Risk Factors—Risks Related to Intellectual Property.”
Government Regulation
The FDA and other regulatory authorities at federal, state and local levels, as well as in foreign countries, extensively regulate, among other things, the research, development, testing, manufacture, quality control, import, export, labeling, packaging, storage, distribution, record keeping, approval, advertising, promotion, marketing, post-approval monitoring and post-approval reporting of drug and biological products such as those we are developing.
Our product candidates are subject to regulation under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and the Public Health Service Act, and other federal, state, local and foreign statutes and regulations. We, along with third-party contractors, will be required to navigate the various preclinical, clinical and commercial approval requirements of the governing regulatory agencies of the countries in which we wish to conduct studies or seek approval or licensure of our product candidates.
U.S. Drug and Biological Product Regulation
Our product candidates must be approved by the FDA through either a New Drug Application, or NDA, or a Biologics License Application, or BLA. The process required by the FDA before biopharmaceutical product candidates may be marketed in the United States generally involves the following:
completion of extensive preclinical laboratory tests and animal studies performed in accordance with applicable regulations, including the FDA’s Good Laboratory Practice, or GLP, requirements;
submission to the FDA of an Investigational New Drug, or IND, application which must become effective before human clinical trials may begin;
approval by an independent institutional review board, or IRB, or ethics committee at each clinical site before the trial may be initiated;
performance of adequate and well-controlled human clinical trials in accordance with applicable IND regulations, good clinical practice, or GCP, requirements and other clinical trial-related regulations to establish the safety and efficacy of the investigational drug product for each proposed indication and to establish the safety, purity and potency of the investigational biologic product candidate for each proposed indication;
preparation of and submission to the FDA of an NDA for a small molecule product candidate or a BLA for a biologic after completion of all pivotal clinical trials;
payment of user fees for FDA review of the NDA or BLA;
a determination by the FDA within 60 days of its receipt of the NDA or BLA to file the application for review;
satisfactory completion of one or more FDA pre-approval inspections of the manufacturing facility or facilities at which the proposed product will be produced to assess compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practice, or cGMP, requirements and to assure that the facilities, methods and controls are adequate to preserve the product’s continued identity, strength, quality and purity;
potential FDA audit of the preclinical study and/or clinical trial sites that generated the data in support of the NDA or BLA;
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satisfactory completion of an FDA Advisory Committee review, if applicable;
FDA review and approval of an NDA or licensure of a BLA, including consideration of the views of any FDA Advisory Committee, prior to any commercial marketing or sale of the product for particular indications for use in the United States; and
compliance with any post-approval requirements, including the potential requirement to conduct post-approval studies.
Preclinical and Clinical Development
Before testing any drug or biologic candidate in humans in the United States, the product candidate must undergo rigorous preclinical testing. Preclinical studies include laboratory evaluation of product chemistry and formulation, as well as in vitro and animal studies to assess safety and in some cases to establish a rationale for therapeutic use. The conduct of preclinical studies is subject to federal and state regulations and requirements, including GLP regulations for safety/toxicology studies.
Prior to beginning the first clinical trial with a product candidate, we must submit the results of the preclinical studies, together with manufacturing information, analytical data, any available clinical data or literature and a proposed clinical protocol, to the FDA as part of an IND. An IND is a request for authorization from the FDA to administer an investigational new drug product to humans. The IND submission contains the general investigational plan and the protocol or protocols for preclinical studies and clinical trials, as well as results of in vitro and animal studies assessing the toxicology, pharmacokinetics, pharmacology and pharmacodynamic characteristics of the product, chemistry, manufacturing and controls information, and any available human data or literature to support the use of the investigational product. The IND automatically becomes effective 30 days after receipt by the FDA, unless the FDA, within the 30-day period, raises safety concerns or questions related to one or more proposed clinical trials and places the trial on clinical hold. In such a case, the IND sponsor and the FDA must resolve any outstanding concerns or questions before the clinical trial can begin. Submission of an IND therefore may or may not result in FDA authorization to begin a clinical trial.
The clinical stage of development involves the administration of the investigational product to human subjects under the supervision of qualified investigators in accordance with GCP requirements, which include the requirement that all research subjects provide their informed consent for their participation in any clinical study. These investigators are generally physicians who are not employed by or under the trial sponsor’s control. Clinical trials are conducted under protocols detailing, among other things, the objectives of the study, dosing procedures, subject selection and exclusion criteria, and the parameters to be used in monitoring subject safety and assessing efficacy. Each protocol, and any subsequent amendments to the protocol, must be submitted to the FDA as part of the existing IND. Furthermore, each clinical trial must be reviewed and approved by an independent IRB for each institution at which the clinical trial will be conducted to ensure that the risks to individuals participating in the clinical trials are minimized and are reasonable in relation to anticipated benefits. The IRB also approves the informed consent form that must be provided to each clinical trial subject or his or her legal representative, and must monitor the study until completed. Regulatory authorities, the IRB or the sponsor may suspend a clinical trial at any time on various grounds, including a finding that the subjects are being exposed to an unacceptable health risk or that the trial is unlikely to meet its stated objectives. Some studies also include oversight by an independent group of qualified experts organized by the clinical study sponsor, known as a data safety monitoring board, which provides authorization for whether or not a study may move forward at designated check points based on access to certain data from the study and may halt the clinical trial if it determines that there is an unacceptable safety risk for subjects or other grounds, such as no demonstration of efficacy. There are also requirements governing the reporting of ongoing preclinical studies and clinical trials and clinical study results to public registries.
A sponsor who wishes to conduct a clinical trial outside of the United States may, but need not, obtain FDA authorization to conduct the clinical trial under an IND. If a foreign clinical trial is not conducted under an IND, the sponsor may submit data from the clinical trial to the FDA in support of an NDA. The FDA will accept a well-designed and well-conducted foreign clinical trial not conducted under an IND if the trial was conducted in accordance with GCP requirements and the FDA is able to validate the data through an onsite inspection, if deemed necessary, and the practice of medicine in the foreign country is consistent with the United States.
Human clinical trials in the United States are typically conducted in three sequential phases that may overlap or be combined:
Phase 1 clinical trials generally involve a small number of healthy volunteers or patients with the target disease or condition. These studies are designed to test the safety, dosage tolerance, absorption, metabolism and
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distribution of the investigational product in humans, the side effects associated with increasing doses, and, if possible, to gain early evidence on effectiveness.
Phase 2 clinical trials involve studies in a limited population of disease-affected patients to evaluate the preliminary efficacy, optimal dosages and dosing schedule and to identify possible adverse side effects and safety risks.
Phase 3 clinical trials generally involve a large number of patients at multiple geographically dispersed clinical trial sites and are designed to further evaluate dosage, to provide statistically significant evidence of clinical efficacy and to further test for safety. These clinical trials are intended to establish the overall risk/benefit ratio of the investigational product and to provide an adequate basis for product approval.
When these phases overlap or are combined, the trials may be referred to as Phase 1/2 or Phase 2/3. A Phase 1/2 clinical trial is a human trial that investigates both safety and preliminary efficacy of an investigational therapy. A Phase 2/3 clinical trial is a human trial that investigates both preliminary and confirmatory efficacy and safety to potentially support submission of a marketing application with the applicable regulatory authorities.
In some cases, the FDA may require, or companies may voluntarily pursue, additional clinical trials after a product is approved to gain more information about the product. These so-called Phase 4 studies, are used to gain additional experience from the treatment of patients in the intended therapeutic indication and are commonly intended to generate additional safety data regarding use of the product in a clinical setting. In certain instances, the FDA may mandate the performance of Phase 4 clinical trials as a condition to FDA approval of an NDA or BLA.
Concurrent with clinical trials, companies may complete additional animal studies and develop additional information about the chemistry and physical characteristics of the product candidate, and must finalize a process for manufacturing the product in commercial quantities in accordance with cGMP requirements. The manufacturing process must be capable of consistently producing quality batches of the product candidate and, among other things, must develop methods for testing the identity, strength, quality and purity of the final product, or for biologics, the safety, purity and potency. Additionally, appropriate packaging must be selected and tested and stability studies must be conducted to demonstrate that the product candidate does not undergo unacceptable deterioration over its shelf life.
During all phases of clinical development, regulatory agencies require extensive monitoring and auditing of all clinical activities, clinical data, and clinical study investigators. The FDA or the sponsor or its data safety monitoring board may suspend a clinical study at any time on various grounds, including a finding that the research subjects or patients are being exposed to an unacceptable health risk. Similarly, an IRB can suspend or terminate approval of a clinical study at its institution if the clinical study is not being conducted in accordance with the IRB’s requirements or if the biological product candidate has been associated with unexpected serious harm to patients. There are also requirements governing the reporting of ongoing clinical trials and completed clinical trial results to public registries. Sponsors of clinical trials of FDA-regulated products, including biologics, are required to register and disclose certain clinical trial information, which is publicly available at www.clinicaltrials.gov.
FDA Review Process
Assuming successful completion of all required testing in accordance with all applicable regulatory requirements, the results of product development, nonclinical studies and clinical trials are submitted to the FDA as part of an NDA or BLA. The NDA or BLA is a request for approval to market the drug or biologic for one or more specified indications and must contain proof of safety and efficacy for a drug or safety, purity and potency for a biologic. The application must include all relevant data available from pertinent preclinical studies and clinical trials, including negative or ambiguous results of preclinical studies and clinical trials, as well as positive findings, together with detailed information relating to the product’s chemistry, manufacturing, controls, and proposed labeling, among other things. Data may come from company-sponsored clinical trials intended to test the safety and efficacy of a product’s use or from a number of alternative sources, including studies initiated by investigators. To support marketing approval, the data submitted must be sufficient in quality and quantity to establish the safety and efficacy of the investigational product to the satisfaction of FDA.
Under the Prescription Drug User Fee Act, or PDUFA, as amended, each submission of an NDA or BLA requires payment of a substantial application user fee to the FDA, unless a waiver or exemption applies. The FDA adjusts the PDUFA user fees on an annual basis. Fee waivers or reductions are available in certain circumstances, including a waiver of the application fee for the first application filed by a small business. Additionally, no user fees are assessed on NDAs or BLAs for products designated as orphan drugs, unless the product application also includes a non-orphan indication.
The FDA reviews all submitted NDAs and BLAs before it accepts them for filing, and may request additional information rather than accepting the NDA or BLA for filing. The FDA must make a decision on accepting an NDA or BLA for filing
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within sixty days of receipt. Such decision could include either issue a refusal to file letter or acceptance of the NDA or BLA for filing, indicating that it is sufficiently complete to permit substantive review.
Once an NDA or BLA has been accepted for filing, the FDA begins an in-depth review of the NDA or BLA. Under the goals and policies agreed to by the FDA under PDUFA, the FDA aims to review standard applications within ten months from the filing date, during which it will complete its initial review of a new molecular entity NDA or original BLA and respond to the applicant, or within six months from the filing date of a new molecular entity NDA or original BLA designated for priority review. In both standard and priority reviews, the FDA does not always meet its PDUFA goal dates, and the review process is often significantly extended by FDA requests for additional information or clarification. The FDA reviews the application to determine, among other things, whether a product is safe and effective, or for a biologic, safe, pure and potent for its intended use, and whether the facility in which it is manufactured, processed, packed or held meets standards designed to assure and preserve the product’s identity, safety, strength, quality, potency and purity.
The FDA generally accepts data from foreign clinical trials in support of an NDA or BLA if the trials were conducted under an IND, and the IND requirements, unless waived, were met. If a foreign clinical trial is not conducted under an IND, the FDA nevertheless may accept the data in support of an NDA or BLA if the trial was conducted in accordance with GCPs and the FDA is able to validate the data through an on-site inspection, if deemed necessary. Although the FDA generally requests that marketing applications be supported by some data from domestic clinical studies, the FDA may accept foreign data as the sole basis for marketing approval if (1) the foreign data are applicable to the U.S. population and U.S. medical practice, (2) the trials were performed by clinical investigators with recognized competence, and (3) the data may be considered valid without the need for an on-site inspection or, if the FDA considers the inspection to be necessary, the FDA is able to validate the data through an on-site inspection or other appropriate means.
Before approving an NDA or BLA, the FDA will conduct a pre-approval inspection of the manufacturing facility or facilities for the new product to determine whether they comply with cGMP requirements. The FDA will not approve an application unless it determines that the manufacturing processes and facilities are in compliance with cGMP requirements and adequate to assure consistent production of the product within required specifications. The FDA also may audit data from clinical trials to ensure compliance with GCP requirements. Additionally, the FDA may refer applications for novel products or products which present difficult questions of safety or efficacy to an advisory committee, typically a panel that includes clinicians and other experts, for review, evaluation and a recommendation as to whether the application should be approved and under what conditions, if any. The FDA is not bound by recommendations of the advisory committee, but it considers such recommendations when making decisions on approval. Additionally, before approving an NDA or BLA, the FDA will typically inspect one or more clinical sites to assure compliance with GCPs. If the FDA determines that the application, manufacturing process or manufacturing facilities are not acceptable, it will outline the deficiencies in the submission and often will request additional testing or information. Notwithstanding the submission of any requested additional information, the FDA ultimately may decide that the application does not satisfy the regulatory criteria for approval.
After the FDA evaluates an NDA or BLA and conducts inspections of manufacturing facilities where the investigational product and/or its drug substance will be manufactured, the FDA will issue an approval letter or a Complete Response letter. An approval letter authorizes commercial marketing of the product with specific prescribing information for specific indications. A Complete Response letter indicates that the review cycle of the application is complete and the application will not be approved in its present form. A Complete Response letter usually describes all of the specific deficiencies that the FDA has identified in the NDA or BLA, except that where the FDA determines that the data supporting the application are inadequate to support approval, the FDA may issue the Complete Response letter without first conducting required inspections, testing submitted product lots and/or reviewing proposed labeling. In issuing the Complete Response letter, the FDA may recommend actions that the applicant might take to place the application in condition for approval, including requests for additional information or clarification, which may include the potential requirement for additional clinical studies, including the potential requirement to conduct additional clinical trial(s) and/or to complete other significant and time-consuming requirements related to clinical trials, or to conduct additional preclinical studies or manufacturing activities. If a Complete Response Letter is issued, the applicant may either resubmit the NDA or BLA, addressing all of the deficiencies identified in the letter, or withdraw the application or request an opportunity for a hearing. Even if such data and information are submitted, the FDA may decide that the NDA or BLA does not satisfy the criteria for approval. Data obtained from clinical trials are not always conclusive and the FDA may interpret data differently than we interpret the same data.
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Orphan Drug Designation
Under the Orphan Drug Act, the FDA may grant orphan designation to a drug or biologic intended to treat a rare disease or condition, which is a disease or condition that affects fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States, or more than 200,000 individuals in the United States for which there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing and making available in the United States a drug or biologic for this type of disease or condition will be recovered from sales in the United States for that drug or biologic. Orphan drug designation must be requested before submitting an NDA or BLA. After the FDA grants orphan drug designation, the generic identity of the therapeutic agent and its potential orphan use are disclosed publicly by the FDA. The orphan drug designation does not convey any advantage in, or shorten the duration of, the regulatory review or approval process.
If a product that has orphan drug designation subsequently receives the first FDA approval for the disease for which it has such designation, the product is entitled to orphan drug exclusivity, which means that the FDA may not approve any other applications, including a full NDA or BLA, to market the same product for the same indication for seven years, except in limited circumstances, such as a showing of clinical superiority to the product with orphan drug exclusivity or if the FDA finds that the holder of the orphan drug exclusivity has not shown that it can assure the availability of sufficient quantities of the orphan drug to meet the needs of patients with the disease or condition for which the drug was designated. Orphan drug exclusivity does not prevent the FDA from approving a different drug or biologic for the same disease or condition, or the same drug or biologic for a different disease or condition. Among the other benefits of orphan drug designation are tax credits for certain research and a waiver of the application fee.
A designated orphan drug may not receive orphan drug exclusivity if it is approved for a use that is broader than the indication for which it received orphan designation. In addition, exclusive marketing rights in the United States may be lost if the FDA later determines that the request for designation was materially defective or if the manufacturer is unable to assure sufficient quantities of the product to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition.
Post-Approval Requirements
Following approval of a new product, the manufacturer and the approved product are subject to pervasive and continuing regulation by the FDA, including, among other things, requirements relating to monitoring and record-keeping, reporting of adverse experiences, periodic reporting, product sampling and distribution, compliance with advertising and promotion requirements, which include restrictions on promoting the product for unapproved uses or patient populations, known as “off-label use,” and limitations on industry-sponsored scientific and educational activities. Further, after approval, if there are any changes or modifications to the approved product, including changes in indications, labeling or manufacturing processes or facilities, the applicant may be required to submit and obtain FDA review and approval of a new NDA/BLA or NDA/BLA supplement, which may require the development of additional data or preclinical studies and clinical trials.
The FDA may also place other conditions on approvals including the requirement for a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy, or REMS, to assure the safe use of the product. If the FDA concludes a REMS is needed, the sponsor of the NDA or BLA must submit a proposed REMS. A REMS is a safety strategy to manage a known or potential serious risk associated with a product and to enable patients to have continued access to such medicines by managing their safe use, and could include medication guides, physician communication plans, or elements to assure safe use, such as restricted distribution methods, patient registries and other risk minimization tools. The FDA will not approve the NDA or BLA without an approved REMS, if required. The FDA also may condition approval on, among other things, changes to proposed labeling or the development of adequate controls and specifications. Once approved, the FDA may withdraw the product approval if compliance with pre- and post-marketing requirements is not maintained or if problems occur after the product reaches the marketplace. The FDA may require one or more Phase 4 post-market studies and surveillance to further assess and monitor the product’s safety and effectiveness after commercialization, and may limit further marketing of the product based on the results of these post-marketing studies. Product approvals may be withdrawn for non-compliance with regulatory standards or if problems occur following initial marketing.
The FDA may withdraw approval if compliance with regulatory requirements and standards is not maintained or if problems occur after the product reaches the market. Later discovery of previously unknown problems with a product, including adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or with manufacturing processes, or failure to comply with regulatory requirements, may result in revisions to the approved labeling to add new safety information; imposition of post-market studies or clinical studies to assess new safety risks; or imposition of distribution restrictions or other restrictions under a REMS program. Other potential consequences include, among other things:
restrictions on the marketing or manufacturing of the product, complete withdrawal of the product from the market or product recalls;
fines, warning or untitled letters or holds on post-approval clinical studies;
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refusal of the FDA to approve pending applications or supplements to approved applications, or suspension or revocation of existing product approvals;
product seizure or detention, or refusal of the FDA to permit the import or export of products;
consent decrees, corporate integrity agreements, debarment or exclusion from federal healthcare programs;
mandated modification of promotional materials and labeling and the issuance of corrective information;
the issuance of safety alerts, Dear Healthcare Provider letters, press releases and other communications containing warnings or other safety information about the product; or
injunctions or the imposition of civil or criminal penalties.
The FDA closely regulates the marketing, labeling, advertising and promotion of drugs and biologics. Drugs and biologics may be promoted only for the approved indications and in accordance with the provisions of the approved label. However, companies may share truthful and not misleading information that is otherwise consistent with a product’s FDA approved labeling. The FDA and other agencies actively enforce the laws and regulations prohibiting the promotion of off-label uses. Failure to comply with these requirements can result in, among other things, adverse publicity, warning letters, corrective advertising and potential civil and criminal penalties. Physicians may prescribe legally available products for uses that are not described in the product’s labeling and that differ from those tested by us and approved by the FDA. Such off-label uses are common across medical specialties. Physicians may believe that such off-label uses are the best treatment for many patients in varied circumstances. The FDA does not regulate the behavior of physicians in their choice of treatments. The FDA does, however, restrict manufacturer’s communications on the subject of off-label use of their products.
Biosimilars and Exclusivity
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, or collectively the ACA, includes a subtitle called the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, or BPCI Act, which created an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products shown to be similar to, or interchangeable with, an FDA-licensed reference biological product. To date, only a handful of biosimilars have been licensed under the BPCIA, although numerous biosimilars have been approved in Europe. The FDA has issued several guidance documents outlining an approach to review and approval of biosimilars.
Biosimilarity, which requires that there be no clinically meaningful differences between the biological product and the reference product in terms of safety, purity, and potency, can be shown through analytical studies, animal studies, and a clinical study or studies. Interchangeability requires that a product is biosimilar to the reference product and the product must demonstrate that it can be expected to produce the same clinical results as the reference product and, for products administered multiple times, the biologic and the reference biologic may be switched after one has been previously administered without increasing safety risks or risks of diminished efficacy relative to exclusive use of the reference biologic. However, complexities associated with the larger, and often more complex, structure of biological products, as well as the process by which such products are manufactured, pose significant hurdles to implementation that are still being worked out by the FDA.
Under the BPCIA, an application for a biosimilar product may not be submitted to the FDA until four years following the date that the reference product was first licensed by the FDA. In addition, the approval of a biosimilar product may not be made effective by the FDA until 12 years from the date on which the reference product was first licensed. During this 12-year period of exclusivity, another company may still market a competing version of the reference product if the FDA approves a full BLA for the competing product containing the sponsor’s own preclinical data and data from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials to demonstrate the safety, purity and potency of their product. The BPCIA also created certain exclusivity periods for biosimilars approved as interchangeable products. At this juncture, it is unclear whether products deemed “interchangeable” by the FDA will, in fact, be readily substituted by pharmacies, which are governed by state pharmacy law.
A biological product can also obtain pediatric market exclusivity in the United States. Pediatric exclusivity, if granted, adds six months to existing exclusivity periods and patent terms. This six-month exclusivity, which runs from the end of other exclusivity protection or patent term, may be granted based on the voluntary completion of a pediatric study in accordance with an FDA-issued “Written Request” for such a study.
Foreign Regulation
In order to market any product outside of the United States, we would need to comply with numerous and varying regulatory requirements of other countries and jurisdictions regarding quality, safety, and efficacy and governing, among other things, clinical trials, marketing authorization, commercial sales and distribution of our products. Whether or not we obtain FDA approval for a product, we would need to obtain the necessary approvals by the comparable foreign
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regulatory authorities before we can commence clinical trials or marketing of the product in foreign countries and jurisdictions.
Australia
Our Phase 1 trial for KER-047 and our Phase 1 trial for KER-050 were both conducted in Australia, and our Phase 2 trial for KER-050 is being conducted in Australia. The Therapeutic Goods Administration, or the TGA, and the National Health and Medical Research Council set the GCP requirements for clinical research in Australia, and compliance with these codes is mandatory. Australia has also adopted international codes, such as those promulgated by the International Council for Harmonization of Technical Requirements for Registration of Pharmaceuticals for Human Use, or the ICH. The ICH guidelines must be complied with across all fields of clinical research, including those related to pharmaceutical quality, nonclinical and clinical data requirements and trial designs. The basic requirements for preclinical data to support a first-in-human trial under ICH guidelines are applicable in Australia. Requirements related to adverse event reporting in Australia are similar to those required in other major jurisdictions.
Clinical trials conducted using “unapproved therapeutic goods” in Australia, being those which have not yet been evaluated by the TGA for quality, safety and efficacy must occur pursuant to either the Clinical Trial Notification Scheme, or the CTN Scheme, or the Clinical Trial Exemption Scheme, or the CTX Scheme. In each case, the trial is supervised by a Human Research Ethics Committee, or HREC, an independent review committee set up under guidelines of the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council that ensures the protection of rights, safety and well-being of human subjects involved in a clinical trial. A HREC does this by reviewing, approving and providing continuing examination of trial protocols and amendments, and of the methods and material to be used in obtaining and documenting informed consent of the trial subjects.
The CTN Scheme broadly involves:
completion of preclinical laboratory and animal testing;
submission to a HREC, of all material relating to the proposed clinical trial, including the trial protocol;
the institution or organisation at which the trial will be conducted, referred to as the “Approving Authority”, giving final approval for the conduct of the trial at the site, having regard to the advice from the HREC; and
the investigator submitting a ‘Notification of Intent to Conduct a Clinical Trial’ form, or CTN Form, to the TGA. The CTN form must be signed by the sponsor, the principal investigator, the chairman of the HREC and a person responsible from the Approving Authority. The TGA does not review any data relating to the clinical trial however CTN trials cannot commence until the trial has been notified to the TGA.
Under the CTX Scheme:
a sponsor submits an application to conduct a clinical trial to the TGA for evaluation and comment; and
a sponsor must forward any comments made by the TGA Delegate to the HREC(s) at the sites where the trial will be conducted.
A sponsor cannot commence a trial under the CTX Scheme until written advice has been received from the TGA regarding the application and approval for the conduct of the trial has been obtained from an ethics committee and the institution at which the trial will be conducted.
Approval for inclusion in the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods, or ARTG, is required before a pharmaceutical product may be marketed (or imported, exported or manufactured) in Australia. In order to obtain registration of the product on the ARTG, it is required that:
adequate and well-controlled clinical trials demonstrate the quality, safety and efficacy of the therapeutic product;
evidence is compiled which demonstrates that the manufacture of the therapeutic product complies with the principles of cGMP;
manufacturing and clinical data is derived to submit to the Advisory Committee on Prescription Medicines, which makes recommendations to the TGA as to whether or not to grant approval to include the therapeutic product in the ARTG; and
an ultimate decision is made by the TGA whether to include the therapeutic product in the ARTG.
Other Healthcare Laws and Compliance Requirements
Pharmaceutical companies are subject to additional healthcare regulation and enforcement by the federal government and by authorities in the states and foreign jurisdictions in which they conduct their business. Such laws include, without limitation: the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, the civil False Claims Act, U.S. federal Health Insurance Portability and
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Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, and similar foreign, federal and state fraud and abuse, transparency and privacy laws.
The U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute prohibits, among other things, persons and entities from knowingly and willfully soliciting, receiving, offering or paying remuneration, to induce, or in return for, either the referral of an individual, or the purchase or recommendation of an item or service for which payment may be made under any federal healthcare program. The term remuneration has been interpreted broadly to include anything of value, including stock options. The U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute has been interpreted to apply to arrangements between pharmaceutical manufacturers on one hand and prescribers, purchasers, and others on the other hand. There are a number of statutory exceptions and regulatory safe harbors protecting some common activities from prosecution, but they are drawn narrowly, and practices that involve remuneration, such as consulting agreements, that may be alleged to be intended to induce prescribing, purchasing or recommending may be subject to scrutiny if they do not qualify for an exception or safe harbor. Failure to meet all of the requirements of a particular applicable statutory exception or regulatory safe harbor does not make the conduct per se illegal under the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute. Instead, the legality of the arrangement will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis based on a cumulative review of all of its facts and circumstances. Our practices may not in all cases meet all of the criteria for protection under a statutory exception or regulatory safe harbor. A person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation. In addition, a claim including items or services resulting from a violation of the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the civil False Claims Act.
Civil and criminal false claims laws, including the civil False Claims Act, which can be enforced through civil whistleblower or qui tam actions, and civil monetary penalty laws prohibit, among other things, individuals or entities from knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, claims for payment to the federal government, including federal healthcare programs, that are false or fraudulent. For example, the civil False Claims Act prohibits any person or entity from knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, a false claim for payment to the federal government or knowingly making, using or causing to be made or used a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim to the federal government. A claim includes “any request or demand” for money or property presented to the U.S. government. Pharmaceutical and other healthcare companies have been prosecuted under these laws for allegedly providing free product to customers with the expectation that the customers would bill federal programs for the product.
HIPAA created additional federal civil and criminal liability for, among other things, executing a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program, including private third-party payors, and making false statements relating to healthcare matters. Similar to the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, a person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation. In addition, HIPAA, as amended by HITECH, and their implementing regulations, impose certain requirements on HIPAA covered entities, which include certain healthcare providers, healthcare clearing houses and health plans, and individuals and entities that provide services on their behalf that involve individually identifiable health information, known as business associates, as well as their covered subcontractors, relating to the privacy, security and transmission of individually identifiable health information.
The U.S. federal Physician Payments Sunshine Act requires certain manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologics and medical supplies that are reimbursable under Medicare, Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with specific exceptions, to report annually to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, information related to certain payments and other transfers of value made in the prior year to physicians (defined to include doctors, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, and chiropractors) and teaching hospitals, as well as ownership and investment interests held by such physicians and their immediate family members. Beginning in 2022, applicable manufacturers also will be required to report information regarding payments and other transfers of value provided to physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologist assistants and certified nurse midwives during the previous year.
We are also subject to additional similar U.S. state and foreign law equivalents of each of the above federal laws, such as anti-kickback and false claims laws which may apply to sales or marketing arrangements and claims involving healthcare items or services reimbursed by non-governmental third-party payors, including private insurers, or that apply regardless of payor, state laws which require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the pharmaceutical industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the relevant compliance guidance promulgated by the federal government, state and local laws which require pharmaceutical companies to report information related to payments and other transfers of value to physicians and other healthcare providers or marketing expenditures, state laws which require the reporting of information related to drug pricing, state and local laws requiring the registration of pharmaceutical sales representatives, and state and foreign laws governing the privacy and security of health information which, in some cases, differ from each other in significant ways, and may not have the same effect, thus
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complicating compliance efforts. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of such laws or any other governmental regulations that apply, we may be subject to penalties, including, without limitation, significant civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, fines, exclusion from government-funded healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid or similar programs in other countries or jurisdictions, integrity oversight and reporting obligations to resolve allegations of non-compliance, disgorgement, imprisonment, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations.
Coverage and Reimbursement
Significant uncertainty exists as to the coverage and reimbursement status of any pharmaceutical or biological product for which we obtain regulatory approval. Sales of any product, if approved, depend, in part, on the extent to which such product will be covered by third-party payors, such as federal, state, and foreign government healthcare programs, commercial insurance and managed healthcare organizations, and the level of reimbursement, if any, for such product by third-party payors. No uniform policy for coverage and reimbursement exists in the United States, and coverage and reimbursement can differ significantly from payor to payor. Decisions regarding whether to cover any of our product candidates, if approved, the extent of coverage and amount of reimbursement to be provided are made on a plan-by-plan basis Third-party payors often rely upon Medicare coverage policy and payment limitations in setting their own reimbursement rates, but also have their own methods and approval process apart from Medicare determinations. As a result, the coverage determination process is often a time-consuming and costly process that will require us to provide scientific and clinical support for the use of our product candidates to each payor separately, with no assurance that coverage and adequate reimbursement will be applied consistently or obtained in the first instance.
For products administered under the supervision of a physician, obtaining coverage and adequate reimbursement may be particularly difficult because of the higher prices often associated with such drugs. Additionally, separate reimbursement for the product itself or the treatment or procedure in which the product is used may not be available, which may impact physician utilization. In addition, companion diagnostic tests require coverage and reimbursement separate and apart from the coverage and reimbursement for their companion pharmaceutical or biological products. Similar challenges to obtaining coverage and reimbursement, applicable to pharmaceutical or biological products, will apply to companion diagnostics.
In addition, the U.S. government, state legislatures and foreign governments have continued implementing cost-containment programs, including price controls, restrictions on coverage and reimbursement and requirements for substitution of generic products. Third-party payors are increasingly challenging the prices charged for medical products and services, examining the medical necessity and reviewing the cost effectiveness of pharmaceutical or biological products, medical devices and medical services, in addition to questioning safety and efficacy. Adoption of price controls and cost-containment measures, and adoption of more restrictive policies in jurisdictions with existing controls and measures, could further limit sales of any product that receives approval. Decreases in third-party reimbursement for any product or a decision by a third party not to cover a product could reduce physician usage and patient demand for the product. No regulatory authority has granted approval for a personalized cancer immunotherapy based on a vaccine approach, and there is no model for reimbursement of this type of product.
Healthcare Reform
The United States and some foreign jurisdictions are considering or have enacted a number of reform proposals to change the healthcare system. There is significant interest in promoting changes in healthcare systems with the stated goals of containing healthcare costs, improving quality or expanding access. In the United States, the pharmaceutical industry has been a particular focus of these efforts and has been significantly affected by federal and state legislative initiatives, including those designed to limit the pricing, coverage, and reimbursement of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products, especially under government-funded healthcare programs, and increased governmental control of drug pricing.
The ACA, which was enacted in March 2010, substantially changed the way healthcare is financed by both governmental and private insurers in the United States, and significantly affected the pharmaceutical industry. The ACA contains a number of provisions of particular import to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, including, but not limited to, those governing enrollment in federal healthcare programs, a new methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program are calculated for drugs that are inhaled, infused, instilled, implanted or injected, and annual fees based on pharmaceutical companies’ share of sales to federal healthcare programs. Since its enactment, there have been judicial, Congressional and executive branch challenges to certain aspects of the ACA. For example, Congress considered legislation to repeal or repeal and replace all or part of the ACA. While Congress has not passed comprehensive repeal legislation, it has enacted laws that modify certain provisions of the ACA such as removing penalties, which started on January 1, 2019, for not complying with the ACA’s individual mandate to carry health insurance, delaying the implementation of certain ACA-mandated fees, and increasing the
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point-of-sale discount that is owed by pharmaceutical manufacturers who participate in Medicare Part D. In addition, the 2020 federal spending package permanently eliminated, effective January 1, 2020, the ACA-mandated “Cadillac” tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage and medical device tax and, effective January 1, 2021, also eliminated the health insurer tax. On December 14, 2018, a U.S. District Court Judge in Texas ruled that the ACA is unconstitutional in its entirety because the “individual mandate” was repealed by Congress as part of legislation enacted in 2017, informally titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Additionally, on December 18, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional and remanded the case back to the District Court to determine whether the remaining provisions of the ACA are invalid as well. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case, although it is unknown when a decision will be made. Further, although the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA, on January 28, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order to initiate a special enrollment period from February 15, 2021 through May 15, 2021 for purposes of obtaining health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace. The executive order also instructs certain governmental agencies to review and reconsider their existing policies and rules that limit access to healthcare, including among others, reexamining Medicaid demonstration projects and waiver programs that include work requirements, and policies that create unnecessary barriers to obtaining access to health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the ACA.
Other legislative changes have been proposed and adopted since the ACA was enacted, including aggregate reductions of Medicare payments to providers of 2% per fiscal year and reduced payments to several types of Medicare providers. These reductions went into effect in April 2013 and, due to subsequent legislative amendments to the statute, will remain in effect through 2030, with the exception of a temporary suspension from May 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021, unless additional action is taken by Congress.
Moreover, there has recently been heightened governmental scrutiny over the manner in which manufacturers set prices for their marketed products, which has resulted in several Congressional inquiries and proposed and enacted federal and state legislation designed to, among other things, bring more transparency to product pricing, review the relationship between pricing and manufacturer patient programs, and reform government program reimbursement methodologies for drug products. At the federal level, the Trump administration used several means to propose or implement drug pricing reform, including through federal budget proposals, executive orders and policy initiatives. For example, on July 24, 2020 and September 13, 2020, the Trump administration announced several executive orders related to prescription drug pricing that seek to implement several of the administration’s proposals. As a result, the FDA released a final rule on September 24, 2020, effective November 30, 2020, providing guidance for states to build and submit importation plans for drugs from Canada. Further, on November 20, 2020, HHS finalized a regulation removing safe harbor protection for price reductions from pharmaceutical manufacturers to plan sponsors under Medicare Part D, either directly or through pharmacy benefit managers, unless the price reduction is required by law. The implementation of the rule has been delayed by the Biden administration from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023 in response to ongoing litigation. The rule also creates a new safe harbor for price reductions reflected at the point-of-sale, as well as a new safe harbor for certain fixed fee arrangements between pharmacy benefit managers and manufacturers, the implementation of which have also been delayed pending review by the Biden administration until March 22, 2021. On November 20, 2020, CMS issued an interim final rule implementing the Trump administration’s Most Favored Nation executive order, which would tie Medicare Part B payments for certain physician-administered drugs to the lowest price paid in other economically advanced countries, effective January 1, 2021. On December 28, 2020, the U.S. District Court in Northern California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of the interim final rule. It is unclear whether the Biden administration will work to reverse these measures or pursue similar policy initiatives. At the state level, legislatures have increasingly passed legislation and implemented regulations designed to control pharmaceutical product pricing, including price or patient reimbursement constraints, discounts, restrictions on certain product access and marketing cost disclosure and transparency measures, and, in some cases, designed to encourage importation from other countries and bulk purchasing. Further, it is possible that additional governmental action is taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Additional Regulation
In addition to the foregoing, state and federal laws regarding environmental protection and hazardous substances, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act, affect our business. These and other laws govern the use, handling and disposal of various biologic, chemical and radioactive substances used in, and wastes generated by, operations. If our operations result in contamination of the environment or expose individuals to hazardous substances, we could be liable for damages and governmental fines. Equivalent laws have been adopted in other countries that impose similar obligations.
U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act
The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, prohibits U.S. corporations and individuals from engaging in certain activities to obtain or retain business abroad or to influence a person working in an official capacity. It is illegal to pay,
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offer to pay or authorize the payment of anything of value to any foreign government official, government staff member, political party or political candidate in an attempt to obtain or retain business or to otherwise influence a person working in an official capacity. The scope of the FCPA includes interactions with certain healthcare professionals in many countries. Equivalent laws have been adopted in other foreign countries that impose similar obligations.
Employees and Human Capital Resources
As of December 31, 2020, we had 35 full-time employees, including ten who hold Ph.D. or M.D. degrees. Of these full-time employees, 25 employees are engaged in research and development and ten employees are engaged in management or general and administrative activities. None of our employees are subject to a collective bargaining agreement or represented by a trade or labor union. We consider our relationship with our employees to be good.
Our human capital objectives include, as applicable, identifying, recruiting, retaining, incentivizing and integrating our existing and additional employees. The principal purposes of our equity incentive plans are to attract, retain and motivate selected employees, consultants and directors through the granting of stock-based compensation awards and cash-based performance bonus awards.
Corporate Information
We were originally incorporated under the laws of the State of Delaware under the name Keros Therapeutics, Inc. in December 2015. Our principal executive office is located at 99 Hayden Avenue, Suite 120, Building E, Lexington, Massachusetts 02421. Our telephone number is (617) 314-6297. We completed our initial public offering in April 2020 and our common stock is listed on the Nasdaq Global Market under the symbol “KROS.”
Available Information
Our website address is www.kerostx.com and our investor relations website address is https://ir.kerostx.com/. Our Annual Reports on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K and amendments to those reports filed or furnished pursuant to Sections 13(a) and 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, are available free of charge on our investor relations website as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such material with, or furnish it to, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC. The SEC maintains an internet site that contains reports, proxy and information statements and other information. The address of the SEC’s website is www.sec.gov.
Further corporate governance information, including our corporate governance guidelines and board committee charters, is also available on our investor relations website under the heading "Corporate Governance." The contents of our websites are not intended to be incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on Form 10-K or in any other report or document we file with the SEC, and any references to our websites are intended to be inactive textual references only.
ITEM 1A. RISK FACTORS
Our business is subject to numerous risks. You should consider carefully the risks and uncertainties described below, in addition to other information contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K as well as our other public filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC. Any of the following risks could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects and cause the trading price of our common stock to decline
Risks Related to Our Financial Position and Need for Additional Capital
We have a limited operating history, have incurred net losses in every year since our inception and anticipate that we will continue to incur net losses in the future.
We are a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company with a limited operating history. Since our inception in 2015, we have invested most of our resources in developing our product candidates, building our intellectual property portfolio, developing our supply chain, conducting business planning, raising capital and providing general and administrative support for these operations. Consequently, we have no meaningful operations upon which to evaluate our business and predictions about our future success or viability may not be as accurate as they could be if we had a longer operating history or a history of successfully developing and commercializing drug products. Investment in biopharmaceutical product development is highly speculative because it entails substantial upfront capital expenditures and significant risk that any potential product candidate will fail to demonstrate adequate effect or an acceptable safety profile, gain regulatory approval and become commercially viable. We have not yet demonstrated the ability to progress any product candidate through late-stage clinical trials, we have no products approved for commercial sale and we have
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not generated any revenue from product sales to date. We continue to incur significant research and development and other expenses related to our ongoing operations. As a result, we are not profitable and have incurred losses in each period since our inception. For the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, we reported a net loss of $45.4 million and $12.3 million, respectively. As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of $65.0 million. We expect to continue to incur significant losses for the foreseeable future, and we expect these losses to increase as we continue our research and development of, and seek regulatory approvals for, our lead protein therapeutic product candidate, KER-050, our lead small molecule product candidate, KER-047, our third product candidate, KER-012, and any future product candidates we may develop.
We anticipate that our expenses will increase substantially if, and as, we:
complete our Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-050 evaluating the treatment of cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome, or MDS;
initiate an open-label Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-050 evaluating the treatment of cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with myelofibrosis in mid-2021;
initiate two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047 in the second half of 2021, one in patients with iron deficiency anemia, or IDA, and one in patients with iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia, or IRIDA;
initiate a Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-047 in patients with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP;
advance KER-012 into clinical development;
continue the research and development of our other clinical- and preclinical-stage product candidates and discovery-stage programs;
increase the amount of research and development activities to identify and develop product candidates using our proprietary discovery approach;
make milestone, royalty or other payments under in-license or collaboration agreements;
maintain, expand and protect our intellectual property portfolio;
expand our operational, financial and management systems and increase personnel, including personnel to support our clinical development, manufacturing and commercialization efforts and our operations as a public company;
establish a sales, marketing, medical affairs and distribution infrastructure to commercialize any products for which we may obtain marketing approval and intend to commercialize on our own or jointly with third parties;
invest in or in-license other technologies; and
experience any delays or encounter any issues with any of the above, including but not limited to failed studies, complex results, manufacturing challenges, safety issues or other regulatory challenges.
To become and remain profitable, we, our collaborators and any potential future collaborators must develop and eventually commercialize products with significant market potential. This will require us to be successful in a range of challenging activities, including completing preclinical studies and clinical trials, obtaining marketing approval for product candidates, manufacturing, marketing and selling products for which we may obtain marketing approval and satisfying any post-marketing requirements. We may never succeed in any or all of these activities and, even if we do, we may never generate revenue that is significant or large enough to achieve profitability. If we do achieve profitability, we may not be able to sustain or increase profitability on a quarterly or annual basis. Our failure to become and remain profitable would decrease the value of our company and could impair our ability to raise capital, maintain our research and development efforts, expand our business or continue our operations. A decline in the value of our company also could cause you to lose all or part of your investment.
Even if we succeed in commercializing one or more of our product candidates, we will continue to incur substantial research and development and other expenditures to develop and market additional product candidates. We may encounter unforeseen expenses, difficulties, complications, delays and other unknown factors that may adversely affect our business. The size of our future net losses will depend, in part, on the rate of future growth of our expenses and our ability to generate revenue. Our prior losses and expected future losses have had and will continue to have an adverse effect on our stockholders’ equity and working capital.
We will need substantial additional funding in order to complete the development and commence commercialization of our product candidates. Failure to obtain this necessary capital when needed may force us to delay, reduce or eliminate certain of our product development or research operations.
To date, we have funded our operations primarily through private placements of our equity securities, upfront and expense reimbursement payments received from our collaborators, from our initial public offering, or IPO, in April 2020 and from our public offering of common stock in November 2020. We expect our expenses to increase in connection with our ongoing activities, particularly as we complete our Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-050 in patients with MDS, initiate our Phase 2 clinical trial of KER-050 in patients with myelofibrosis, initiate three Phase 2 clinical trials of
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KER-047, one in patients with IDA, one in patients with IRIDA and one in patients with FOP, advance KER-012 into clinical development and initiate later-stage clinical development, and continue to research, develop and initiate clinical trials of any other future product candidates. In addition, if we obtain regulatory approval for any of our product candidates, we expect to incur significant commercialization expenses related to product manufacturing, marketing, sales and distribution. Furthermore, we expect to incur additional costs associated with operating as a public company. Accordingly, we will need to obtain substantial additional funding in connection with our continuing operations. If we are unable to raise capital when needed or on attractive terms, we could be forced to delay, reduce or eliminate our product development programs or any future commercialization efforts.
At December 31, 2020 we had $265.9 million in cash and cash equivalents. We expect that our existing cash and cash equivalents as of December 31, 2020 will enable us to fund our operating expenses and capital expenditure requirements into the fourth quarter of 2023. We have based this estimate on assumptions that may prove to be wrong, and we could use our capital resources sooner than we currently expect. Our future capital requirements for KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or our other preclinical programs will depend on many factors, including:
the progress, timing and completion of preclinical studies and clinical trials for our current or any future product candidates, as well as the associated costs, including any unforeseen costs we may incur as a result of preclinical study or clinical trial delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other causes;
the timing and amount of milestone and royalty payments we are required to make or are eligible to receive under our license agreement with The General Hospital Corporation;
the number of potential new product candidates we identify and decide to develop;
the need for additional or expanded preclinical studies and clinical trials beyond those that we plan to conduct with respect to our current and future product candidates;
the costs involved in growing our organization to the size needed to allow for the research, development and potential commercialization of our current or any future product candidates;
the costs involved in filing patent applications, maintaining and enforcing patents or defending against infringement or other claims raised by third parties;
the maintenance of our existing license and collaboration agreements and the entry into new license and collaboration agreements;
the time and costs involved in obtaining regulatory approval for our product candidates and any delays we may encounter as a result of evolving regulatory requirements or adverse results with respect to any of our product candidates;
the effect of competing technological and market developments;
the cost of manufacturing KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and future product candidates for clinical trials in preparation for marketing approval and in preparation for commercialization;
the cost of establishing sales, marketing and distribution capabilities for any product candidates for which we may receive regulatory approval in regions where we choose to commercialize our products on our own;
the amount of revenues, if any, we may derive either directly or in the form of royalty payments from future sales of our product candidates, if approved; and
market acceptance of any approved product candidates.
We do not have any committed external source of funds or other support for our development efforts and we cannot be certain that additional funding will be available on acceptable terms, or at all. Until we can generate sufficient product or royalty revenue to finance our cash requirements, which we may never do, we expect to finance our future cash needs through a combination of public or private equity offerings, debt financings, collaborations, strategic alliances, licensing arrangements and other marketing or distribution arrangements.
Our ability to raise additional funds will depend on financial, economic and market conditions and other factors, over which we may have no or limited control. If we are unable to obtain additional funding, we could be forced to delay, reduce or eliminate some or all of our research and development programs and clinical development efforts, which would adversely affect our business prospects, or we may be unable to continue operations.
Raising additional capital may cause dilution to holders of our common stock, restrict our operations or require us to relinquish rights to our technologies or product candidates.
Until such time, if ever, as we can generate substantial product revenues, we expect to finance our operations with our existing cash and cash equivalents and revenue from our collaborations. In order to further advance development of our product candidates, discover additional product candidates and pursue our other business objectives, we will need to seek additional funds.
We cannot guarantee that future financing will be available in sufficient amounts or on commercially reasonable terms, if at all. Moreover, the terms of any financing may adversely affect the holdings or the rights of holders of our common
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stock and the issuance of additional securities, whether equity or debt, by us, or the possibility of such issuance, may cause the market price of our common stock to decline. The sale of additional common stock or securities convertible or exchangeable into common stock would dilute all of our existing stockholders and the terms of these securities may include liquidation or other preferences that adversely affect your rights as a holder of our common stock. The incurrence of indebtedness could result in increased fixed payment obligations and we may be required to agree to certain restrictive covenants, such as limitations on our ability to incur additional debt or declare dividends, limitations on our ability to acquire, sell or license intellectual property rights and other operating restrictions that could adversely impact our ability to conduct our business. If we raise additional capital through marketing and distribution arrangements or other collaborations, strategic alliances or licensing arrangements with third parties, we may have to relinquish certain valuable rights to our product candidates, technologies, future revenue streams or research programs or grant licenses on terms that may not be favorable to us. We also could be required to seek collaborators for KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any future product candidate at an earlier stage than otherwise would be desirable or relinquish our rights to product candidates or technologies that we otherwise would seek to develop or commercialize ourselves. Further, any additional fundraising efforts may divert our management from its day-to-day activities, which may adversely affect our ability to develop and commercialize our product candidates.
Risks Related to the Discovery, Development and Regulatory Approval of our Product Candidates
We are heavily dependent on the success of our product candidates, which are in early clinical development. If we are unable to advance our current or future product candidates through clinical trials, obtain marketing approval and ultimately commercialize any product candidates we develop, or experience significant delays in doing so, our business will be materially harmed.
Before obtaining marketing approval from regulatory authorities for the sale of our product candidates, we must conduct extensive clinical trials to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of the product candidates in humans. We are early in our product candidate development efforts, as both KER-050 and KER-047 are still in early-stage clinical trials and KER-012 is still in preclinical studies. Because KER-050 and KER-047 are our lead product candidates, if either KER-050 or KER-047 encounters safety or efficacy problems, development delays or regulatory issues or other problems, our development plans and business would be significantly harmed.
Our ability to generate product revenues, which we do not expect will occur for several years, if ever, will depend heavily on the successful development and eventual commercialization of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any future product candidates we develop, which may never occur. KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any future product candidates we develop will require additional preclinical and clinical development, management of clinical, preclinical and manufacturing activities, marketing approval in the United States and other jurisdictions for specific indications for use, demonstrating effectiveness to pricing and reimbursement authorities, obtaining sufficient manufacturing supply for both clinical development and commercial production, building of a commercial organization and substantial investment and significant marketing efforts before we generate any revenues from product sales. The success of our current and future product candidates will depend on several factors, including the following:
successful and timely completion of clinical trials and preclinical studies for which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or the FDA, or any comparable foreign regulatory authority agree with the design, endpoints or implementation;
sufficiency of our financial and other resources to complete the necessary preclinical studies and clinical trials;
receiving regulatory approvals or authorizations for conducting our planned clinical trials or future clinical trials;
initiation and successful patient enrollment in, and completion of, additional clinical trials on a timely basis;
our ability to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA or any comparable foreign regulatory authority that the applicable product candidate is safe and effective as a treatment for our targeted indications or, in the case of an applicable product candidates which is regulated as a biological product, that the applicable product is safe, pure, and potent for our targeted indications;
our ability to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA or any comparable foreign regulatory authority that the applicable product candidate’s risk-benefit ratio for its proposed indication is acceptable;
timely receipt of marketing approvals for our product candidates from applicable regulatory authorities;
the extent of any required post-marketing approval commitments to applicable regulatory authorities;
establishing and scaling up, either alone or with third-party manufacturers, manufacturing capabilities of clinical supply for our clinical trials and commercial manufacturing, if any of our product candidates are approved;
obtaining and maintaining patent and trade secret protection or regulatory exclusivity for our product candidates, both in the United States and internationally;
successfully scaling a sales and marketing organization and launching commercial sales of our product candidates, if approved;
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acceptance of our product candidates’ benefits and uses, if approved, by patients, the medical community and third-party payors;
maintaining a continued acceptable safety profile of our product candidates following approval;
effectively competing with companies developing and commercializing other therapies in the indications which our product candidates target;
obtaining and maintaining healthcare coverage and adequate reimbursement from third-party payors; and
enforcing and defending intellectual property rights and claims.
If we are not successful with respect to one or more of these factors in a timely manner or at all, we could experience significant delays or an inability to successfully commercialize KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any future product candidates we develop, which would materially harm our business. If we do not receive marketing approvals for our current and future product candidates, we may not be able to continue our operations.
All of our product candidates are in preclinical or early clinical development stages. Clinical trials are difficult to design and implement, and they involve a lengthy and expensive process with uncertain outcomes. We may experience delays in completing, or ultimately be unable to complete, the development and commercialization of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any future product candidates.
Clinical testing is expensive and can take many years to complete, and its outcome is inherently uncertain. Failure can occur at any time during the clinical trial process and our future clinical trial results may not be successful. We cannot guarantee that any of our ongoing and planned clinical trials will be conducted as planned or completed on schedule, if at all. Moreover, even if these trials are initiated or conducted on a timely basis, issues may arise that could result in the suspension or termination of such clinical trials.
To date, we have not completed any clinical trials required for the approval of any of our product candidates. Although we have completed our Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-050 and our expanded Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047, each in healthy volunteers, we may experience delays in our ongoing clinical trials or preclinical studies and we do not know whether planned clinical trials will begin on time, need to be redesigned, enroll patients on time, have sufficient drug supply for our product candidates on a timely basis or be completed on schedule, if at all. A failure of one or more clinical trials can occur at any stage of testing, and our ongoing and future clinical trials may not be successful. We also may experience numerous unforeseen events during our clinical trials that could delay or prevent our ability to receive marketing approval or commercialize KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any future product candidates, including:
delays in or failure to obtain regulatory authorizations to commence a trial;
delays in reaching a consensus with regulatory agencies as to the design or implementation of our clinical trials;
delays in or failure to reach agreement on acceptable terms with prospective contract research organizations, or CROs, and clinical trial sites, the terms of which can be subject to extensive negotiation and may vary significantly among different CROs and trial sites;
delays in or failure to obtain institutional review board, or IRB, or ethics committee approval at each site;
delays in or failure to recruit a sufficient number of suitable patients to participate in a trial;
failure to have patients complete a trial or return for post-treatment follow-up, including disruptions in our ability to treat patients or conduct post-treatment follow-up due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
clinical sites deviating from trial protocol, missing data or dropping out of a trial;
delays in adding new clinical trial sites;
failure to manufacture sufficient quantities of our product candidates for use in clinical trials in a timely manner;
occurrence of adverse events associated with the product candidate that are viewed to outweigh its potential benefits, or safety or tolerability concerns that could cause us or our collaborators, as applicable, to suspend or terminate a trial if we or our collaborators find that the participants are being exposed to unacceptable health risks;
failure to perform clinical trials in accordance with the FDA’s or any other regulatory authority’s good clinical practices, or GCP, requirements, or regulatory guidelines in other countries;
changes in regulatory requirements, policies and guidelines;
failure of our third-party research contractors to comply with regulatory requirements or meet their contractual obligations to us in a timely manner, or at all;
delays in establishing the appropriate dosage levels and frequency of dosing in clinical trials;
the quality or stability of our product candidates falling below acceptable standards;
delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic; and
business interruptions resulting from geo-political actions, including war and terrorism, another outbreak of a contagious disease or natural disasters including earthquakes, typhoons, floods and fires.
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In addition, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in difficulties and delays in initiating, enrolling, conducting or completing our planned and ongoing preclinical studies and clinical trials, as applicable, and may increase the likelihood that we encounter additional difficulties and delays in the future. We could also encounter delays if a clinical trial is suspended or terminated by us, the IRBs of the institutions in which such trials are being conducted, or the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities, or recommended for suspension or termination by the Data Safety Monitoring Board for such trial. A suspension or termination may be imposed due to a number of factors, including failure to conduct the clinical trial in accordance with regulatory requirements or our clinical protocols, inspection of the clinical trial operations or trial site by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities resulting in the imposition of a clinical hold, unforeseen safety issues or adverse side effects, failure to demonstrate a benefit from using a product or treatment, failure to establish or achieve clinically meaningful trial endpoints, changes in governmental regulations or administrative actions or lack of adequate funding to continue the clinical trial. Many of the factors that cause, or lead to, a delay in the commencement or completion of clinical trials may also ultimately lead to the denial of regulatory approval of our product candidates. Further, the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with our clinical trial design and our interpretation of data from clinical trials, or may change the requirements for approval even after they have reviewed and commented on the design for our clinical trials.
Our product development costs will increase if we experience delays in clinical testing or marketing approvals. We do not know whether any of our clinical trials will begin as planned, will need to be restructured or will be completed on schedule, or at all. Significant clinical trial delays also could shorten any periods during which we may have the exclusive right to commercialize our product candidates and may allow our competitors to bring products to market before we do, potentially impairing our ability to successfully commercialize our product candidates and harming our business and results of operations. Any delays in our clinical development programs may harm our business, financial condition and results of operations significantly.
Our clinical trials may fail to demonstrate substantial evidence of the safety and efficacy or safety, purity and potency of our product candidates or any future product candidates, which would prevent or delay or limit the scope of regulatory approval and commercialization.
To obtain the requisite regulatory approvals to market and sell any of our product candidates, including KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any other future product candidates, we must demonstrate through extensive preclinical studies and clinical trials that our investigational drug products, such as KER-047, are safe and effective for use in each targeted indication, and in the case of our product candidates regulated as biological products, such as KER-050 and KER-012, that the product candidate is safe, pure and potent for use in its targeted indication. Clinical testing is expensive and can take many years to complete, and its outcome is inherently uncertain. Failure can occur at any time during the clinical development process. Most product candidates that begin clinical trials are never approved by regulatory authorities for commercialization. We may be unable to establish clinical endpoints that applicable regulatory authorities would consider clinically meaningful, and a clinical trial can fail at any stage of testing. Further, the process of obtaining regulatory approval is expensive, often takes many years following the commencement of clinical trials and can vary substantially based upon the type, complexity and novelty of the product candidates involved, as well as the target indications, patient population and regulatory agency. Prior to obtaining approval to commercialize KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any future product candidates in the United States or abroad, we, our collaborators or our potential future collaborators must demonstrate with substantial evidence from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials, and to the satisfaction of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities, that such product candidates are safe and effective for their intended uses.
Clinical trials that we conduct may not demonstrate the efficacy and safety necessary to obtain regulatory approval to market our product candidates. In some instances, there can be significant variability in safety or efficacy results between different clinical trials of the same product candidate due to numerous factors, including changes in trial procedures set forth in protocols, differences in the size and type of the patient populations, changes in and adherence to the clinical trial protocols and the rate of dropout among clinical trial participants. If the results of our ongoing or future clinical trials are inconclusive with respect to the efficacy of our product candidates, if we do not meet the clinical endpoints with statistical and clinically meaningful significance, or if there are safety concerns associated with our product candidates, we may be delayed in obtaining marketing approval, if at all. Additionally, any safety concerns observed in any one of our clinical trials in our targeted indications could limit the prospects for regulatory approval of our product candidates in those and other indications.
Even if the trials are successfully completed, clinical data are often susceptible to varying interpretations and analyses, and we cannot guarantee that the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities will interpret the results as we do, and more trials could be required before we submit our product candidates for approval. We cannot guarantee that the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities will view our product candidates as having efficacy even if positive results are observed in clinical trials. Moreover, results acceptable to support approval in one jurisdiction may be
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deemed inadequate by another regulatory authority to support regulatory approval in that other jurisdiction. To the extent that the results of the trials are not satisfactory to the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities for support of a marketing application, approval of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any future product candidates may be significantly delayed, or we may be required to expend significant additional resources, which may not be available to us, to conduct additional trials in support of potential approval of our product candidates. Even if regulatory approval is secured for a product candidate, the terms of such approval may limit the scope and use of the specific product candidate, which may also limit its commercial potential.
The results of preclinical studies and early-stage clinical trials of our product candidates may not be predictive of the results of later-stage clinical trials. Initial success in our ongoing clinical trials may not be indicative of results obtained when these trials are completed or in later-stage trials.
The results of nonclinical and preclinical studies and clinical trials may not be predictive of the results of later-stage clinical trials. Product candidates in later stages of clinical trials may fail to show the desired safety and efficacy traits despite having progressed through preclinical studies and initial clinical trials. Furthermore, there can be no assurance that any of our clinical trials will ultimately be successful or support further clinical development of any of our product candidates. There is a high failure rate for product candidates proceeding through clinical trials. Many companies in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries have suffered significant setbacks in late-stage clinical trials after achieving positive results in early-stage development and we cannot be certain that we will not face similar setbacks. These setbacks have been caused by, among other things, preclinical findings made while clinical trials were underway, or safety or efficacy observations made in preclinical studies and clinical trials, including previously unreported adverse events. Moreover, preclinical and clinical data are often susceptible to varying interpretations and analyses and many companies that believed their product candidates performed satisfactorily in preclinical studies and clinical trials nonetheless failed to obtain FDA approval. Any such setbacks in our clinical development could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Additionally, some of the clinical trials we conduct may include open-label trials conducted at a limited number of clinical sites on a limited number of patients. For example, our ongoing Phase 2 clinical trial for KER-050 in patients with MDS is an open-label trial. An “open-label” clinical trial is one where both the patient and investigator know whether the patient is receiving the investigational product candidate or either an existing approved product or placebo. Most typically, open-label clinical trials test only the investigational product candidate and sometimes may do so at different dose levels. Open-label clinical trials are subject to various limitations that may exaggerate any therapeutic effect as patients in open-label clinical trials are aware when they are receiving treatment. Open-label clinical trials may be subject to a “patient bias” where patients perceive their symptoms to have improved merely due to their awareness of receiving an experimental treatment. Moreover, patients selected for early-stage clinical trials often include the most severe sufferers and their symptoms may have been bound to improve notwithstanding the new treatment. In addition, open-label clinical trials may be subject to an “investigator bias” where those assessing and reviewing the physiological outcomes of the clinical trials are aware of which patients have received treatment and may interpret the information of the treated group more favorably given this knowledge. Given that open-label Phase 2 clinical trials are both ongoing and planned for KER-050, the results from these clinical trials may not be predictive of future clinical trial results with these or other product candidates for which we include an open-label clinical trial when studied in a controlled environment with a placebo or active control.
Our product candidates may be associated with serious adverse, undesirable or unacceptable side effects or other properties or safety risks, which may delay or halt their clinical development, or prevent marketing approval. If such side effects are identified during the development of our product candidates or following approval we may suspend or abandon our development of such product candidates, the commercial profile of any approved label may be limited, or we may be subject to other significant negative consequences following marketing approval.
Undesirable side effects that may be caused by our product candidates could cause us or regulatory authorities to interrupt, delay or halt clinical trials and could result in a more restrictive label or the delay or denial of regulatory approval by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities. While our lead product candidates, KER-050 and KER-047, have generally been well tolerated in our preclinical studies and clinical trials to date, the results from future preclinical studies and clinical trials, including of KER-012 and our other product candidates, may identify safety concerns or other undesirable properties of our product candidates.
The results of our ongoing and planned Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-050, our planned Phase 2 clinical trials of KER-047, our planned Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-012 and future clinical trials of these and other product candidates may show that our product candidates cause undesirable or unacceptable side effects or even death. In such an event, our trials could be suspended or terminated and the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities could order us to cease further development of or deny approval of our product candidates for any or all targeted indications. The drug-
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related side effects could affect patient recruitment or the ability of enrolled patients to complete the trial or result in potential product liability claims. Any of these occurrences may harm our business, financial condition and results of operations significantly.
Moreover, if our product candidates are associated with undesirable side effects in preclinical studies or clinical trials or have characteristics that are unexpected, we may elect to abandon their development or limit their development to more narrow uses or subpopulations in which the undesirable side effects or other characteristics are less prevalent, less severe or more acceptable from a risk-benefit perspective, which may limit the commercial expectations for the product candidate, if approved.
Additionally, adverse developments in clinical trials of pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical products conducted by others may cause the FDA or other regulatory oversight bodies to suspend or terminate our clinical trials or to change the requirements for approval of any of our product candidates.
Additionally, if any of our product candidates receives marketing approval and we or others later identify undesirable or unacceptable side effects caused by such products, a number of potentially significant negative consequences could result, including:
regulatory authorities may withdraw approvals of such product and require us to take our approved product off the market;
regulatory authorities may require the addition of labeling statements, specific warnings, a contraindication or field alerts to physicians and pharmacies;
regulatory authorities may require a medication guide outlining the risks of such side effects for distribution to patients, or that we implement a risk evaluation and mitigation strategy, or REMS, plan to ensure that the benefits of the product outweigh its risks;
we may be required to conduct additional clinical trials, which may lead to additional interactions with regulatory authorities;
we may be required to change the way the product is administered, conduct additional clinical trials or change the labeling of the product;
we may be subject to limitations on how we may promote the product;
sales of the product may decrease significantly;
we may be subject to litigation or product liability claims; and
our reputation may suffer.
Any of these events could prevent us, our collaborators or our potential future partners from achieving or maintaining market acceptance of the affected product or could substantially increase commercialization costs and expenses, which in turn could delay or prevent us from generating significant revenue from the sale of our product candidates, if approved.
We may find it difficult to enroll patients in our clinical trials, which could delay or prevent us from proceeding with, or otherwise adversely affect, clinical trials of our product candidates.
Identifying and qualifying patients to participate in clinical trials of our product candidates is critical to our success. The timely completion of our clinical trials in accordance with their protocols depends, among other things, on our ability to recruit a sufficient number of eligible patients to participate and remain in the trial until its conclusion. Patients may be unwilling to participate in our clinical trials because of negative publicity from adverse events related to novel therapeutic approaches, competitive clinical trials for similar patient populations, the existence of current treatments or for other reasons, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Any delays related to patient enrollment or difficulties related to patient retention could result in increased costs, delays in advancing our product candidates, delays in testing the effectiveness of our product candidates or termination of the clinical trials altogether. We may not be able to identify, recruit and enroll a sufficient number of patients, or those with the required or desired characteristics, to complete our clinical trials in a timely manner. Patient enrollment and trial completion is affected by many factors, including the:
size and nature of the patient population and process for identifying patients;
proximity and availability of clinical trial sites for prospective patients;
ability of patients to travel to clinical trial sites;
eligibility and exclusion criteria for the trial;
design of the clinical trial;
safety profile, to date, of the product candidate under study;
perceived risks and benefits of the product candidate under study;
perceived risks and benefits of our approach;
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approval of competing product candidates currently under investigation for the treatment of similar diseases or conditions, or competing clinical trials for similar product candidates or targeting patient populations meeting our patient eligibility criteria;
severity of the disease under investigation;
degree of progression of the patient’s disease at the time of enrollment and throughout the clinical trial;
ability to obtain and maintain patient consent;
risk that enrolled patients will drop out before completion of the trial;
patient referral practices of physicians; and
ability to adequately monitor patients during and after treatment.
Enrollment risks are heightened with respect to indications that are rare or orphan diseases, which may limit the pool of patients that may be enrolled in our planned clinical trials. For example, we are developing KER-047 for the treatment of FOP, which is a rare genetic disease, affecting an estimated 3,500 people worldwide. As a result, we may encounter difficulties enrolling subjects in our clinical trials evaluating KER-047 for the treatment of FOP due, in part, to the small size of this patient population. In addition, our clinical trials will compete with other clinical trials for product candidates that are in the same therapeutic areas as our product candidates, and this competition will reduce the number and types of patients available to us, because some patients who might have opted to enroll in our trials may instead opt to enroll in a trial being conducted by one of our competitors. Since the number of qualified clinical investigators is limited, we expect to conduct some of our clinical trials at the same clinical trial sites that some of our competitors use, which will reduce the number of patients who are available for our clinical trials in such clinical trial site.
Delays related to patient enrollment and difficulties related to patient retention may result in increased costs or may affect the timing or outcome of our future clinical trials, which could prevent completion of these trials and adversely affect our ability to advance the development of our product candidates.
Interim, topline and preliminary data from our clinical trials that we announce or publish from time to time may change as more patient data become available and are subject to audit and verification procedures that could result in material changes in the final data.
From time to time, we may publish interim, topline or preliminary data from our clinical trials. Preliminary and interim data from our clinical trials may change as more patient data become available. Preliminary or interim data from our clinical trials are not necessarily predictive of final results. Preliminary and interim data are subject to the risk that one or more of the clinical outcomes may materially change as patient enrollment continues, more patient data become available and we issue our final clinical trial report. Interim, topline and preliminary data also remain subject to audit and verification procedures that may result in the final data being materially different from the preliminary data we previously published. As a result, preliminary, topline and interim data should be viewed with caution until the final data are available. Material adverse changes in the final data compared to the interim data could significantly harm our business prospects.
Further, others, including regulatory agencies, may not accept or agree with our assumptions, estimates, calculations, conclusions or analyses or may interpret or weigh the importance of data differently, which could impact the value of the particular program, the approvability or commercialization of the particular product candidate or product, if any, and our company in general. In addition, the information we choose to publicly disclose regarding a particular preclinical study or clinical trial is based on what is typically extensive information, and you or others may not agree with what we determine is the material or otherwise appropriate information to include in our disclosure, and any information we determine not to disclose may ultimately be deemed significant with respect to future decisions, conclusions, views, activities or otherwise regarding a particular product, if any, product candidate or our business. If the preliminary and interim data that we report differ from actual results, or if others, including regulatory authorities, disagree with the conclusions reached, our ability to obtain approval for, and commercialize, our product candidates may be harmed, which could harm our business, operating results, prospects or financial condition.
Preclinical development is uncertain. Our preclinical programs may experience delays or may never advance to clinical trials, which would adversely affect our ability to obtain regulatory approvals or commercialize these programs on a timely basis or at all, which would have an adverse effect on our business.
Before we can commence clinical trials for any product candidate, we must complete extensive preclinical studies that support any future Investigational New Drug, or IND, applications in the United States, or similar applications in other jurisdictions. We have not interacted with or submitted any IND to the FDA and all of our clinical trials have, to date, been conducted in Australia and New Zealand. Conducting preclinical testing is a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive process and delays associated with product candidates for which we are directly conducting preclinical testing and studies may cause us to incur additional operating expenses. While we are conducting a Phase 2 clinical trial for KER-050 in patients with MDS and plan to initially conduct a Phase 2 clinical trial for KER-050 in patients with
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myelofibrosis and two Phase 2 clinical trials for KER-047, one in patients with IDA and one in patients with IRIDA, outside of the United States, we cannot be certain of the timely completion or outcome of our preclinical testing and studies for our other product candidates and cannot predict if the FDA will accept our proposed clinical programs or if the outcome of our preclinical testing and foreign clinical trials will ultimately support the further development of our other product candidates. As a result, we cannot be sure that we will be able to submit INDs or similar applications for our preclinical programs on the timelines we expect, if at all, and we cannot be sure that submission of INDs or similar applications will result in the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities allowing clinical trials to begin.
Our research and development activities could be affected or delayed as a result of possible restrictions on animal testing.
Certain laws and regulations require us to test our product candidates on animals before initiating clinical trials involving humans. Animal testing activities have been the subject of controversy and adverse publicity. Animal rights groups and other organizations and individuals have attempted to stop animal testing activities by pressing for legislation and regulation in these areas and by disrupting these activities through protests and other means. To the extent the activities of these groups are successful, our research and development activities may be interrupted, delayed or become more expensive.
The regulatory approval processes of the FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities are lengthy, time consuming and inherently unpredictable, and if we are ultimately unable to obtain regulatory approval for our product candidates, our business will be substantially harmed.
The time required to obtain approval by the FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities is unpredictable but typically takes many years following the commencement of clinical trials and depends upon numerous factors, including the substantial discretion of the regulatory authorities. In addition, approval policies, laws or regulations, or the type and amount of clinical data necessary to gain approval may change during the course of a product candidate’s clinical development and may vary among jurisdictions. We have not obtained regulatory approval for any product candidate and it is possible that none of our existing product candidates or any product candidates we may seek to develop in the future will ever obtain regulatory approval.
Our product candidates could fail to receive regulatory approval for many reasons, including the following:
the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with the design or implementation of our clinical trials;
we may be unable to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities that a product candidate is safe and effective as a treatment for our targeted indications, or, in the case of a product candidate regulated as a biological product, that the product candidate is safe, pure and potent for its proposed indication;
the population studied may not be sufficiently broad or representative to assure safety or efficacy in the population for which we seek approval;
the results of clinical trials may not meet the level of statistical significance required by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities for approval;
we may be unable to demonstrate that a product candidate’s clinical and other benefits outweigh its safety risks;
the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may disagree with our interpretation of data from preclinical studies or clinical trials;
the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may require additional preclinical studies or clinical trials beyond those that we currently anticipate;
the data collected from clinical trials of our product candidates may not be sufficient to support the submission of a New Drug Application, or NDA, or a Biologics License Application, or BLA, as applicable, to the FDA or other submission or to obtain regulatory approval in the United States or elsewhere;
the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may find deficiencies with or fail to approve the manufacturing processes or facilities of third-party manufacturers with which we contract for clinical and commercial supplies; and
the approval policies or regulations of the FDA or any comparable foreign regulatory authorities or the laws they enforce may significantly change in a manner rendering our clinical data insufficient for approval.
This lengthy approval process as well as the unpredictability of future clinical trial results may result in our failing to obtain regulatory approval to market any of our product candidates, which would significantly harm our business, financial condition and results of operations. The FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities have substantial discretion in the approval process, and determining when or whether regulatory approval will be obtained for any of our product candidates. Even if we believe the data collected from clinical trials of our product candidates are promising,
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such data may not be sufficient to support approval by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities. Separately, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has postponed most inspections of foreign and domestic manufacturing facilities and products, and as of February 2021, has only restarted domestic manufacturing facility inspection on a risk-based basis. Regulatory authorities outside the United States may continue to adopt similar restrictions or other policy measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If global health concerns continue to prevent the FDA or other regulatory authorities from conducting their regular inspections, reviews or other regulatory activities, it could significantly impact the ability of the FDA to timely review and process our regulatory submissions, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.
In addition, even if we were to obtain approval, regulatory authorities may approve any of our product candidates for fewer or more limited indications than we request, may not approve the price we intend to charge for our products, if any, may grant approval contingent on the performance of costly post-marketing clinical trials, or may approve a product candidate with a label that does not include the labeling claims necessary or desirable for the successful commercialization of that product candidate. Any of the foregoing scenarios could materially harm the commercial prospects for our product candidates.
The FDA and any comparable foreign regulatory authorities may not accept data from trials conducted in locations outside of their jurisdiction.
We are presently conducting clinical development solely in Australia and New Zealand and may choose to conduct additional international clinical trials in the future. We have not interacted with or submitted any IND to the FDA. The acceptance of study data by the FDA or any comparable foreign regulatory authority from clinical trials conducted outside of their respective jurisdictions may be subject to certain conditions or may not be accepted at all. In cases where data from foreign clinical trials are intended to serve as the basis for marketing approval in the United States, the FDA will generally not approve the application on the basis of foreign data alone unless (i) the data are applicable to the United States population and United States medical practice, (ii) the trials are performed by clinical investigators of recognized competence and pursuant to compliance with current GCP requirements and (iii) the FDA is able to validate the data through an on-site inspection or other appropriate mean. Additionally, the FDA’s clinical trial requirements, including the adequacy of the patient population studied and statistical powering, must be met. In addition, such foreign trials are subject to the applicable local laws of the foreign jurisdictions where the trials are conducted. There can be no assurance that the FDA or any applicable foreign regulatory authority will accept data from trials conducted outside of its applicable jurisdiction. If the FDA or any applicable foreign regulatory authority does not accept such data, it would result in the need for additional trials, which would be costly and time-consuming and delay aspects of our business plan, and which may result in our product candidates not receiving approval for commercialization in the applicable jurisdiction.
Even if we receive regulatory approval of a product candidate, we will be subject to ongoing regulatory obligations and continued regulatory review, which may result in significant additional expense and we may be subject to penalties if we fail to comply with regulatory requirements or experience unanticipated problems with such product candidate.
If any of our product candidates are approved, they will be subject to ongoing regulatory requirements for manufacturing, labeling, packaging, storage, advertising, promotion, sampling, record-keeping, conduct of post-marketing studies and submission of safety, efficacy and other post-market information, including both federal and state requirements in the United States and requirements of comparable foreign regulatory authorities. In addition, we will be subject to continued compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practices, or cGMPs, and GCP requirements for any clinical trials that we conduct post-approval.
Manufacturers and manufacturers’ facilities are required to comply with extensive FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authority requirements, including ensuring that quality control and manufacturing procedures conform to cGMP regulations. As such, we and our contract manufacturers will be subject to continual review and inspections to assess compliance with cGMP and adherence to commitments made in any NDA or BLA, other marketing application, and previous responses to inspection observations. Accordingly, we and others with whom we work must continue to expend time, money, and effort in all areas of regulatory compliance, including manufacturing, production and quality control.
Any regulatory approvals that we receive for our product candidates may be subject to limitations on the approved indicated uses for which the product may be marketed or to the conditions of approval, or contain requirements for potentially costly post-marketing testing, including Phase 4 clinical trials and surveillance to monitor the safety and efficacy of the product candidate. The FDA may also require a REMS program as a condition of approval of our product candidates, which could entail requirements for long-term patient follow-up, a medication guide, physician communication plans or additional elements to ensure safe use, such as restricted distribution methods, patient
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registries and other risk minimization tools. In addition, if the FDA or a comparable foreign regulatory authority approves our product candidates, we will have to comply with requirements including submissions of safety and other post-marketing information and reports and registration.
The FDA may impose consent decrees or withdraw approval if compliance with regulatory requirements and standards is not maintained or if problems occur after the product reaches the market. Later discovery of previously unknown problems with our product candidates, including adverse events of unanticipated severity or frequency, or with our third-party manufacturers or manufacturing processes, or failure to comply with regulatory requirements, may result in revisions to the approved labeling to add new safety information; imposition of post-market studies or clinical trials to assess new safety risks; or imposition of distribution restrictions or other restrictions under a REMS program. Other potential consequences include, among other things:
restrictions on the marketing or manufacturing of our products, withdrawal of the product from the market or voluntary or mandatory product recalls;
fines, warning letters or holds on clinical trials;
refusal by the FDA to approve pending applications or supplements to approved applications filed by us or suspension or revocation of license approvals;
product seizure or detention or refusal to permit the import or export of our product candidates; and
injunctions or the imposition of civil or criminal penalties.
The FDA strictly regulates marketing, labeling, advertising, and promotion of products that are placed on the market. Products may be promoted only for the approved indications and in accordance with the provisions of the approved label. The FDA and other agencies actively enforce the laws and regulations prohibiting the promotion of off-label uses and a company that is found to have improperly promoted off-label uses may be subject to significant liability including, among other things, adverse publicity, warning letters, corrective advertising and potential civil and criminal penalties. Physicians may prescribe, in their independent professional medical judgment, legally available products for uses that are not described in the product’s labeling and that differ from those tested by us and approved by the FDA. Physicians may believe that such off-label uses are the best treatment for many patients in varied circumstances. The FDA does not regulate the behavior of physicians in their choice of treatments. The FDA does, however, restrict manufacturer’s communications on the subject of off-label use of their products. The federal government has levied large civil and criminal fines against companies for alleged improper promotion of off-label use and has enjoined companies from engaging in off-label promotion. The FDA and other regulatory agencies have also required that companies enter into consent decrees or permanent injunctions under which specified promotional conduct is changed or curtailed. However, companies may share truthful and not misleading information that is otherwise consistent with a product’s FDA approved labeling.
The holder of an NDA or BLA must submit new or supplemental applications and obtain approval for certain changes to the approved product, product labeling, or manufacturing process. We could also be asked to conduct post-marketing clinical trials to verify the safety and efficacy of our products in general or in specific patient subsets. If original marketing approval was obtained via the accelerated approval pathway, we could be required to conduct a successful post-marketing clinical trial to confirm clinical benefit for our products. An unsuccessful post-marketing study or failure to complete such a study could result in the withdrawal of marketing approval.
The policies of the FDA and of comparable foreign regulatory authorities may change and additional government regulations may be enacted that could prevent, limit or delay regulatory approval of our product candidates. We cannot predict the likelihood, nature or extent of government regulation that may arise from future legislation or administrative action, either in the United States or abroad. If we are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies, or if we are not able to maintain regulatory compliance, we may lose any marketing approval that we may have obtained and we may not achieve or sustain profitability.
If approved, our investigational products regulated as biologics, including KER-050 and KER-012, may face competition from biosimilars approved through an abbreviated regulatory pathway.
We are developing KER-050 for the treatment of cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with MDS and myelofibrosis, and KER-012 for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of PAH, both of which we anticipate will be regulated as a biological product. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, as amended by the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, or collectively the ACA, includes a subtitle called the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act of 2009, or BPCIA, which created an abbreviated approval pathway for biological products that are biosimilar to or interchangeable with an FDA-licensed reference biological product. Under the BPCIA, an application for a biosimilar product may not be submitted to the FDA until four years following the date that the reference product was first licensed by the FDA. In addition, the approval of a biosimilar product may not be made effective by the FDA until 12 years from
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the date on which the reference product was first licensed. During this 12-year period of exclusivity, another company may still market a competing version of the reference product if the FDA approves a BLA for the competing product containing the sponsor’s own preclinical data and data from adequate and well-controlled clinical trials to demonstrate the safety, purity, and potency of the other company’s product. The law is complex and is still being interpreted and implemented by the FDA. As a result, its ultimate impact, implementation, and meaning are subject to uncertainty.
We believe that any of our product candidates approved as a biological product under a BLA should qualify for the 12-year period of exclusivity. However, there is a risk that this exclusivity could be shortened due to congressional action or otherwise, or that the FDA will not consider our investigational medicines to be reference products for competing products, potentially creating the opportunity for generic competition sooner than anticipated. Other aspects of the BPCIA, some of which may impact the BPCIA exclusivity provisions, have also been the subject of litigation. Moreover, the extent to which a biosimilar, once licensed, will be substituted for any one of our reference products in a way that is similar to traditional generic substitution for non-biological products is not yet clear, and will depend on a number of marketplace and regulatory factors that are still developing.
If competitors are able to obtain marketing approval for biosimilars referencing our products, our products may become subject to competition from such biosimilars, with the attendant competitive pressure and consequences.
We may become exposed to costly and damaging liability claims, either when testing our product candidates in the clinic or at the commercial stage, and our product liability insurance may not cover all damages from such claims.
We are exposed to potential product liability and professional indemnity risks that are inherent in the research, development, manufacturing, marketing and use of biopharmaceutical products. Currently, we have no products that have been approved for commercial sale; however, the current and future use of product candidates by us and our collaborators in clinical trials, and the potential sale of any approved products in the future, may expose us to liability claims. These claims might be made by patients who use the product, healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies, our collaborators or others selling such products. Any claims against us, regardless of their merit, could be difficult and costly to defend and could materially adversely affect the market for our product candidates or any prospects for commercialization of our product candidates. Regardless of the merits or eventual outcome, liability claims may result in:
decreased demand for our products due to negative public perception;
injury to our reputation;
withdrawal of clinical trial participants or difficulties in recruiting new trial participants;
initiation of investigations by regulators;
costs to defend or settle the related litigation;
a diversion of management’s time and our resources;
substantial monetary awards to trial participants or patients;
product recalls, withdrawals or labeling, marketing or promotional restrictions;
loss of revenues from product sales; and
the inability to commercialize any of our product candidates, if approved.
Although we believe we maintain adequate product liability insurance for our product candidates, it is possible that our liabilities could exceed our insurance coverage. We intend to expand our insurance coverage to include the sale of commercial products if we obtain marketing approval for any of our product candidates. However, we may not be able to maintain insurance coverage at a reasonable cost or obtain insurance coverage that will be adequate to satisfy any liability that may arise. If a successful product liability claim or series of claims is brought against us for uninsured liabilities or in excess of insured liabilities, our assets may not be sufficient to cover such claims and our business operations could be impaired. Should any of the events described above occur, this could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Due to our limited resources and access to capital, we must, and have in the past decided to, prioritize development of certain product candidates over other potential product candidates. These decisions may prove to have been wrong and may adversely affect our ability to develop our own programs, our attractiveness as a commercial partner and may ultimately have an impact on our commercial success.
Because we have limited resources and access to capital to fund our operations, we must decide which product candidates to pursue and the amount of resources to allocate to each. Our decisions concerning the allocation of research, collaboration, management and financial resources toward particular proprietary molecules in our library, product candidates or therapeutic areas may not lead to the development of viable commercial products and may divert resources away from better opportunities. Similarly, our decisions to delay, terminate or collaborate with third parties in
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respect of certain product development programs may also prove not to be optimal and could cause us to miss valuable opportunities. If we make incorrect determinations regarding the market potential of our product candidates or misread trends in the biopharmaceutical industry, in particular for our lead product candidates, KER-050, KER-047, as well as for KER-012, our business, financial condition and results of operations could be materially adversely affected.
We may seek orphan drug designation for product candidates we develop, and we may be unsuccessful or may be unable to maintain the benefits associated with orphan drug designation, including the potential for market exclusivity.
As part of our business strategy, we may seek orphan drug designation for any product candidates we develop, and we may be unsuccessful. While we have not made a determination regarding whether we intend to seek orphan drug designation for any of our product candidates at this time, we may do so in the future. Regulatory authorities in some jurisdictions, including the United States, may designate drugs for relatively small patient populations as orphan drugs. Under the Orphan Drug Act in the United States, the FDA may designate a drug as an orphan drug if it is a drug intended to treat a rare disease or condition, which is generally defined as a patient population of fewer than 200,000 individuals annually in the United States, or a patient population greater than 200,000 in the United States where there is no reasonable expectation that the cost of developing the drug will be recovered from sales in the United States. In the United States, orphan drug designation entitles a party to financial incentives such as opportunities for grant funding towards certain clinical trial costs, tax advantages and user-fee waivers.
Generally in the United States, if a drug with an orphan drug designation subsequently receives the first marketing approval for the indication for which it has such designation, the drug is entitled to a period of marketing exclusivity, which precludes the FDA from approving another marketing application for the same drug and indication for seven years, except in limited circumstances.
Even if we obtain orphan drug exclusivity for any of our product candidates, that exclusivity may not effectively protect the product candidate from competition because different therapies can be approved for the same condition and the same therapies can be approved for different conditions but used off-label. Even after an orphan drug is approved, the FDA can subsequently approve the same drug for the same condition if the FDA concludes that the later drug is clinically superior in that it is shown to be safer, more effective or makes a major contribution to patient care. In addition, a designated orphan drug may not receive orphan drug exclusivity if it is approved for a use that is broader than the indication for which it received orphan designation. Moreover, orphan drug exclusive marketing rights in the United States may be lost if the FDA later determines that the request for designation was materially defective or if the manufacturer is unable to assure sufficient quantity of the drug to meet the needs of patients with the rare disease or condition. Orphan drug designation neither shortens the development time or regulatory review time of a drug nor gives the drug any advantage in the regulatory review or approval process. While we may seek orphan drug designation for applicable indications for our current and any future product candidates, we may never receive such designations. Even if we do receive such designations, there is no guarantee that we will benefit from those designations.
Risks Related to Commercialization of Our Product Candidates
If we are unable to successfully commercialize any product candidate for which we receive regulatory approval, or experience significant delays in doing so, our business will be materially harmed.
If we are successful in obtaining marketing approval from applicable regulatory authorities for KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or any other product candidate, our ability to generate revenues from any such products will depend on our success in:
launching commercial sales of such products, whether alone or in collaboration with others;
receiving approved labels with claims that are necessary or desirable for successful marketing, and that do not contain safety or other limitations that would impede our ability to market such products;
creating market demand for such products through marketing, sales and promotion activities;
hiring, training, and deploying a sales force or contracting with third parties to commercialize such products in the United States;
creating strategic collaborations with, or offering licenses to, third parties to promote and sell such products in foreign markets where we receive marketing approval;
manufacturing such products in sufficient quantities and at acceptable quality and cost to meet commercial demand at launch and thereafter;
establishing and maintaining agreements with wholesalers, distributors, and group purchasing organizations on commercially reasonable terms;
maintaining patent and trade secret protection and regulatory exclusivity for such products;
achieving market acceptance of such products by patients, the medical community, and third-party payors;
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achieving coverage and adequate reimbursement from third-party payors for such products;
patients’ willingness to pay out-of-pocket in the absence of such coverage and adequate reimbursement from third-party payors;
effectively competing with other therapies; and
maintaining a continued acceptable safety profile of such products following launch.
To the extent we are not able to do any of the foregoing, our business, financial condition, results of operations, stock price and prospects will be materially harmed.
We face significant competition from other biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, and our operating results will suffer if we fail to compete effectively.
The biopharmaceutical industry is characterized by intense competition and rapid innovation. Our competitors may be able to develop other compounds or drugs that are able to achieve similar or better results. Our potential competitors include major multinational pharmaceutical companies, established biotechnology companies, specialty pharmaceutical companies and universities and other research institutions. Many of our competitors have substantially greater financial, technical and other resources, such as larger research and development staff and experienced marketing and manufacturing organizations and well-established sales forces. Smaller or early-stage companies may also prove to be significant competitors, particularly as they develop novel approaches to treating disease indications that our product candidates are also focused on treating. Established pharmaceutical companies may also invest heavily to accelerate discovery and development of novel therapeutics or to in-license novel therapeutics that could make the product candidates that we develop obsolete. Mergers and acquisitions in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries may result in even more resources being concentrated in our competitors. Competition may increase further as a result of advances in the commercial applicability of technologies and greater availability of capital for investment in these industries. Our competitors, either alone or with collaborative partners, may succeed in developing, acquiring or licensing on an exclusive basis drug or biologic products that are more effective, safer, more easily commercialized or less costly than our product candidates or may develop proprietary technologies or secure patent protection that we may need for the development of our technologies and products. We believe the key competitive factors that will affect the development and commercial success of our product candidates are efficacy, safety, tolerability, reliability, convenience of use, price and reimbursement.
We compete in the segments of the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and other related industries that develop and market therapies for the treatment of hematological and musculoskeletal disorders. There are many other companies, including large biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, that have commercialized and/or are developing therapies for the same therapeutic areas that our product candidates target. For example, FibroGen Inc. and Astellas Pharma Inc. are developing product candidates for the treatment of anemia, and Acceleron Pharma Inc., or Acceleron, Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Disc Medicine are developing product candidates targeting diseases associated with MDS and myelofibrosis, including chronic anemia. Additionally, in April 2020, Acceleron received FDA approval of its product, Reblozyl, for the treatment of anemia failing an erythropoiesis stimulating agent and requiring two or more red blood cell units over eight weeks in adult patients with very low- to intermediate-risk MDS with ring sideroblasts or with myelodysplastic/myeloproliferative neoplasm with ring sideroblasts and thrombocytosis. In June 2020, Acceleron further announced that the European Commission approved Reblozyl for the treatment of transfusion-dependent anemia in adult patients with MDS or beta thalassemia and in September 2020, Acceleron announced that Health Canada approved Reblozyl for the treatment of adult patients with red blood cell transfusion-dependent anemia associated with beta thalassemia. Sierra Oncology, Inc. is developing momelotinib as a treatment for myelofibrosis. Additionally, Constellation Pharmaceutics, Inc. is also developing a product candidate as a treatment for myelofibrosis.
Other companies that are developing product candidates that are designed to target the TGF-ß signaling pathways include Scholar Rock Holding Corporation, Biogen Inc. and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc.
There are currently no approved drugs for the treatment of FOP. However, Ipsen, through its subsidiary Clementia Pharmaceuticals Inc. and pursuant to a collaboration with Blueprint Medicines Corporation, as well as Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc., BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and Incyte Corporation are developing product candidates for the treatment of FOP that are intended to work, at least in part, through inhibition of aberrant ALK2 signaling.
There are currently no approved drugs for the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta. However, Mereo BioPharma Group plc is developing an anti-sclerostin product candidate for the treatment of osteogenesis imperfecta.
We anticipate that we will continue to face intense and increasing competition as new treatments enter the market and advanced technologies become available. There can be no assurance that our competitors are not currently developing, or will not in the future develop, products that are equally or more effective or are more economically attractive than any of our current or future product candidates. Competing products may gain faster or greater market acceptance than our
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products, if any, and medical advances or rapid technological development by competitors may result in our product candidates becoming non-competitive or obsolete before we are able to recover our research and development and commercialization expenses. If we or our product candidates do not compete effectively, it may have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We do not have a sales or marketing infrastructure and have no experience in the sale or marketing of biopharmaceutical products. To achieve commercial success for any approved product, we must develop or acquire a sales and marketing organization, outsource these functions to third parties or enter into strategic collaborations.
We may decide to establish our own sales and marketing capabilities and promote our product candidates if and when regulatory approval has been obtained in the United States or in other jurisdictions. There are risks involved if we decide to establish our own sales and marketing capabilities or enter into arrangements with third parties to perform these services. Even if we establish sales and marketing capabilities, we may fail to launch our products effectively or to market our products effectively since we have no experience in the sales and marketing of biopharmaceutical products. In addition, recruiting and training a sales force is expensive and time consuming and could delay any product launch. In the event that any such launch is delayed or does not occur for any reason, we would have prematurely or unnecessarily incurred these commercialization expenses, and our investment would be lost if we cannot retain or reposition our sales and marketing personnel. Factors that may inhibit our efforts to commercialize our products on our own include:
our inability to recruit, train and retain adequate numbers of effective sales and marketing personnel;
the inability of sales personnel to obtain access to or educate adequate numbers of physicians on the benefits of our products;
the lack of complementary products to be offered by sales personnel, which may put us at a competitive disadvantage relative to companies with more extensive product lines;
unforeseen costs and expenses associated with creating an independent sales and marketing organization; and
costs of marketing and promotion above those anticipated by us.
If we enter into arrangements with third parties to perform sales and marketing services, our product revenues or the profitability of these product revenues to us could be lower than if we were to market and sell any products that we develop ourselves. Such collaborative arrangements with partners may place the commercialization of our products outside of our control and would make us subject to a number of risks including that we may not be able to control the amount or timing of resources that our collaborative partner devotes to our products or that our collaborator’s willingness or ability to complete its obligations, and our obligations under our arrangements may be adversely affected by business combinations or significant changes in our collaborator’s business strategy. In addition, we may not be successful in entering into arrangements with third parties to sell and market our products or may be unable to do so on terms that are favorable to us. Acceptable third parties may fail to devote the necessary resources and attention to sell and market our products effectively.
If we do not establish sales and marketing capabilities successfully, either on our own or in collaboration with third parties, we may not be successful in commercializing our products, if any, which in turn would have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Even if a product candidate we develop receives marketing approval, it may fail to achieve the degree of market acceptance by physicians, patients, third-party payors and others in the medical community necessary for commercial success. The revenues that we generate from their sales may be limited, and we may never become profitable.
We have never commercialized a product candidate for any indication. Even if our product candidates are approved by the appropriate regulatory authorities for marketing and sale, they may not gain acceptance among physicians, patients, third-party payors and others in the medical community. If any product candidates for which we obtain regulatory approval does not gain an adequate level of market acceptance, we could be prevented from or significantly delayed in achieving profitability. Market acceptance of our product candidates by the medical community, patients and third-party payors will depend on a number of factors, some of which are beyond our control. For example, physicians are often reluctant to switch their patients and patients may be reluctant to switch from existing therapies even when new and potentially more effective or safer treatments enter the market.
Efforts to educate the medical community and third-party payors on the benefits of our product candidates may require significant resources and may not be successful. If any of our product candidates are approved but do not achieve an adequate level of market acceptance, we could be prevented from or significantly delayed in achieving profitability. The
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degree of market acceptance of any product for which we receive marketing approval will depend on a number of factors, including:
the clinical indications for which our product candidates are approved;
physicians, hospitals and patients considering our product candidates as a safe and effective treatment;
the potential and perceived advantages of our product candidates over alternative treatments;
the prevalence and severity of any side effects;
product labeling or product insert requirements of the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities;
limitations or warnings contained in the labeling approved by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities;
the timing of market introduction of our product candidates in relation to other potentially competitive products;
the cost of our product candidates in relation to alternative treatments;
the amount of upfront costs or training required for physicians to administer our product candidates;
the availability of coverage and adequate reimbursement from third-party payors and government authorities;
the willingness of patients to pay out-of-pocket in the absence of comprehensive coverage and reimbursement by third-party payors and government authorities;
the relative convenience and ease of administration, including as compared to alternative treatments and competitive therapies;
the effectiveness of our sales and marketing efforts and distribution support; and
the presence or perceived risk of potential product liability claims.
Enacted and future healthcare legislation may increase the difficulty and cost for us to progress our clinical programs and obtain marketing approval of and commercialize our product candidates and may affect the prices we may set.
In the United States and other jurisdictions, there have been, and we expect there will continue to be, a number of legislative and regulatory changes and proposed changes to the healthcare system that could affect our future results of operations. In particular, there have been and continue to be a number of initiatives at the U.S. federal and state levels that seek to reduce healthcare costs and improve the quality of healthcare. For example, in March 2010, the ACA was enacted, which substantially changed the way healthcare is financed by both governmental and private insurers. Among the provisions of the ACA, those of greatest importance to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries include the following:
an annual, non-deductible fee payable by any entity that manufactures or imports certain branded prescription drugs and biologic agents (other than those designated as orphan drugs), which is apportioned among these entities according to their market share in certain government healthcare programs;
a new methodology by which rebates owed by manufacturers under the Medicaid Drug Rebate Program are calculated for drugs that are inhaled, infused, instilled, implanted or injected;
expansion of eligibility criteria for Medicaid programs by, among other things, allowing states to offer Medicaid coverage to certain individuals with income at or below 133% of the federal poverty level, thereby potentially increasing a manufacturer’s Medicaid rebate liability;
a licensure framework for follow on biologic products;
a new Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to oversee, identify priorities in and conduct comparative clinical effectiveness research, along with funding for such research; and
establishment of a Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, or CMS, to test innovative payment and service delivery models to lower Medicare and Medicaid spending, potentially including prescription drug spending.
Since its enactment, there have been judicial, Congressional and executive branch challenges to certain aspects of the ACA. While Congress has not passed comprehensive repeal legislation, it has enacted laws that modify certain provisions of the ACA such as removing penalties, starting January 1, 2019, for not complying with the ACA’s individual mandate to carry health insurance, delaying the implementation of certain ACA-mandated fees and increasing the point-of-sale discount that is owed by pharmaceutical manufacturers who participate in Medicare Part D. In addition, the 2020 federal spending package permanently eliminated, effective January 1, 2020, the ACA-mandated “Cadillac” tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage and medical device tax and, effective January 1, 2021, also eliminated the health insurer tax. On December 14, 2018, a U.S. District Court Judge in Texas ruled that the ACA is unconstitutional in its entirety because the “individual mandate” was repealed by Congress as part of the legislation enacted in 2017, informally titled the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or the Tax Act. Additionally, on December 18, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that the individual mandate was unconstitutional and remanded the case back to the District Court to determine whether the remaining provisions of the ACA are invalid as well. The U.S. Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case, although it is unknown when a decision will be made. Further, although the U.S. Supreme
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Court has not yet ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA, on January 28, 2021, President Biden issued an executive order to initiate a special enrollment period from February 15, 2021 through May 15, 2021 for purposes of obtaining health insurance coverage through the ACA marketplace. The executive order also instructs certain governmental agencies to review and reconsider their existing policies and rules that limit access to healthcare, including among others, reexamining Medicaid demonstration projects and waiver programs that include work requirements, and policies that create unnecessary barriers to obtaining access to health insurance coverage through Medicaid or the ACA. It is unclear how the Supreme Court ruling, other such litigation, and the healthcare reform measures of the Biden administration will impact the ACA and our business. In addition, other legislative changes have been proposed and adopted in the United States since the ACA was enacted. In August 2011, the Budget Control Act of 2011, among other things, led to aggregate reductions of Medicare payments to providers of 2% per fiscal year. These reductions went into effect in April 2013 and, due to subsequent legislative amendments to the statute will remain in effect through 2030, with the exception of a temporary suspension from May 1, 2020 through March 31, 2021, unless additional action is taken by Congress. In January 2013, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 was signed into law, which, among other things, further reduced Medicare payments to several types of providers, including hospitals, imaging centers and cancer treatment centers, and increased the statute of limitations period for the government to recover overpayments to providers from three to five years. These new laws or any other similar laws introduced in the future may result in additional reductions in Medicare and other health care funding, which could negatively affect our customers and accordingly, our financial operations.
Moreover, payment methodologies may be subject to changes in healthcare legislation and regulatory initiatives. For example, CMS may develop new payment and delivery models, such as bundled payment models. In addition, recently there has been heightened governmental scrutiny over the manner in which manufacturers set prices for their marketed products, which has resulted in several U.S. Congressional inquiries and proposed and enacted federal legislation designed to, among other things, bring more transparency to drug pricing, reduce the cost of prescription drugs under Medicare and review the relationship between pricing and manufacturer patient programs. At the federal level, the Trump administration used several means to propose or implement drug pricing reform, including through federal budget proposals, executive orders and policy initiatives. For example, on July 24, 2020 and September 13, 2020, the Trump administration announced several executive orders related to prescription drug pricing that seek to implement several of the administration’s proposals. As a result, the FDA released a final rule on September 24, 2020, effective November 30, 2020, providing guidance for states to build and submit importation plans for drugs from Canada. Further, on November 20, 2020, HHS finalized a regulation removing safe harbor protection for price reductions from pharmaceutical manufacturers to plan sponsors under Medicare Part D, either directly or through pharmacy benefit managers, unless the price reduction is required by law. The implementation of the rule has been delayed by the Biden administration from January 1, 2022 to January 1, 2023 in response to ongoing litigation. The rule also creates a new safe harbor for price reductions reflected at the point-of-sale, as well as a new safe harbor for certain fixed fee arrangements between pharmacy benefit managers and manufacturers, the implementation of which have also been delayed pending review by the Biden administration until March 22, 2021. On November 20, 2020, CMS issued an interim final rule implementing the Trump administration’s Most Favored Nation executive order, which would tie Medicare Part B payments for certain physician-administered drugs to the lowest price paid in other economically advanced countries, effective January 1, 2021. On December 28, 2020, the U.S. District Court in Northern California issued a nationwide preliminary injunction against implementation of the interim final rule. It is unclear whether the Biden administration will work to reverse these measures or pursue similar policy initiatives. We expect that additional U.S. federal healthcare reform measures will be adopted in the future, any of which could limit the amounts that the U.S. federal government will pay for healthcare products and services, which could result in reduced demand for our product candidates or additional pricing pressures.
Individual states in the United States have also increasingly passed legislation and implemented regulations designed to control pharmaceutical and biological product pricing, including price or patient reimbursement constraints, discounts, restrictions on certain product access and marketing cost disclosure and transparency measures, and, in some cases, designed to encourage importation from other countries and bulk purchasing. Legally mandated price controls on payment amounts by third-party payors or other restrictions could harm our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects. In addition, regional healthcare authorities and individual hospitals are increasingly using bidding procedures to determine what pharmaceutical products and which suppliers will be included in their prescription drug and other healthcare programs. This could reduce the ultimate demand for our product candidates or put pressure on our product pricing.
In markets outside of the United States, reimbursement and healthcare payment systems vary significantly by country, and many countries have instituted price ceilings on specific products and therapies.
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We cannot predict the likelihood, nature or extent of government regulation that may arise from future legislation or administrative action in the United States or any other jurisdiction. Further, it is possible that additional governmental action is taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If we or any third parties we may engage are slow or unable to adapt to changes in existing requirements or the adoption of new requirements or policies, or if we or such third parties are not able to maintain regulatory compliance, our product candidates may lose any regulatory approval that may have been obtained and we may not achieve or sustain profitability.
Disruptions at the FDA, the SEC and other government agencies caused by funding shortages or global health concerns could hinder their ability to hire and retain key leadership and other personnel, otherwise prevent new products and services from being developed, approved or commercialized in a timely manner or at all, or otherwise prevent those agencies from performing normal business functions on which the operation of our business may rely, which could negatively impact our business.
The ability of the FDA to review and approve new products can be affected by a variety of factors, including government budget and funding levels, ability to hire and retain key personnel and accept the payment of user fees, statutory, regulatory and policy changes, and other events that may otherwise affect the FDA’s ability to perform routine functions. Average review times at the agency have fluctuated in recent years as a result. In addition, government funding of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the SEC, and other government agencies on which our operations may rely, including those that fund research and development activities is subject to the political process, which is inherently fluid and unpredictable.
Disruptions at the FDA and other agencies may also slow the time necessary for new drugs to be reviewed and/or approved by necessary government agencies, which would adversely affect our business. For example, in recent years, including in 2018 and 2019, the U.S. government shut down several times and certain regulatory agencies, such as the FDA and the SEC, had to furlough critical employees and stop critical activities. Separately, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA has postponed most inspections of foreign and domestic manufacturing facilities and products, and as of February 2021, has only restarted domestic manufacturing facility inspection on a risk-based basis. Regulatory authorities outside the United States may continue to adopt similar restrictions or other policy measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. If a prolonged government shutdown occurs, or if global health concerns continue to prevent the FDA or other regulatory authorities from conducting their regular inspections, reviews, or other regulatory activities, it could significantly impact the ability of the FDA to timely review and process our regulatory submissions, which could have a material adverse effect on our business. Further, future government shutdowns or delays could impact our ability to access the public markets and obtain necessary capital in order to properly capitalize and continue our operations.
Our business operations and current and future relationships with investigators, healthcare professionals, consultants, third-party payors, patient organizations and customers may be subject to applicable healthcare regulatory laws, which could expose us to penalties.
Our business operations and current and future arrangements with investigators, healthcare professionals, consultants, third-party payors, patient organizations and customers, may expose us to broadly applicable fraud and abuse and other healthcare laws and regulations. These laws may constrain the business or financial arrangements and relationships through which we conduct our operations, including how we research, market, sell and distribute our product candidates, if approved. Such laws include:
the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, which prohibits, among other things, persons or entities from knowingly and willfully soliciting, offering, receiving or providing any remuneration (including any kickback, bribe, or certain rebate), directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, in cash or in kind, to induce or reward, or in return for, either the referral of an individual for, or the purchase, lease, order or recommendation of, any good, facility, item or service, for which payment may be made, in whole or in part, under U.S. federal and state healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. A person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation;
the U.S. federal civil and criminal false claims laws, including the civil False Claims Act, which can be enforced by private individuals on behalf of the government through civil whistleblower or qui tam actions, and civil monetary penalties laws prohibit, among other things, individuals or entities from knowingly presenting, or causing to be presented, to the U.S. federal government, claims for payment or approval that are false or fraudulent, knowingly making, using or causing to be made or used, a false record or statement material to a false or fraudulent claim, or from knowingly making a false statement to avoid, decrease or conceal an obligation to pay money to the U.S. federal government. In addition, the government may assert that a claim including items and services resulting from a violation of the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute constitutes a false or fraudulent claim for purposes of the civil False Claims Act;
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the U.S. federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, or HIPAA, which created additional federal civil and criminal liability for, among other things, knowingly and willfully executing, or attempting to execute, a scheme to defraud any healthcare benefit program, or knowingly and willfully falsifying, concealing or covering up a material fact or making any materially false statement, in connection with the delivery of, or payment for, healthcare benefits, items or services. Similar to the U.S. federal Anti-Kickback Statute, a person or entity does not need to have actual knowledge of the statute or specific intent to violate it in order to have committed a violation;
HIPAA, as amended by the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009, or HITECH, and their implementing regulations, which impose certain obligations, including mandatory contractual terms, with respect to safeguarding the privacy, security and transmission of individually identifiable health information without appropriate authorization by covered entities subject to the rule, such as health plans, healthcare clearinghouses and certain healthcare providers and their business associates, independent contractors of a covered entity that perform certain services involving the use or disclosure of individually identifiable health information, as well as their covered subcontractors;
the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, which prohibits, among other things, the adulteration or misbranding of drugs, biologics and medical devices;
the U.S. Public Health Service Act, which prohibits, among other things, the introduction into interstate commerce of a biological product unless a biologics license is in effect for that product;
the U.S. Physician Payments Sunshine Act and its implementing regulations, which require certain manufacturers of drugs, devices, biologics and medical supplies that are reimbursable under Medicare, Medicaid, or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, with specific exceptions, to report annually to CMS information related to certain payments and other transfers of value made in the prior year to physicians (defined to include doctors, dentists, optometrists, podiatrists, and chiropractors) and teaching hospitals, as well as ownership and investment interests held by such physicians and their immediate family members. Beginning in 2022, applicable manufacturers also will be required to report information regarding payments and other transfers of value provided to physician assistants, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists, anesthesiologist assistants and certified nurse midwives during the previous year; and
analogous U.S. state laws and regulations, including: state anti-kickback and false claims laws, which may apply to our business practices, including but not limited to, research, distribution, sales and marketing arrangements and claims involving healthcare items or services reimbursed by any third-party payor, including private insurers; state laws that require pharmaceutical companies to comply with the pharmaceutical industry’s voluntary compliance guidelines and the relevant compliance guidance promulgated by the U.S. federal government, or otherwise restrict payments that may be made to healthcare providers and other potential referral sources; state and local laws and regulations that require drug manufacturers to file reports relating to drug pricing and marketing information, which requires tracking gifts and other remuneration and items of value provided to healthcare professionals and entities; state and local laws that require the registration of pharmaceutical sales representatives; and state laws governing the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, many of which differ from each other in significant ways and often are not preempted by HIPAA, thus complicating compliance efforts.
In addition, our activities are also subject to certain federal and state consumer protection and unfair competition laws, which broadly regulate marketplace activities and activities that potentially harm consumers.
Ensuring that our internal operations and future business arrangements with third parties comply with applicable healthcare laws and regulations will involve substantial costs. It is possible that governmental authorities will conclude that our business practices do not comply with current or future statutes, regulations, agency guidance or case law involving applicable fraud and abuse or other healthcare laws and regulations. If our operations are found to be in violation of any of the laws described above or any other governmental laws and regulations that may apply to us, we may be subject to significant penalties, including civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, fines, exclusion from government-funded healthcare programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid or similar programs in other countries or jurisdictions, integrity oversight and reporting obligations to resolve allegations of non-compliance, disgorgement, imprisonment, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and the curtailment or restructuring of our operations. If any of the physicians or other providers or entities with whom we expect to do business are found to not be in compliance with applicable laws, they may be subject to significant criminal, civil or administrative sanctions, including exclusions from government funded healthcare programs and imprisonment, which could affect our ability to operate our business. Further, defending against any such actions can be costly, time-consuming and may require significant personnel resources. Therefore, even if we are successful in defending against any such actions that may be brought against us, our business may be impaired.
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If the market opportunities for our product candidates are smaller than we believe they are, even assuming approval of a product candidate, our business may suffer.
Our projections of both the number of people who are affected by disease within our potential target indications, as well as the subset of these people who have the potential to benefit from treatment with our product candidates, are based on our beliefs and estimates. These estimates have been derived from a variety of sources, including the scientific literature, healthcare utilization databases and market research, and may prove to be incorrect. Further, new studies may change the estimated incidence or prevalence of these diseases. The number of patients may turn out to be lower than expected. Likewise, the potentially addressable patient population for each of our product candidates may be limited or may not be amenable to treatment with our product candidates, and new patients may become increasingly difficult to identify or gain access to, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operations.
Any product candidates we develop may become subject to unfavorable third-party coverage and reimbursement practices, as well as pricing regulations.
The availability and extent of coverage and adequate reimbursement by third-party payors, including government health administration authorities, private health coverage insurers, managed care organizations and other third-party payors is essential for most patients to be able to afford expensive treatments. Sales of any of our product candidates that receive marketing approval will depend substantially, both in the United States and internationally, on the extent to which the costs of our product candidates will be covered and reimbursed by third-party payors. If reimbursement is not available, or is available only to limited levels, we may not be able to successfully commercialize our product candidates. Even if coverage is provided, the approved reimbursement amount may not be high enough to allow us to establish or maintain pricing sufficient to realize an adequate return on our investment. Coverage and reimbursement may impact the demand for, or the price of, any product candidate for which we obtain marketing approval. If coverage and reimbursement are not available or reimbursement is available only to limited levels, we may not successfully commercialize any product candidate for which we obtain marketing approval.
There is significant uncertainty related to third-party payor coverage and reimbursement of newly approved products. In the United States, for example, principal decisions about reimbursement for new products are typically made by the CMS. CMS decides whether and to what extent a new product will be covered and reimbursed under Medicare, and private third-party payors often follow CMS’s decisions regarding coverage and reimbursement to a substantial degree. However, one third-party payor’s determination to provide coverage for a product candidate does not assure that other payors will also provide coverage for the product candidate. As a result, the coverage determination process is often time-consuming and costly. This process will require us to provide scientific and clinical support for the use of our products to each third-party payor separately, with no assurance that coverage and adequate reimbursement will be applied consistently or obtained in the first instance.
Increasingly, third-party payors are requiring that drug companies provide them with predetermined discounts from list prices and are challenging the prices charged for medical products. Further, such payors are increasingly challenging the price, examining the medical necessity and reviewing the cost effectiveness of medical product candidates. There may be especially significant delays in obtaining coverage and reimbursement for newly approved drugs. Third-party payors may limit coverage to specific product candidates on an approved list, known as a formulary, which might not include all FDA-approved drugs for a particular indication. We may need to conduct expensive pharmaco-economic studies to demonstrate the medical necessity and cost effectiveness of our products. Nonetheless, our product candidates may not be considered medically necessary or cost effective. We cannot be sure that coverage and reimbursement will be available for any product that we commercialize and, if reimbursement is available, what the level of reimbursement will be.
Furthermore, obtaining coverage and adequate reimbursement for products administered under the supervision of a physician may be particularly difficult because of the higher prices often associated with such drugs. Additionally, separate reimbursement for the product itself or the treatment or procedure in which the product is used may not be available, which may impact physician utilization. In addition, companion diagnostic tests require coverage and reimbursement separate and apart from the coverage and reimbursement for their companion pharmaceutical or biological products. Similar challenges to obtaining coverage and reimbursement, applicable to pharmaceutical or biological products, will apply to companion diagnostics.
Outside the United States, international operations are generally subject to extensive governmental price controls and other market regulations, and we believe the increasing emphasis on cost containment initiatives in Europe, Canada and other countries has and will continue to put pressure on the pricing and usage of therapeutics such as our product candidates. In many countries, particularly the countries of the European Union, medical product prices are subject to varying price control mechanisms as part of national health systems. In these countries, pricing negotiations with
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governmental authorities can take considerable time after a product receives marketing approval. To obtain reimbursement or pricing approval in some countries, we may be required to conduct a clinical trial that compares the cost-effectiveness of our product candidate to other available therapies. In general, product prices under such systems are substantially lower than in the United States. Other countries allow companies to fix their own prices for products, but monitor and control company profits. Additional foreign price controls or other changes in pricing regulation could restrict the amount that we are able to charge for our product candidates. Accordingly, in markets outside the United States, the reimbursement for our products may be reduced compared with the United States and may be insufficient to generate commercially reasonable revenue and profits.
If we are unable to establish or sustain coverage and adequate reimbursement for any future product candidates from third-party payors, the adoption of those products and sales revenue will be adversely affected, which, in turn, could adversely affect the ability to market or sell those product candidates, if approved. Coverage policies and third-party payor reimbursement rates may change at any time. Even if favorable coverage and reimbursement status is attained for one or more products for which we receive regulatory approval, less favorable coverage policies and reimbursement rates may be implemented in the future.
Risks Related to Our Intellectual Property
Our success depends in part on our ability to protect our intellectual property. It is difficult and costly to protect our proprietary rights and technology, and we may not be able to ensure their protection.
Our commercial success will depend in large part on obtaining and maintaining patent, trademark and trade secret protection of our proprietary technologies and our product candidates, their respective components, formulations, combination therapies, methods used to manufacture them and methods of treatment, as well as successfully defending these patents against third-party challenges. Our ability to stop unauthorized third parties from making, using, selling, offering to sell or importing our product candidates is dependent upon the extent to which we have rights under valid and enforceable patents that cover these activities. If we are unable to secure and maintain patent protection for any product or technology we develop, or if the scope of the patent protection secured is not sufficiently broad, our competitors could develop and commercialize products and technology similar or identical to ours, and our ability to commercialize any product candidates we may develop may be adversely affected.
The patenting process is expensive and time-consuming, and we may not be able to file, prosecute and maintain all necessary or desirable patent applications at a reasonable cost or in a timely manner. In addition, we may not pursue, obtain or maintain patent protection in all relevant markets. It is also possible that we will fail to identify patentable aspects of our research and development output before it is too late to obtain patent protection. Moreover, in some circumstances, we may not have the right to control the preparation, filing and prosecution of patent applications, or to maintain the patents, covering technology that we license from or license to third parties and are reliant on our licensors or licensees. Therefore, these patents and applications may not be prosecuted and enforced in a manner consistent with the best interests of our business.
The strength of patents in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical field involves complex legal and scientific questions and can be uncertain. The patent applications that we own or in-license may fail to result in issued patents with claims that cover our product candidates or uses thereof in the United States or in other foreign countries. Even if the patents do successfully issue, third parties may challenge the validity, enforceability or scope thereof, which may result in such patents being narrowed, invalidated or held unenforceable. Furthermore, even if they are unchallenged, our patents and patent applications may not adequately protect our intellectual property or prevent others from designing around our claims. If the breadth or strength of protection provided by the patent applications we hold with respect to our product candidates is threatened, it could dissuade companies from collaborating with us to develop, and threaten our ability to commercialize, our product candidates. Further, if we encounter delays in our clinical trials, the period of time during which we could market our product candidates under patent protection would be reduced.
Since patent applications in the United States and most other countries are confidential for a period of time after filing, we cannot be certain that we were the first to file any patent application related to our product candidates. Furthermore, for United States applications in which all claims are entitled to a priority date before March 16, 2013, an interference proceeding can be provoked by a third party or instituted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office, or USPTO, to determine who was the first to invent any of the subject matter covered by the patent claims of our applications.
We cannot be certain that we are the first to invent the inventions covered by pending patent applications and, if we are not, we may be subject to priority disputes. We may be required to disclaim part or all of the term of certain patents or all of the term of certain patent applications. There may be prior art of which we are not aware that may affect the validity or enforceability of a patent claim, and we may be subject to a third-party preissuance submission of prior art to the USPTO. There also may be prior art of which we are aware, but which we do not believe affects the validity or
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enforceability of a claim, which may, nonetheless, ultimately be found to affect the validity or enforceability of a claim. No assurance can be given that if challenged, our patents would be declared by a court to be valid or enforceable or that even if found valid and enforceable, a competitor’s technology or product would be found by a court to infringe our patents. We may analyze patents or patent applications of our competitors that we believe are relevant to our activities, and consider that we are free to operate in relation to our product candidates, but our competitors may achieve issued claims, including in patents we consider to be unrelated, which block our efforts or may potentially result in our product candidates or our activities infringing such claims. The possibility exists that others will develop products which have the same effect as our products on an independent basis which do not infringe our patents or other intellectual property rights, or will design around the claims of patents that we have had issued that cover our products.
Recent or future patent reform legislation could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of our patent applications and the enforcement or defense of our issued patents. Under the enacted Leahy-Smith America Invents Act, or America Invents Act, enacted in 2013, the United States moved from a “first to invent” to a “first-to-file” system. Under a “first-to-file” system, assuming the other requirements for patentability are met, the first inventor to file a patent application generally will be entitled to a patent on the invention regardless of whether another inventor had made the invention earlier. The America Invents Act includes a number of other significant changes to U.S. patent law, including provisions that affect the way patent applications are prosecuted, redefine prior art and establish a new post-grant review system. The effects of these changes are currently unclear as the USPTO only recently developed new regulations and procedures in connection with the America Invents Act and many of the substantive changes to patent law, including the “first-to-file” provisions, only became effective in March 2013. In addition, the courts have yet to address many of these provisions and the applicability of the act and new regulations on specific patents discussed herein have not been determined and would need to be reviewed. However, the America Invents Act and its implementation could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of our patent applications and the enforcement or defense of our issued patents, all of which could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.
The degree of future protection for our proprietary rights is uncertain because legal means afford only limited protection and may not adequately protect our rights or permit us to gain or keep our competitive advantage. For example:
others may be able to make or use compounds or cells that are similar to the biological compositions of our product candidates but that are not covered by the claims of our patents;
the active biological ingredients in our current product candidates will eventually become commercially available in biosimilar drug products, and no patent protection may be available with regard to formulation or method of use;
we or our licensors, as the case may be, may fail to meet our obligations to the U.S. government in regards to any in-licensed patents and patent applications funded by U.S. government grants, leading to the loss of patent rights;
we or our licensors, as the case may be, might not have been the first to file patent applications for these inventions;
others may independently develop similar or alternative technologies or duplicate any of our technologies;
it is possible that our pending patent applications will not result in issued patents;
it is possible that there are prior public disclosures that could invalidate our or our licensors’ patents, as the case may be, or parts of our or their patents;
it is possible that others may circumvent our owned or in-licensed patents;
it is possible that there are unpublished applications or patent applications maintained in secrecy that may later issue with claims covering our products or technology similar to ours;
the laws of foreign countries may not protect our or our licensors’, as the case may be, proprietary rights to the same extent as the laws of the United States;
the claims of our owned or in-licensed issued patents or patent applications, if and when issued, may not cover our product candidates;
our owned or in-licensed issued patents may not provide us with any competitive advantages, may be narrowed in scope, or be held invalid or unenforceable as a result of legal challenges by third parties;
the inventors of our owned or in-licensed patents or patent applications may become involved with competitors, develop products or processes which design around our patents, or become hostile to us or the patents or patent applications on which they are named as inventors;
it is possible that our owned or in-licensed patents or patent applications omit individual(s) that should be listed as inventor(s) or include individual(s) that should not be listed as inventor(s), which may cause these patents or patents issuing from these patent applications to be held invalid or unenforceable;
we have engaged in scientific collaborations in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. Such collaborators may develop adjacent or competing products to ours that are outside the scope of our patents;
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we may not develop additional proprietary technologies for which we can obtain patent protection;
it is possible that product candidates or diagnostic tests we develop may be covered by third parties’ patents or other exclusive rights; or
the patents of others may have an adverse effect on our business.
We depend on intellectual property licensed from third parties and termination of any of these licenses could result in the loss of significant rights, which would harm our business.
We are dependent on patents, know-how and proprietary technology, both our own and licensed from others. Any termination of these licenses could result in the loss of significant rights and could harm our ability to commercialize our product candidates. See the section titled “Business—Collaborations and License Agreement” set forth in Part I, Item 1 of this Annual Report on Form 10-K for additional information regarding our license agreements.
Disputes may also arise between us and our licensors regarding intellectual property subject to a license agreement, including:
the scope of rights granted under the license agreement and other interpretation-related issues; whether and the extent to which our technology and processes infringe on intellectual property of the licensor that is not subject to the licensing agreement;
our right to sublicense patent and other rights to third parties under collaborative development relationships;
our diligence obligations with respect to the use of the licensed technology in relation to our development and commercialization of our product candidates, and what activities satisfy those diligence obligations; and
the inventorship or ownership of inventions and know-how resulting from the joint creation or use of intellectual property by our licensors and us and our partners.
In addition, intellectual property license agreements are complex, and certain provisions in such agreements may be susceptible to multiple interpretations. The resolution of any contract interpretation disagreement that may arise could narrow what we believe to be the scope of our rights to the relevant intellectual property or technology, or increase what we believe to be our financial or other obligations under the relevant agreement, either of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects. If disputes over intellectual property that we have licensed prevent or impair our ability to maintain our current licensing arrangements on acceptable terms, we may be unable to successfully develop and commercialize the affected product candidates.
We are generally also subject to all of the same risks with respect to protection of intellectual property that we license, as we are for intellectual property that we own, which are described below. If we or our licensors fail to adequately protect this intellectual property, our ability to commercialize products could suffer.
If we fail to comply with our obligations under our patent license with a third party, we could lose license rights that are important to our business.
We are a party to a license agreement pursuant to which we in-license key patent and patent applications for our product candidates. These existing licenses impose various diligence, milestone payment, royalty, insurance and other obligations on us. If we fail to comply with these obligations, our licensor may have the right to terminate the license, in which event we would not be able to develop or market the products covered by such licensed intellectual property. Termination of these agreements or reduction or elimination of our rights under these agreements, or restrictions on our ability to freely assign or sublicense our rights under such agreements when it is in the interest of our business to do so, may impede, delay or prohibit the further development or commercialization of one or more product candidates that rely on such agreements.
We may have limited control over the maintenance and prosecution of these in-licensed patents and patent applications, activities or any other intellectual property that may be related to our in-licensed intellectual property. For example, we cannot be certain that such activities by our licensor have been or will be conducted in compliance with applicable laws and regulations or will result in valid and enforceable patents and other intellectual property rights.
If we are unable to protect the confidentiality of our trade secrets, our business and competitive position would be harmed.
In addition to patent protection, we rely heavily upon know-how and to some extent trade secret protection, as well as non-disclosure agreements and invention assignment agreements with our employees, consultants and third-parties, to protect our confidential and proprietary information, especially where we do not believe patent protection is appropriate or obtainable. In addition to contractual measures, we try to protect the confidential nature of our proprietary information using physical and technological security measures. Such measures may not, for example, in the case of misappropriation of a trade secret by an employee or third party with authorized access, provide adequate protection for our proprietary information. Our security measures may not prevent an employee or consultant from misappropriating
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our trade secrets and providing them to a competitor, and recourse we take against such misconduct may not provide an adequate remedy to protect our interests fully. Enforcing a claim that a party illegally disclosed or misappropriated a trade secret can be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, and the outcome is unpredictable. In addition, trade secrets may be independently developed by others in a manner that could prevent legal recourse by us. If any of our confidential or proprietary information, such as our trade secrets, were to be disclosed or misappropriated, or if any such information was independently developed by a competitor, our competitive position could be harmed.
In addition, courts outside the United States are sometimes less willing to protect trade secrets. If we choose to go to court to stop a third party from using any of our trade secrets, we may incur substantial costs. These lawsuits may consume our time and other resources even if we are successful. Although we take steps to protect our proprietary information and trade secrets, including through contractual means with our employees and consultants, third parties may independently develop substantially equivalent proprietary information and techniques or otherwise gain access to our trade secrets or disclose our technology.
Thus, we may not be able to meaningfully protect our trade secrets. It is our policy to require our employees, consultants, outside scientific collaborators, sponsored researchers and other advisors to execute confidentiality agreements upon the commencement of employment or consulting relationships with us. These agreements provide that all confidential information concerning our business or financial affairs developed or made known to the individual or entity during the course of the party’s relationship with us is to be kept confidential and not disclosed to third parties except in specific circumstances. In the case of employees, the agreements provide that all inventions conceived by the individual, and which are related to our current or planned business or research and development or made during normal working hours, on our premises or using our equipment or proprietary information, are our exclusive property. In addition, we take other appropriate precautions, such as physical and technological security measures, to guard against misappropriation of our proprietary technology by third parties. We have also adopted policies and conduct training that provides guidance on our expectations, and our advice for best practices, in protecting our trade secrets.
Third-party claims of intellectual property infringement may prevent or delay our product discovery and development efforts.
Our commercial success depends in part on our ability to develop, manufacture, market and sell our product candidates and use our proprietary technologies without infringing the proprietary rights of third parties. There is a substantial amount of litigation involving patents and other intellectual property rights in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, as well as administrative proceedings for challenging patents, including interference, derivation, inter partes review, post grant review, and reexamination proceedings before the USPTO or oppositions and other comparable proceedings in foreign jurisdictions. We may be exposed to, or threatened with, future litigation by third parties having patent or other intellectual property rights alleging that our product candidates and/or proprietary technologies infringe their intellectual property rights. Numerous U.S. and foreign issued patents and pending patent applications, which are owned by third parties, exist in the fields in which we are developing our product candidates. There may be third-party patents or patent applications with claims to materials, formulations, methods of manufacture or methods for treatment related to our product candidates and programs. As the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries expand and more patents are issued, the risk increases that our product candidates may give rise to claims of infringement of the patent rights of others. Moreover, it is not always clear to industry participants, including us, which patents cover various types of drugs, products or their methods of use or manufacture. Thus, because of the large number of patents issued and patent applications filed in our fields, there may be a risk that third parties may allege they have patent rights encompassing our product candidates, technologies or methods.
If a third-party claims that we infringe its intellectual property rights, we may face a number of issues, including, but not limited to:
infringement and other intellectual property claims which, regardless of merit, may be expensive and time-consuming to litigate and may divert our management’s attention from our core business;
substantial damages for infringement, which we may have to pay if a court decides that the product candidate or technology at issue infringes on or violates the third party’s rights, and, if the court finds that the infringement was willful, we could be ordered to pay treble damages and the patent owner’s attorneys’ fees;
a court prohibiting us from developing, manufacturing, marketing or selling our product candidates, or from using our proprietary technologies, unless the third party licenses its product rights to us, which it is not required to do;
if a license is available from a third party, we may have to pay substantial royalties, upfront fees and other amounts, and/or grant cross-licenses to intellectual property rights for our products; and
redesigning our product candidates or processes so they do not infringe, which may not be possible or may require substantial monetary expenditures and time.
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Some of our competitors may be able to sustain the costs of complex patent litigation more effectively than we can because they have substantially greater resources. In addition, any uncertainties resulting from the initiation and continuation of any litigation could have a material adverse effect on our ability to raise the funds necessary to continue our operations or could otherwise have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects.
Third parties may assert that we are employing their proprietary technology without authorization. Generally, conducting clinical trials and other development activities in the United States is protected under the Safe Harbor exemption as set forth in 35 U.S.C. § 271. If and when KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 or another one of our product candidates is approved by the FDA, that certain third party may then seek to enforce its patent by filing a patent infringement lawsuit against us. While we do not believe that any claims of such patent that could otherwise materially adversely affect commercialization of our product candidates, if approved, are valid and enforceable, we may be incorrect in this belief, or we may not be able to prove it in a litigation. In this regard, patents issued in the United States by law enjoy a presumption of validity that can be rebutted only with evidence that is “clear and convincing,” a heightened standard of proof. There may be third-party patents of which we are currently unaware with claims to materials, formulations, methods of manufacture or methods for treatment related to the use or manufacture of our product candidates. Because patent applications can take many years to issue, there may be currently pending patent applications which may later result in issued patents that our product candidates may infringe. In addition, third parties may obtain patents in the future and claim that use of our technologies infringes upon these patents. If any third-party patents were held by a court of competent jurisdiction to cover the manufacturing process of our product candidates, constructs or molecules used in or formed during the manufacturing process, or any final product itself, the holders of any such patents may be able to block our ability to commercialize the product candidate unless we obtained a license under the applicable patents, or until such patents expire or they are finally determined to be held invalid or unenforceable. Similarly, if any third-party patent were held by a court of competent jurisdiction to cover aspects of our formulations, processes for manufacture or methods of use, the holders of any such patent may be able to block our ability to develop and commercialize the product candidate unless we obtained a license or until such patent expires or is finally determined to be held invalid or unenforceable. In either case, such a license may not be available on commercially reasonable terms or at all. If we are unable to obtain a necessary license to a third-party patent on commercially reasonable terms, or at all, our ability to commercialize our product candidates may be impaired or delayed, which could in turn significantly harm our business. Even if we obtain a license, it may be non-exclusive, thereby giving our competitors access to the same technologies licensed to us. In addition, if the breadth or strength of protection provided by our patents and patent applications is threatened, it could dissuade companies from collaborating with us to license, develop or commercialize current or future product candidates.
Parties making claims against us may seek and obtain injunctive or other equitable relief, which could effectively block our ability to further develop and commercialize our product candidates. Defense of these claims, regardless of their merit, would involve substantial litigation expense and would be a substantial diversion of employee resources from our business. In the event of a successful claim of infringement against us, we may have to pay substantial damages, including treble damages and attorneys’ fees for willful infringement, obtain one or more licenses from third parties, pay royalties or redesign our infringing products, which may be impossible or require substantial time and monetary expenditure. We cannot predict whether any such license would be available at all or whether it would be available on commercially reasonable terms. Even if such a license is available, it may be non-exclusive, which could result in our competitors gaining access to the same intellectual property. Furthermore, even in the absence of litigation, we may need to obtain licenses from third parties to advance our research or allow commercialization of our product candidates. We may fail to obtain any of these licenses at a reasonable cost or on reasonable terms, if at all. In that event, we would be unable to further develop and commercialize our product candidates, which could harm our business significantly.
Lastly, we may need to indemnify our customers and distributors against claims relating to the infringement of intellectual property rights of third parties related to our product candidates, including KER-050, KER-047 and KER-012. Third parties may assert infringement claims against our customers or distributors. These claims may require us to initiate or defend protracted and costly litigation on behalf of our customers or distributors, regardless of the merits of these claims. If any of these claims succeed, we may be forced to pay damages on behalf of our customers, suppliers or distributors, or may be required to obtain licenses for the product candidates or services they use. If we cannot obtain all necessary licenses on commercially reasonable terms, our customers may be forced to stop using our products or services.
Third parties may assert that our employees or consultants have wrongfully used or disclosed confidential information or misappropriated trade secrets.
As is common in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, we employ individuals who were previously employed at universities or other biopharmaceutical or pharmaceutical companies, including our competitors or potential
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competitors. Although no claims against us are currently pending, and although we try to ensure that our employees and consultants do not use the proprietary information or know-how of others in their work for us, we may be subject to claims that we or our employees, consultants or independent contractors have inadvertently or otherwise used or disclosed intellectual property, including trade secrets or other proprietary information, of a former employer or other third parties. Litigation may be necessary to defend against these claims. If we fail in defending any such claims, in addition to paying monetary damages, we may lose valuable intellectual property rights or personnel. Even if we are successful in defending against such claims, litigation or other legal proceedings relating to intellectual property claims may cause us to incur significant expenses, and could distract our technical and management personnel from their normal responsibilities. In addition, there could be public announcements of the results of hearings, motions or other interim proceedings or developments, and, if securities analysts or investors perceive these results to be negative, it could have a substantial adverse effect on the price of our common stock. This type of litigation or proceeding could substantially increase our operating losses and reduce our resources available for development activities. We may not have sufficient financial or other resources to adequately conduct such litigation or proceedings. Some of our competitors may be able to sustain the costs of such litigation or proceedings more effectively than we can because of their substantially greater financial resources. Uncertainties resulting from the initiation and continuation of patent litigation or other intellectual property related proceedings could adversely affect our ability to compete in the marketplace.
We may not be successful in obtaining or maintaining necessary rights to develop any future product candidates on acceptable terms.
Because our programs may involve additional product candidates that may require the use of proprietary rights held by third parties, the growth of our business may depend in part on our ability to acquire, in-license or use these proprietary rights.
Our product candidates may also require specific formulations to work effectively and efficiently and these rights may be held by others. We may develop products containing our compounds and pre-existing pharmaceutical compounds. We may be required by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities to provide a companion diagnostic test or tests with our product candidates. These diagnostic test or tests may be covered by intellectual property rights held by others. We may be unable to acquire or in-license any compositions, methods of use, processes or other third-party intellectual property rights from third parties that we identify as necessary or important to our business operations. We may fail to obtain any of these licenses at a reasonable cost or on reasonable terms, if at all, which would harm our business. We may need to cease use of the compositions or methods covered by such third-party intellectual property rights, and may need to seek to develop alternative approaches that do not infringe on such intellectual property rights which may entail additional costs and development delays, even if we were able to develop such alternatives, which may not be feasible. Even if we are able to obtain a license, it may be non-exclusive, thereby giving our competitors access to the same technologies licensed to us. In that event, we may be required to expend significant time and resources to develop or license replacement technology.
Additionally, we sometimes collaborate with academic institutions to accelerate our preclinical research or development under written agreements with these institutions. In certain cases, these institutions provide us with an option to negotiate a license to any of the institution’s rights in technology resulting from the collaboration. Regardless of such option, we may be unable to negotiate a license within the specified timeframe or under terms that are acceptable to us. If we are unable to do so, the institution may offer the intellectual property rights to others, potentially blocking our ability to pursue our program. If we are unable to successfully obtain rights to required third-party intellectual property or to maintain the existing intellectual property rights we have, we may have to abandon development of such program and our business and financial condition could suffer.
The licensing and acquisition of third-party intellectual property rights is a competitive area, and companies, which may be more established, or have greater resources than we do, may also be pursuing strategies to license or acquire third-party intellectual property rights that we may consider necessary or attractive in order to commercialize our product candidates. More established companies may have a competitive advantage over us due to their size, cash resources and greater clinical development and commercialization capabilities. There can be no assurance that we will be able to successfully complete such negotiations and ultimately acquire the rights to the intellectual property surrounding the additional product candidates that we may seek to acquire.
We may be involved in lawsuits to protect or enforce our patents or the patents of our licensors, which could be expensive, time-consuming and unsuccessful.
Competitors may infringe our patents or the patents of our licensors. To counter infringement or unauthorized use, we may be required to file infringement claims, which can be expensive and time-consuming. In addition, in an infringement proceeding, a court may decide that one or more of our patents is not valid or is unenforceable, or may refuse to stop
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the other party from using the technology at issue on the grounds that our patents do not cover the technology in question. An adverse result in any litigation or defense proceedings could put one or more of our patents at risk of being invalidated, held unenforceable, or interpreted narrowly and could put our patent applications at risk of not issuing. Defense of these claims, regardless of their merit, would involve substantial litigation expense and would be a substantial diversion of employee resources from our business.
We may choose to challenge the patentability of claims in a third party’s U.S. patent by requesting that the USPTO review the patent claims in an ex-parte re-exam, inter partes review or post-grant review proceedings. These proceedings are expensive and may consume our time or other resources. We may choose to challenge a third party’s patent in patent opposition proceedings in the foreign patent offices. The costs of these opposition proceedings could be substantial, and may consume our time or other resources. If we fail to obtain a favorable result at the USPTO or other patent office then we may be exposed to litigation by a third party alleging that the patent may be infringed by our product candidates or proprietary technologies.
In addition, because some patent applications in the United States may be maintained in secrecy until the patents are issued, patent applications in the United States and many foreign jurisdictions are typically not published until 18 months after filing, and publications in the scientific literature often lag behind actual discoveries, we cannot be certain that others have not filed patent applications for technology covered by our owned and in-licensed issued patents or our pending applications, or that we or, if applicable, a licensor were the first to invent the technology. Our competitors may have filed, and may in the future file, patent applications covering our products or technology similar to ours. Any such patent application may have priority over our owned and in-licensed patent applications or patents, which could require us to obtain rights to issued patents covering such technologies. If another party has filed a U.S. patent application on inventions similar to those owned by or in-licensed to us, we or, in the case of in-licensed technology, the licensor may have to participate in an interference proceeding declared by the USPTO to determine priority of invention in the United States. If we or one of our licensors is a party to an interference proceeding involving a U.S. patent application on inventions owned by or in-licensed to us, we may incur substantial costs, divert management’s time and expend other resources, even if we are successful.
Interference proceedings provoked by third parties or brought by the USPTO may be necessary to determine the priority of inventions with respect to our patents or patent applications or those of our licensors. An unfavorable outcome could result in a loss of our current patent rights and could require us to cease using the related technology or to attempt to license rights to it from the prevailing party. Our business could be harmed if the prevailing party does not offer us a license on commercially reasonable terms or at all. Litigation or interference proceedings may result in a decision adverse to our interests and, even if we are successful, may result in substantial costs and distract our management and other employees. We may not be able to prevent, alone or with our licensors, misappropriation of our trade secrets or confidential information, particularly in countries where the laws may not protect those rights as fully as in the United States.
Furthermore, because of the substantial amount of discovery required in connection with intellectual property litigation, there is a risk that some of our confidential information could be compromised by disclosure during this type of litigation. In addition, there could be public announcements of the results of hearings, motions or other interim proceedings or developments. If securities analysts or investors perceive these results to be negative, it could have a substantial adverse effect on the price of our common stock.
Obtaining and maintaining our patent protection depends on compliance with various procedural, document submission, fee payment and other requirements imposed by governmental patent agencies, and our patent protection could be reduced or eliminated for non-compliance with these requirements.
Periodic maintenance fees on any issued patent are due to be paid to the USPTO and foreign patent agencies in several stages over the lifetime of the patent. The USPTO and various foreign governmental patent agencies require compliance with a number of procedural, documentary, fee payment and other provisions during the patent application process and following the issuance of a patent. While an inadvertent lapse, including due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on us or our licensors’ patent maintenance vendors, can in many cases be cured by payment of a late fee or by other means in accordance with the applicable rules, there are situations in which noncompliance can result in abandonment or lapse of the patent or patent application, resulting in partial or complete loss of patent rights in the relevant jurisdiction. Noncompliance events that could result in abandonment or lapse of a patent or patent application include, but are not limited to, failure to respond to official actions within prescribed time limits, non-payment of fees and failure to properly legalize and submit formal documents. In such an event, our competitors might be able to enter the market, which would have a material adverse effect on our business.
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Issued patents covering our product candidates could be found invalid or unenforceable if challenged in court or the USPTO.
If we or one of our licensing partners initiate legal proceedings against a third party to enforce a patent covering one of our product candidates, the defendant could counterclaim that the patent covering our product candidate, as applicable, is invalid and/or unenforceable. In patent litigation in the United States, defendant counterclaims alleging invalidity and/or unenforceability are commonplace, and there are numerous grounds upon which a third-party can assert invalidity or unenforceability of a patent. Third parties may also raise similar claims before administrative bodies in the United States or abroad, even outside the context of litigation. Such mechanisms include re-examination, post grant review, and equivalent proceedings in foreign jurisdictions (e.g., opposition proceedings). Such proceedings could result in revocation or amendment to our patents in such a way that they no longer cover our product candidates. The outcome following legal assertions of invalidity and unenforceability is unpredictable. With respect to the validity question, for example, we cannot be certain that there is no invalidating prior art, of which we, our patent counsel and the patent examiner were unaware during prosecution. If a defendant were to prevail on a legal assertion of invalidity and/or unenforceability, or if we are otherwise unable to adequately protect our rights, we would lose at least part, and perhaps all, of the patent protection on our product candidates. Such a loss of patent protection could have a material adverse impact on our business and our ability to commercialize or license our technology and product candidates.
Moreover, the patents included in our patent portfolio may expire before, or soon after, our first product achieves marketing approval in the United States or foreign jurisdictions. For example, the patents related to novel ALK2 inhibitors in the patent family that we license from The General Hospital Corporation are expected to expire in April 2038, without taking into account any possible patent term adjustments or extensions. Upon the expiration of our current or future owned or licensed patents, we may lose the right to exclude others from practicing these inventions. The expiration of these patents could also have a similar material adverse effect on our business, results of operations, financial condition and prospects. We own pending patent applications covering our proprietary technologies or our product candidates that if issued as patents are expected to expire from 2037 through 2039, without taking into account any possible patent term adjustments or extensions. However, we cannot be assured that the USPTO or relevant foreign patent offices will grant any of these patent applications.
Changes in patent law in the U.S. and in ex-U.S. jurisdictions could diminish the value of patents in general, thereby impairing our ability to protect our products.
As is the case with other biopharmaceutical companies, our success is heavily dependent on intellectual property, particularly patents. Obtaining and enforcing patents in the biopharmaceutical industry involve both technological and legal complexity, and is therefore costly, time-consuming and inherently uncertain. Changes in either the patent laws or interpretation of the patent laws in the United States or in ex-U.S. jurisdictions could increase the uncertainties and costs surrounding the prosecution of patent applications and the enforcement or defense of issued patents. In addition, the United States has recently enacted and is currently implementing wide-ranging patent reform legislation. Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have narrowed the scope of patent protection available in certain circumstances and weakened the rights of patent owners in certain situations. In addition to increasing uncertainty with regard to our ability to obtain patents in the future, this combination of events has created uncertainty with respect to the value of patents, once obtained. Depending on decisions by the U.S. Congress, the federal courts, and the USPTO, the laws and regulations governing patents could change in unpredictable ways that would weaken our ability to obtain new patents or to enforce our existing patents and patents that we might obtain in the future. For example, in the case Amgen Inc. v. Sanofi, the Federal Circuit held that a well-characterized antigen is insufficient to satisfy the written description requirement of certain claims directed to a genus of antibodies that are solely defined by function; and in the case of Assoc. for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc., the U.S. Supreme Court held that certain claims to DNA molecules are not patentable. We cannot predict how these decisions or any future decisions by the courts, the U.S. Congress or the USPTO may impact the value of our patents. Similarly, any adverse changes in the patent laws of other jurisdictions could have a material adverse effect on our business and financial condition.
Some of our in-licensed intellectual property that was discovered through government-funded programs may be subject to federal regulation such as “march-in” rights, certain reporting requirements and a preference for U.S. industry. Compliance with such regulations may limit our exclusive rights, subject us to expenditure of resources with respect to reporting requirements and limit our ability to contract with foreign manufacturers.
At least one of our in-licensed patent cases related to our KER-047 product candidate has been funded in part by the U.S. government and, therefore, is subject to certain federal regulations pursuant to the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980, or the Bayh-Dole Act, and it is possible that additional patent filings we may choose to in-license in the future may also be subject to similar regulations. In particular, the federal government retains a “nonexclusive, nontransferable, irrevocable, paid-up license” for its own benefit to inventions produced with its financial assistance. The Bayh-Dole Act also provides federal agencies with “march-in rights.” March-in rights allow the government, in specified circumstances, to require the contractor or successors in title to the patent to grant a “nonexclusive, partially exclusive, or exclusive license” to a
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“responsible applicant or applicants.” If the patent owner refuses to do so, the government may grant the license itself. Intellectual property discovered under government-funded programs are also subject to certain reporting requirements, compliance with which may require us or our licensors to expend substantial resources. Such intellectual property is also subject to a preference for U.S. industry, which may limit our ability to contract with foreign product manufacturers for products covered by such intellectual property. Moreover, we sometimes collaborate with academic institutions to accelerate our preclinical research or development. While it is our policy to avoid engaging our university partners in projects in which there is a risk that federal funds may be commingled, we cannot be sure that any co-developed intellectual property will be free from government rights pursuant to the Bayh-Dole Act. Further, we may choose to license intellectual property in the future that may be subject to government rights pursuant to the Bayh-Dole Act. If, in the future, we co-own or license in technology which is critical to our business that is developed in whole or in part with federal funds subject to the Bayh-Dole Act, our ability to enforce or otherwise exploit patents covering such technology may be adversely affected.
We have limited foreign intellectual property rights and may not be able to protect our intellectual property rights throughout the world.
We have limited intellectual property rights outside the United States. Filing, prosecuting and defending patents on product candidates in all countries throughout the world would be prohibitively expensive, and our intellectual property rights in some countries outside the United States can be less extensive than those in the United States. In addition, the laws of some foreign countries do not protect intellectual property rights to the same extent as do federal and state laws in the United States. Consequently, we may not be able to prevent third parties from practicing our inventions in all countries outside the United States, or from selling or importing products made using our inventions in and into the United States or other jurisdictions. Many countries have compulsory licensing laws under which a patent owner may be compelled to grant licenses to third parties. In addition, many countries limit the enforceability of patents against government agencies or government contractors. In these countries, the patent owner may have limited remedies, which could materially diminish the value of such patent. If we or any of our licensors are forced to grant a license to third parties with respect to any patents relevant to our business, our competitive position may be impaired, and our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects may be adversely affected. Also, competitors may use our technologies in jurisdictions where we have not obtained patent protection to develop their own products and, further, may export otherwise infringing products to territories where we have patent protection but where enforcement is not as strong as that in the United States. These products may compete with our products in jurisdictions where we do not have any issued patents and our patent claims or other intellectual property rights may not be effective or sufficient to prevent them from competing.
Many companies have encountered significant problems in protecting and defending intellectual property rights in foreign jurisdictions. The legal systems of certain countries, particularly certain developing countries, do not favor the enforcement of patents, trade secrets and other intellectual property protection, particularly those relating to biopharmaceutical products, which could make it difficult for us to stop the infringement of our patents or marketing of competing products against third parties in violation of our proprietary rights generally. The initiation of proceedings by third parties to challenge the scope or validity of our patent rights in foreign jurisdictions could result in substantial cost and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business. Proceedings to enforce our patent rights in foreign jurisdictions could result in substantial costs and divert our efforts and attention from other aspects of our business, could put our patents at risk of being invalidated or interpreted narrowly and our patent applications at risk of not issuing and could provoke third parties to assert claims against us. We may not prevail in any lawsuits that we initiate and the damages or other remedies awarded, if any, may not be commercially meaningful. Accordingly, our efforts to enforce our intellectual property rights around the world may be inadequate to obtain a significant commercial advantage from the intellectual property that we develop or license.
We may incur substantial costs as a result of litigation or other proceedings relating to patents, and we may be unable to protect our rights to our products and technology.
If we or our licensors choose to go to court to stop a third party from using the inventions claimed in our owned or in-licensed patents, that third party may ask the court to rule that the patents are invalid and/or should not be enforced against that third party. These lawsuits are expensive and would consume time and other resources even if we or they, as the case may be, were successful in stopping the infringement of these patents. In addition, there is a risk that the court will decide that these patents are not valid and that we or they, as the case may be, do not have the right to stop others from using the inventions.
There is also the risk that, even if the validity of these patents is upheld, the court will refuse to stop the third party on the ground that such third party’s activities do not infringe our owned or in-licensed patents. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has recently changed some legal principles that affect patent applications, granted patents and assessment of the eligibility or validity of these patents. As a consequence, issued patents may be found to contain
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invalid claims according to the newly revised eligibility and validity standards. Some of our owned or in-licensed patents may be subject to challenge and subsequent invalidation or significant narrowing of claim scope in proceedings before the USPTO, or during litigation, under the revised criteria which could also make it more difficult to obtain patents.
We, or our licensors, may not be able to detect infringement against our owned or in-licensed patents, as the case may be, which may be especially difficult for manufacturing processes or formulation patents. Even if we or our licensors detect infringement by a third party of our owned or in-licensed patents, we or our licensors, as the case may be, may choose not to pursue litigation against or settlement with the third party. If we, or our licensors, later sue such third party for patent infringement, the third party may have certain legal defenses available to it, which otherwise would not be available except for the delay between when the infringement was first detected and when the suit was brought. Such legal defenses may make it impossible for us or our licensors to enforce our owned or in-licensed patents, as the case may be, against such third party.
If another party questions the patentability of any of our claims in our owned or in-licensed U.S. patents, the third-party can request that the USPTO review the patent claims such as in an inter partes review, ex parte re-exam or post-grant review proceedings. These proceedings are expensive and may result in a loss of scope of some claims or a loss of the entire patent. In addition to potential USPTO review proceedings, we may become a party to patent opposition proceedings in foreign patent offices, where either our owned or in-licensed foreign patents are challenged.
In the future, we may be involved in similar proceedings challenging the patent rights of others, and the outcome of such proceedings is highly uncertain. An adverse determination in any such proceeding could reduce the scope of, or invalidate, our patent rights, allow third parties to commercialize our technology or products and compete directly with us, without payment to us, or result in our inability to manufacture or commercialize products without infringing third-party patent rights. The costs of these opposition or similar proceedings could be substantial, and may result in a loss of scope of some claims or a loss of the entire patent. An unfavorable result at the USPTO or other patent office may result in the loss of our right to exclude others from practicing one or more of our inventions in the relevant country or jurisdiction, which could have a material adverse effect on our business.
Patent terms may be inadequate to protect our competitive position on our product candidates for an adequate amount of time.
Patents have a limited lifespan. In the United States, if all maintenance fees are timely paid, the natural expiration of a patent is generally 20 years from its earliest U.S. non-provisional filing date. Various extensions such as patent term adjustments and/or extensions, may be available, but the life of a patent, and the protection it affords, is limited. Even if patents covering our product candidates are obtained, once the patent life has expired, we may be open to competition from competitive products, including biosimilars. Given the amount of time required for the development, testing and regulatory review of new product candidates, patents protecting such candidates might expire before or shortly after such candidates are commercialized. As a result, our owned and licensed patent portfolio may not provide us with sufficient rights to exclude others from commercializing products similar or identical to ours.
If we do not obtain patent term extension and data exclusivity for any product candidates we may develop, our business may be materially harmed.
Depending upon the timing, duration and specifics of any FDA marketing approval of any product candidates we may develop, one or more of our U.S. patents may be eligible for limited patent term extension under the Drug Price Competition and Patent Term Restoration Action of 1984 Hatch-Waxman Amendments. The Hatch-Waxman Amendments permit a patent extension term of up to five years as compensation for patent term lost during the FDA regulatory review process. A patent term extension cannot extend the remaining term of a patent beyond a total of 14 years from the date of product approval, only one patent may be extended and only those claims covering the approved drug, a method for using it, or a method for manufacturing it may be extended. However, we may not be granted an extension because of, for example, failing to exercise due diligence during the testing phase or regulatory review process, failing to apply within applicable deadlines, failing to apply prior to expiration of relevant patents, or otherwise failing to satisfy applicable requirements. Moreover, the applicable time period or the scope of patent protection afforded could be less than we request. If we are unable to obtain patent term extension or term of any such extension is less than we request, our competitors may obtain approval of competing products following our patent expiration, and our business, financial condition, results of operations, and prospects could be materially harmed. Further, for our licensed patents, we may not have the right to control prosecution, including filing with the USPTO, of a petition for patent term extension under the Hatch-Waxman Act. Thus, if one of our licensed patents is eligible for patent term extension under the Hatch-Waxman Act, we may not be able to control whether a petition to obtain a patent term extension is filed, or obtained, from the USPTO.
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If our trademarks and trade names are not adequately protected, then we may not be able to build name recognition in our markets of interest and our business may be adversely affected.
Our trademarks or trade names may be challenged, infringed, circumvented or declared generic or determined to be infringing on other marks. We may not be able to protect our rights to these trademarks and trade names or may be forced to stop using these names, which we need for name recognition by potential partners or customers in our markets of interest. At times, competitors may adopt trade names or trademarks similar to ours, thereby impeding our ability to build brand identity and possibly leading to market confusion. In addition, there could be potential trade name or trademark infringement claims brought by owners of other registered trade names or trademarks that incorporate variations of our unregistered trade names or trademarks. If we are unable to establish name recognition based on our trademarks and trade names, we may not be able to compete effectively and our business may be adversely affected.
Risks Related to Our Reliance on Third Parties
We rely, and expect to continue to rely, on third parties, including independent clinical investigators, contracted laboratories and CROs, to conduct our preclinical studies and clinical trials. If these third parties do not successfully carry out their contractual duties or meet expected deadlines, we may not be able to obtain regulatory approval for or commercialize our product candidates and our business could be substantially harmed.
We have relied upon and plan to continue to rely upon third parties, including independent clinical investigators, contracted laboratories and third-party CROs, to conduct our preclinical studies and clinical trials in accordance with applicable regulatory requirements and to monitor and manage data for our ongoing preclinical and clinical programs. We rely on these parties for execution of our preclinical studies and clinical trials, and control only certain aspects of their activities. Nevertheless, we are responsible for ensuring that each of our studies and trials is conducted in accordance with the applicable protocol, legal and regulatory requirements and scientific standards, and our reliance on these third parties does not relieve us of our regulatory responsibilities. We and our third-party contractors and CROs are required to comply with good laboratory practices, or GLPs, as applicable, and GCP requirements, which are regulations and guidelines enforced by the FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities for conducting, recording and reporting the results of clinical trials to assure that data and reported results are credible, reproducible and accurate and that the rights, integrity, and confidentiality of trial participants are protected. Regulatory authorities enforce these GLPs and GCPs through periodic inspections of laboratories conducting GLP studies, trial sponsors, principal investigators and trial sites. If we, our investigators or any of our CROs or contracted laboratories fail to comply with applicable GLPs and GCPs, the clinical data generated in our clinical trials may be deemed unreliable and the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities may require us to perform additional preclinical studies or clinical trials before approving our marketing applications. We cannot assure you that upon inspection by a given regulatory authority, such regulatory authority will determine that any of our preclinical studies or clinical trials comply with applicable GLP or GCP regulations. In addition, our clinical trials must be conducted with product, including biologic product, produced in compliance with applicable cGMP regulations. Our failure to comply with these regulations may require us to repeat preclinical studies or clinical trials, which would delay the regulatory approval process.
Further, these laboratories, investigators and CROs are not our employees and we will not be able to control, other than by contract, the amount of resources, including time, which they devote to our product candidates and clinical trials. If independent laboratories, investigators or CROs fail to devote sufficient resources to the development of our product candidates, or if their performance is substandard, it may delay or compromise the prospects for approval and commercialization of any product candidates that we develop. In addition, the use of third-party service providers requires us to disclose our proprietary information to these parties, which could increase the risk that this information will be misappropriated.
Our CROs have the right to terminate their agreements with us in the event of an uncured material breach. In addition, some of our CROs have an ability to terminate their respective agreements with us if it can be reasonably demonstrated that the safety of the subjects participating in our clinical trials warrants such termination, if we make a general assignment for the benefit of our creditors or if we are liquidated.
The COVID-19 pandemic and government measures taken in response have also had a significant impact on our CROs, and we expect that they will face further disruption which may affect our ability to initiate and complete our preclinical studies and clinical trials.
There is a limited number of third-party service providers that specialize or have the expertise required to achieve our business objectives. If any of our relationships with these third-party laboratories, CROs or clinical investigators terminate, we may not be able to enter into arrangements with alternative laboratories, CROs or investigators or to do so in a timely manner or on commercially reasonable terms. If laboratories, CROs or clinical investigators do not
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successfully carry out their contractual duties or obligations or meet expected deadlines, if they need to be replaced or if the quality or accuracy of the clinical data they obtain is compromised due to the failure to adhere to our preclinical or clinical protocols, regulatory requirements or for other reasons, our preclinical or clinical trials may be extended, delayed or terminated and we may not be able to obtain regulatory approval for or successfully commercialize our product candidates. As a result, our results of operations and the commercial prospects for our product candidates would be harmed, our costs could increase and our ability to generate revenues could be delayed.
Switching or adding additional laboratories or CROs (or investigators) involves additional cost and requires management time and focus. In addition, there is a natural transition period when a new laboratory or CRO commences work. As a result, delays occur, which can materially impact our ability to meet our desired clinical development timelines. Though we carefully manage our relationships with our contracted laboratories and CROs, there can be no assurance that we will not encounter similar challenges or delays in the future or that these delays or challenges will not have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition and results of operations.
In addition, clinical investigators may serve as scientific advisors or consultants to us from time to time and may receive cash or equity compensation in connection with such services. If these relationships and any related compensation result in perceived or actual conflicts of interest, or the FDA concludes that the financial relationship may have affected the interpretation of the preclinical study or clinical trial, the integrity of the data generated at the applicable preclinical study or clinical trial site may be questioned and the utility of the preclinical study or clinical trial itself may be jeopardized, which could result in the delay or rejection by the FDA. Any such delay or rejection could prevent us from commercializing our clinical-stage product candidate or any future product candidates.
We rely on third parties to supply and manufacture our product candidates, and we expect to continue to rely on third parties to manufacture our products, if approved. The development of such product candidates and the commercialization of any products, if approved, could be stopped, delayed or made less profitable if any such third party fails to provide us with sufficient quantities of product candidates or products or fails to do so at acceptable quality levels or prices or fails to maintain or achieve satisfactory regulatory compliance.
We do not currently have the infrastructure or capability internally to manufacture our product candidates for use in the conduct of our preclinical studies and clinical trials or for commercial supply, if our products are approved. We rely on, and expect to continue to rely on, contract manufacturing organizations, or CMOs. Any replacement of our CMOs could require significant effort and expertise because there may be a limited number of qualified CMOs. This could be particularly problematic where we rely on a single-source supplier, as is currently the case for the manufacture of each of KER-050, KER-047 and KER-012.
Reliance on third-party providers may expose us to more risk than if we were to manufacture our product candidates ourselves. We are dependent on our CMOs for the production of our product candidates in accordance with relevant regulations, such as cGMP, which includes, among other things, quality control, quality assurance and the maintenance of records and documentation. Moreover, many of the third parties with whom we contract may also have relationships with other commercial entities, including our competitors, for whom they may also be conducting product development activities that could harm our competitive position.
If we were to experience an unexpected loss of supply of or if any supplier were unable to meet our demand for any of our product candidates, we could experience delays in our research or planned clinical trials or commercialization. For example, the extent to which the COVID-19 pandemic impacts our ability to procure sufficient supplies for the development of our product candidates will depend on the severity and duration of the spread of the virus, and the actions undertaken to contain COVID-19 or treat its effects. We could be unable to find alternative suppliers of acceptable quality, in the appropriate volumes and at an acceptable cost. Moreover, our suppliers are often subject to strict manufacturing requirements and rigorous testing requirements, which could limit or delay production. Any changes in regulatory requirements, policy and guidelines, including the imposition of additional regulatory oversight around manufacturing and testing requirements generally or with respect to our technology in particular, could also limit or delay production. The long transition periods necessary to switch manufacturers and suppliers, if necessary, could significantly delay our clinical studies and the commercialization of our products, if approved, which could materially adversely affect our business, financial condition and results of operation.
In complying with the applicable manufacturing regulations of the FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities, we and our third-party suppliers must spend significant time, money and effort in the areas of design and development, testing, production, record-keeping and quality control to assure that the products meet applicable specifications and other regulatory requirements. The facilities used by our contract manufacturers to manufacture our product candidates are subject to review by the FDA pursuant to inspections that will be conducted after we submit our NDA or BLA to the FDA. We do not control the manufacturing process of, and are completely dependent on, our contract manufacturing partners for compliance with cGMP requirements for manufacture of drug and biologic products. If our contract
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manufacturers cannot successfully manufacture material that conforms to our specifications and the strict regulatory requirements of the FDA or others, we will not be able to secure or maintain regulatory approval for our product candidates manufactured at these manufacturing facilities. In addition, we have no control over the ability of our contract manufacturers to maintain adequate quality control, quality assurance and qualified personnel. If the FDA or a comparable foreign regulatory agency does not approve these facilities for the manufacture of our product candidates or if any agency withdraws its approval in the future, we and they may need to find alternative manufacturing facilities, which would negatively impact the ability to develop, obtain regulatory approval for or market our product candidates, if approved. The failure of our manufacturers to comply with regulatory requirements could also result in an enforcement action against us, including the seizure of products and shutting down of production. If any of our third-party suppliers fails to comply with cGMP or other applicable manufacturing regulations, our ability to develop and commercialize the products could suffer significant interruptions. We face risks inherent in relying on a single CMO, as any disruption, such as a fire, natural hazards or vandalism at the CMO could significantly interrupt our manufacturing capability. All of our CMOs currently do not have alternative production plans in place or disaster-recovery facilities available. In case of a disruption, we will have to establish alternative manufacturing sources. This would require substantial capital on our part, which we may not be able to obtain on commercially acceptable terms or at all. Additionally, we would likely experience months of manufacturing delays as the CMO builds or locates replacement facilities and seeks and obtains necessary regulatory approvals. If this occurs, we will be unable to satisfy manufacturing needs on a timely basis, if at all.
Our future collaborations will be important to our business. If we are unable to enter into new collaborations, or if these collaborations are not successful, our business could be adversely affected.
A part of our strategy is to strategically evaluate and, as deemed appropriate, enter into additional strategic collaborations in the future when strategically attractive, including potentially with major biotechnology or pharmaceutical companies. We have limited capabilities for product development and do not yet have any capability for commercialization. Accordingly, we may enter into collaborations with other companies to provide us with important technologies and funding for our programs and technology. If we fail to enter into or maintain collaborations on reasonable terms or at all, our ability to develop our existing or future research programs and product candidates could be delayed, the commercial potential of our product could change and our costs of development and commercialization could increase. Furthermore, we may find that our programs require the use of intellectual property rights held by third parties, and the growth of our business may depend in part on our ability to acquire or in-license these intellectual property rights.
Any future collaborations we enter into may pose a number of risks, including, but not limited to, the following:
collaborators have significant discretion in determining the efforts and resources that they will apply;
collaborators may not perform their obligations as expected;
collaborators may not pursue development and commercialization of any product candidates that achieve regulatory approval or may elect not to continue or renew development or commercialization programs or license arrangements based on clinical trial results, changes in the collaborators’ strategic focus or available funding, or external factors, such as a strategic transaction that may divert resources or create competing priorities;
collaborators may delay clinical trials, provide insufficient funding for a clinical trial program, stop a clinical trial or abandon a product candidate, repeat or conduct new clinical trials or require a new formulation of a product candidate for clinical testing;
collaborators could independently develop, or develop with third parties, products that compete directly or indirectly with our products and product candidates if the collaborators believe that the competitive products are more likely to be successfully developed or can be commercialized under terms that are more economically attractive than ours;
product candidates discovered in collaboration with us may be viewed by our collaborators as competitive with their own product candidates or products, which may cause collaborators to cease to devote resources to the commercialization of our product candidates;
collaborators may fail to comply with applicable regulatory requirements regarding the development, manufacture, distribution or marketing of a product candidate or product;
collaborators with marketing and distribution rights to one or more of our product candidates that achieve regulatory approval may not commit sufficient resources to the marketing and distribution of such product or products;
disagreements with collaborators, including disagreements over proprietary rights, contract interpretation or the preferred course of development, might cause delays or terminations of the research, development or commercialization of product candidates, might lead to additional responsibilities for us with respect to product candidates, or might result in litigation or arbitration, any of which would be time-consuming and expensive;
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collaborators may not properly maintain or defend our intellectual property rights or may use our proprietary information in such a way as to invite litigation that could jeopardize or invalidate our intellectual property or proprietary information or expose us to potential litigation;
collaborators may infringe the intellectual property rights of third parties, which may expose us to litigation and potential liability;
if a collaborator of ours is involved in a business combination, the collaborator might de-emphasize or terminate the development or commercialization of any product candidate licensed to it by us; and
collaborations may be terminated by the collaborator, and, if terminated, we could be required to raise additional capital to pursue further development or commercialization of the applicable product candidates.
If our collaborations do not result in the successful discovery, development and commercialization of product candidates or if one of our collaborators terminates its agreement with us, we may not receive any future research funding or milestone or royalty payments under such collaboration. All of the risks relating to product development, regulatory approval and commercialization described in this Annual Report on Form 10-K also apply to the activities of our therapeutic collaborators.
Additionally, if one of our collaborators terminates its agreement with us, we may find it more difficult to attract new collaborators and our perception in the business and financial communities could be adversely affected.
We face significant competition in seeking appropriate collaborative partners. Our ability to reach a definitive agreement for a collaboration will depend, among other things, upon an assessment of the collaborator’s resources and expertise, the terms and conditions of the proposed collaboration and the proposed collaborator’s evaluation of a number of factors. These factors may include the design or results of preclinical studies or clinical trials, the likelihood of regulatory approval, the potential market for the subject product candidate, the costs and complexities of manufacturing and delivering such product candidate to patients, the potential of competing products, the existence of any uncertainty with respect to our ownership of technology (which can exist if there is a challenge to such ownership regardless of the merits of the challenge) and industry and market conditions generally. The collaborator may also consider alternative product candidates or technologies for similar indications that may be available to collaborate on and whether such a collaboration could be more attractive than the one with us.
We may not be able to negotiate collaborations on a timely basis, on acceptable terms, or at all. If we are unable to do so, we may have to curtail the development of the product candidate for which we are seeking to collaborate, reduce or delay its development program or one or more of our other development programs, delay its potential commercialization, reduce the scope of any sales or marketing activities or increase our expenditures and undertake development or commercialization activities at our own expense. If we elect to increase our expenditures to fund development or commercialization activities on our own, we may need to obtain additional capital, which may not be available to us on acceptable terms or at all. If we do not have sufficient funds, we may not be able to further develop product candidates or bring them to market and generate product revenue.
If we engage in future acquisitions or strategic collaborations, this may increase our capital requirements, dilute our stockholders, cause us to incur debt or assume contingent liabilities and subject us to other risks.
From time to time, we may evaluate various acquisition opportunities and strategic collaborations, including licensing or acquiring complementary products, intellectual property rights, technologies or businesses. Any potential acquisition or strategic collaboration may entail numerous risks, including:
increased operating expenses and cash requirements;
the assumption of additional indebtedness or contingent liabilities;
the issuance of our equity securities;
assimilation of operations, intellectual property and products of an acquired company, including difficulties associated with integrating new personnel;
the diversion of our management’s attention from our existing programs and initiatives in pursuing such a strategic merger or acquisition;
retention of key employees, the loss of key personnel and uncertainties in our ability to maintain key business relationships;
risks and uncertainties associated with the other party to such a transaction, including the prospects of that party and their existing products or product candidates and marketing approvals; and
our inability to generate revenue from acquired technology and/or products sufficient to meet our objectives in undertaking the acquisition or even to offset the associated acquisition and maintenance costs.
In addition, if we undertake acquisitions or pursue collaborations in the future, we may issue dilutive securities, assume or incur debt obligations, incur large one-time expenses and acquire intangible assets that could result in significant
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future amortization expense. Moreover, we may not be able to locate suitable acquisition opportunities, and this inability could impair our ability to grow or obtain access to technology or products that may be important to the development of our business.
Risks Related to Our Employee Matters, Managing Our Growth and Other Risks Relating to Our Operations
The COVID-19 pandemic could adversely impact our business, including the timing or results of our preclinical studies and clinical trials.
Since December 2019, a novel strain of coronavirus, COVID-19, has spread to multiple countries, including the United States, Australia and New Zealand, where we have planned or ongoing preclinical studies and clinical trials. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak of COVID-19 as a global pandemic. On March 23, 2020, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses effective March 24, 2020, through April 7, 2020, which was subsequently extended through May 18, 2020. On May 18, 2020, the governor of Massachusetts issued a new order implementing a phased re-opening of workplaces, effective May 18, 2020. As of March 22, 2021, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially entered step one of the fourth phase of re-opening. Because of the nature of our operations, we are currently considered to be an essential business so, to date, our operations have only been partially affected by these orders. The outbreak and government measures taken in response have also had a significant impact, both direct and indirect, on businesses and commerce, as worker shortages have occurred; supply chains have been disrupted; facilities and production have been suspended; and demand for certain goods and services, such as medical services and supplies, has spiked, while demand for other goods and services, such as travel, has fallen. In response to the spread of COVID-19, we have closed our principal executive office with our administrative employees continuing their work outside of our office and limited the number of staff in any given research and development laboratory. If COVID-19 continues to spread in the United States, Australia and New Zealand, we may experience disruptions that could severely impact our business, preclinical studies and clinical trials, including:
delays in receiving approval from local regulatory authorities to initiate our planned clinical trials;
delays or difficulties in enrolling patients in our clinical trials;
delays or difficulties in clinical site initiation, including difficulties in recruiting clinical site investigators and clinical site staff;
delays in clinical sites receiving the supplies and materials needed to conduct our clinical trials, including interruption in global shipping that may affect the transport of clinical trial materials;
changes in local regulations as part of a response to COVID-19 which may require us to change the ways in which our clinical trials are conducted, which may result in unexpected costs, or to discontinue the clinical trials altogether;
diversion of healthcare resources away from the conduct of clinical trials, including the diversion of hospitals serving as our clinical trial sites and hospital staff supporting the conduct of our clinical trials;
interruption of key clinical trial activities, such as clinical trial site monitoring, due to limitations on travel imposed or recommended by federal or state governments, employers and others, or interruption of clinical trial subject visits and study procedures, the occurrence of which could affect the integrity of clinical trial data;
risk that participants enrolled in our clinical trials will acquire COVID-19 while the clinical trial is ongoing, which could impact the results of the clinical trial, including by increasing the number of observed adverse events;
interruptions in preclinical studies due to restricted or limited operations at our research and development laboratory facility;
delays in necessary interactions with local regulators, ethics committees and other important agencies and contractors due to limitations in employee resources or forced furlough of government employees;
limitations in employee resources that would otherwise be focused on the conduct of our clinical trials, including because of sickness of employees or their families or the desire of employees to avoid contact with large groups of people;
refusal of the FDA to accept data from clinical trials in these affected geographies; and
interruption or delays to our sourced discovery and clinical activities.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly evolve. The extent to which the outbreak impacts our business, preclinical studies and clinical trials will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence, such as the ultimate geographic spread of the disease, the duration of the pandemic, travel restrictions and social distancing in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other countries, business closures or business disruptions and the effectiveness of actions taken in the United States, Australia, New Zealand and other countries to contain and treat the disease. In addition, while the potential impact and duration of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy and our business in particular may be difficult to assess or predict, the pandemic has resulted in, and
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may continue to result in, significant disruption of global financial markets, reducing our ability to access capital, which could negatively affect our liquidity in the future. Moreover, to the extent the COVID-19 pandemic adversely affects our business, financial condition and results of operations, it may also have the effect of heightening many of the other risks described in this “Risk Factors” section.
We are highly dependent on our key personnel, including our Chief Executive Officer, Chief Scientific Officer and Chief Medical Officer. If we are not successful in attracting, motivating and retaining highly qualified personnel, we may not be able to successfully implement our business strategy.
Our ability to compete in the highly competitive biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries depends upon our ability to attract, motivate and retain highly qualified managerial, scientific and medical personnel. We are highly dependent on our management and particularly on the services of our scientific personnel including Jasbir Seehra, Ph.D., our Chief Executive Officer, Jennifer Lachey, Ph.D., our Chief Scientific Officer, and Claudia Ordonez, M.D., our Chief Medical Officer. We believe that their drug discovery and development experience and overall biopharmaceutical company management experience would be difficult to replace. Any of our executive officers could leave our employment at any time, as all of our employees are “at-will” employees. The loss of the services of our key personnel and any of our other executive officers, key employees, and scientific and medical advisors, and our inability to find suitable replacements, could result in delays in our research and development objectives and harm our business.
Recruiting and retaining qualified employees, consultants and advisors for our business, including scientific and technical personnel, also will be critical to our success. Competition for skilled personnel is intense and the turnover rate can be high. We may not be able to attract and retain personnel on acceptable terms given the competition among numerous pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies and academic institutions for skilled individuals. In addition, failure to succeed in preclinical studies, clinical trials or applications for marketing approval may make it more challenging to recruit and retain qualified personnel. The inability to recruit, or the loss of services of certain executives, key employees, consultants or advisors, may impede the progress of our research, development and commercialization objectives and have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
We will need to grow the size of our organization, and we may experience difficulties in managing this growth.
As of December 31, 2020, we had 35 full-time employees, including 25 employees engaged in research and development and ten employees engaged in management or general and administrative activities. As our clinical development and commercialization plans and strategies develop, and as we transition into operating as a public company, we expect we will need additional managerial, operational, sales, marketing, financial, legal and other personnel. Future growth would impose significant added responsibilities on members of management, including:
identifying, recruiting, integrating, maintaining and motivating additional employees;
managing our development efforts effectively, including the clinical and FDA review process for KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any future product candidates, while complying with our contractual obligations to contractors and other third parties; and
improving our operational, financial and management controls, reporting systems and procedures.
Our future financial performance and our ability to commercialize KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any other product candidates we develop will depend, in part, on our ability to effectively manage any future growth, and our management may also have to divert a disproportionate amount of its attention away from day-to-day activities in order to devote a substantial amount of time to managing these growth activities.
We currently rely, and for the foreseeable future will continue to rely, in substantial part on certain independent organizations, advisors and consultants to provide certain services. The services include substantially all aspects of clinical trial management and manufacturing. We cannot assure you that the services of independent organizations, advisors and consultants will continue to be available to us on a timely basis when needed, or that we can find qualified replacements. In addition, if we are unable to effectively manage our outsourced activities or if the quality or accuracy of the services provided by consultants is compromised for any reason, our clinical trials may be extended, delayed or terminated, and we may not be able to obtain marketing approval of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and our other product candidates or otherwise advance our business. We cannot assure you that we will be able to manage our existing consultants or find other competent outside contractors and consultants on economically reasonable terms, or at all.
If we are not able to effectively expand our organization by hiring qualified new employees and expanding our groups of consultants and contractors, we may not be able to successfully implement the tasks necessary to further develop and commercialize KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and our other product candidates and, accordingly, may not achieve our research, development and commercialization goals.
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Our internal computer systems, or those used by our contract research organizations, or other contractors or consultants, may fail or suffer security breaches, which could adversely affect our business.
We are increasingly dependent upon information technology systems, infrastructure and data to operate our business, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the implementation of security measures, our internal computer systems and those of our future CROs and other contractors and consultants are vulnerable to damage or unauthorized access or use resulting from computer viruses, malware, cyber-attacks or cyber-intrusions over the Internet, denial or degradation of service attacks, ransomware, hacking, phishing and other social engineering attacks, attachments to emails, actions of persons inside our organization or persons with access to the systems upon which we depend. The techniques used to sabotage or to obtain unauthorized access to information systems, and networks in which data is stored or through which data is transmitted change frequently, and we may be unable to implement adequate preventative measures. Our ability to monitor future CROs and other contractors and consultants’ data security is limited. While we have not experienced any such material system failure or security breach to date, if such an event were to occur and cause interruptions in our operations, it could result in a material disruption of our development programs, our business operations, and the privacy or confidentiality of the information that we maintain. For example, the loss of preclinical or clinical data could result in delays in our regulatory approval efforts and significantly increase our costs to recover or reproduce the data. In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we may face increased cybersecurity risks due to our reliance on internet technology and the number of our employees that are working remotely, which may create additional opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit vulnerabilities.
The costs to respond to a security breach and/or to mitigate any security vulnerabilities that may be identified could be significant, our efforts to address these problems may not be successful, and these problems could result in unexpected interruptions, delays, cessation of service, negative publicity, and other harm to our business and our competitive position. Any security breach affecting us, our CROs, contractors, consultants or other partners or our industry, whether real or perceived, could harm our reputation, erode confidence in the effectiveness of our security measures and lead to regulatory scrutiny. Likewise, we may rely on third parties for the manufacture of our product candidates and to conduct clinical trials, and similar events relating to their computer systems could also have a material adverse effect on our business. To the extent that any disruption or security breach were to result in a loss of, or damage to, our data or applications, or inappropriate disclosure of confidential or proprietary information, we could face governmental reporting obligations, fines, incur liability and the further development and commercialization of our product candidates could be delayed.
We may have contractual and legal obligations to notify relevant stakeholders of security breaches. Most jurisdictions have enacted laws requiring companies to notify individuals, regulatory authorities, and others of security breaches involving certain types of data. In addition, our agreements with collaborators may require us to notify them in the event of a security breach. Such mandatory disclosures are costly, could lead to negative publicity, may cause our collaborators to lose confidence in the effectiveness of our security measures and require us to expend significant capital and other resources to respond to and/or alleviate problems caused by the actual or perceived security breach.
We may not have adequate insurance coverage for security incidents or breaches or information system failures. The successful assertion of one or more large claims against us that exceeds our available insurance coverage, or results in changes to our insurance policies (including premium increases or the imposition of large deductible or co-insurance requirements), could have an adverse effect on our business. In addition, we cannot be sure that our existing insurance coverage and coverage for errors and omissions will continue to be available on acceptable terms or that our insurers will not deny coverage as to any future claim.
Failure to comply with existing and future health data protection laws and regulations could lead to government enforcement actions, including administrative, civil or criminal fines or penalties, private litigation, other liabilities and adverse publicity and could negatively affect our operating results and business. Compliance or the failure to comply with such laws and regulations could increase the costs of our products, could limit their use or adoption, and could otherwise negatively affect our operating results and business.
We, our service providers and any potential collaborators may be subject to or affected by federal, state, local and foreign data protection laws and regulations, such as laws and regulations that address privacy and data security. In the United States, numerous federal and state laws and regulations, including federal and state health information privacy laws, state data breach notification laws, and federal and state consumer protection laws, including Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, that govern the collection, use, disclosure and protection of health information and other personal information could apply to our operations or the operations of our collaborators. In addition, we may obtain health information from third parties, including research institutions from which we obtain clinical trial data, that are subject to privacy and security requirements under HIPAA, as amended by HITECH. Depending on the facts and circumstances, we could be subject to civil, criminal and administrative penalties and fines if we violate HIPAA.
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In addition, certain state and foreign laws govern the privacy and security of health information in certain circumstances, some of which are more stringent than U.S. federal law and many of which differ from each other in significant ways and may not have the same effect, thus complicating compliance efforts. For instance, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018, or CCPA, which became effective on January 1, 2020, gives California residents expanded rights to access and require deletion of their personal information, opt out of the sale of personal information, and receive detailed information about how their personal information is used. The CCPA authorizes private lawsuits to recover statutory damages for certain data breaches. Although the CCPA exempts some data regulated by HIPAA and certain data regarding clinical trials, the CCPA, to the extent applicable to our business and operations, may increase our compliance costs and potential liability with respect to other personal information we maintain about California residents. Other privacy legislation has been proposed at the federal and state levels, which, if enacted, could adversely affect our business.
Our operations may also be subject to increased scrutiny or attention from foreign data protection authorities. Our clinical trial programs and research collaborations outside the United States may implicate foreign data protection laws, including in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Many countries have established, or are in the process of establishing, privacy and data security legal frameworks with which we, our collaborators, service providers, including our CROs, and contractors must comply. For example, European data protection laws, including, without limitation, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which went into effect in May 2018, and the UK Data Protection Act introduced strict requirements regarding the processing of personal data , including clinical trial data, which may apply to the company to the extent it processes the personal data of data subjects within the European Economic Area, or EEA, and/or the United Kingdom.
The GDPR and UK Data Protection Act set out extensive compliance requirements, including providing detailed disclosures about how personal data is collected and processed, demonstrating that an appropriate legal basis is in place or otherwise exists to justify data processing activities; granting new rights for data subjects in regard to their personal data, as well as enhancing current rights (e.g., data subject access requests); introducing the obligation to notify data protection regulators or supervisory authorities (and in certain cases, affected individuals) of significant data breaches; imposing limitations on retention of personal data; maintaining a record of data processing; and complying with the principal of accountability and the obligation to demonstrate compliance through policies, procedures, training and audit. The processing of sensitive personal data, such as health information, impose heightened compliance burdens under the GDPR and the UK Data Protection Act and is a topic of active interest among foreign regulators. Moreover, the GDPR and the UK Data Protection Act increase our obligations with respect to clinical trials conducted in the EU by expanding the definition of personal data to include coded data and requiring changes to informed consent practices and more detailed notices for clinical trial participants and investigators.
Recent legal developments in Europe have created complexity and uncertainty regarding transfers of personal data from the European Economic Area, or EEA, to the United States. Most recently, on July 16, 2020, in a case known as Schrems II, the Court of Justice of the European Union, or CJEU, invalidated the EU-US Privacy Shield Framework under which personal data could be transferred from the EEA to U.S. entities who had self-certified under the Privacy Shield scheme. While the CJEU upheld the adequacy of the Standard Contractual Clauses (a standard form of contract approved by the European Commission as an adequate personal data transfer mechanism, and potential alternative to the Privacy Shield), it made clear that reliance on them alone may not necessarily be sufficient in all circumstances. Use of the standard contractual clauses must now be assessed on a case-by-case basis taking into account the legal regime applicable in the destination country, in particular applicable surveillance laws and rights of individuals and additional measures and/or contractual provisions may need to be put in place. However, the nature of these additional measures is currently uncertain. There are few viable alternatives to the Standard Contractual Clauses, and the law in this area remains dynamic. These recent developments will require us to review and may require us to amend the legal mechanisms by which we transfer personal data to the United States and other countries outside of the EEA. As supervisory authorities issue further guidance on personal data export mechanisms, including supplementary measures for Standard Contractual Clauses to remain a valid data transfer mechanism circumstances where the Standard Contractual Clauses cannot be used, and/or start taking enforcement action, we could suffer additional costs, complaints and/or regulatory investigations or fines, and/or if we are otherwise unable to transfer personal data between and among countries and regions in which we conduct clinical trials, it could affect our business.
Relatedly, following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EEA and the EU, and the expiry of the transition period, the relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU in relation to certain aspects of data protection law remains unclear, for example around how data can lawfully be transferred between each jurisdiction, which exposes us to further compliance risk.
We may publish privacy policies and other documentation regarding our collection, processing, use and disclosure of personal information and/or other confidential information. Although we endeavor to comply with our published policies
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and other documentation, we may at times fail to do so or may be perceived to have failed to do so. Moreover, despite our efforts, we may not be successful in achieving compliance if our employees or vendors fail to comply with our published policies and documentation. Such failures can subject us to potential foreign, local, state and federal action if they are found to be deceptive, unfair, or misrepresentative of our actual practices. Moreover, subjects about whom we or our collaborators obtain information, as well as the providers who share this information with us, may contractually limit our ability to use and disclose the information.
Any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with our legal obligations concerning privacy, data protection or information security could result in claims by data subjects, governmental investigations and enforcement action against us, including fines, enforcement orders, imprisonment of company officials and public censure, (individual and collective) claims for damages by affected individuals and damage to our reputation, any of which could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, and operating results. Companies that must comply with the GDPR and UK Data Protection Act face increased compliance obligations and risk, including more robust regulatory enforcement of data protection requirements and potential fines for noncompliance of up to €20 million or 4% of the annual global revenues of the noncompliant company, whichever is greater, litigation, regulatory investigations, enforcement actions that require us to change the way we use personal data, and/or prohibitions on the use of personal data. Such penalties may be in addition to any civil litigation claims by data subjects. We may not be successful in avoiding potential liability or disruption of business resulting from the failure to comply with these laws and, even if we comply with laws, we may be subject to liability because of a security incident. Further, complying with the applicable notification requirements in the event of a security breach could result in significant costs. Furthermore, future interpretations of existing data protection laws or regulations could be inconsistent with our current interpretations, increase our compliance burden, make it more difficult to comply, and/or increase our risk of regulatory investigations and fines.
Additionally, if third parties we work with, such as CROs and other contractors and consultants, violate data privacy or data protection applicable laws or regulations or our policies, or are subject to security incidents, such violations or security incidents may also put our clinical trial data at risk and could in turn materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and prospects.
Compliance with U.S. and foreign data protection laws and regulations could require us to take on more onerous obligations in our contracts, increase our costs of legal compliance, restrict our ability to collect, use and disclose data, or in some cases, impact our or our partners’ or suppliers’ ability to operate in certain jurisdictions. Failure to comply with these laws and regulations could result in government investigations and/or enforcement actions (which could include civil, criminal and administrative penalties), private litigation and/or adverse publicity and could negatively affect our operating results and business. Moreover, clinical trial subjects, employees and other individuals about whom we or our potential collaborators obtain personal information, as well as the providers who share this information with us, may limit our ability to collect, use and disclose the information. Claims that we have violated individuals’ privacy rights, failed to comply with data protection laws, or breached our contractual obligations, even if we are not found liable, could be expensive and time-consuming to defend and could result in adverse publicity that could harm our business.
Our employees, independent contractors, vendors, principal investigators, CROs and consultants may engage in misconduct or other improper activities, including non-compliance with regulatory standards and requirements and insider trading.
We are exposed to the risk that our employees, independent contractors, vendors, principal investigators, CROs and consultants may engage in fraudulent conduct or other illegal activity. Misconduct by these parties could include intentional, reckless and/or negligent conduct or disclosure of unauthorized activities to us that violate the regulations of the FDA and comparable foreign regulatory authorities, including those laws requiring the reporting of true, complete and accurate information to such authorities; healthcare fraud and abuse laws and regulations in the United States and abroad; or laws that require the reporting of financial information or data accurately. In particular, sales, marketing and business arrangements in the healthcare industry are subject to extensive laws and regulations intended to prevent fraud, misconduct, kickbacks, self-dealing and other abusive practices. These laws and regulations may restrict or prohibit a wide range of pricing, discounting, marketing and promotion, sales commission, customer incentive programs and other business arrangements. Activities subject to these laws also involve the improper use of information obtained in the course of clinical trials or creating fraudulent data in our preclinical studies or clinical trials, which could result in regulatory sanctions and cause serious harm to our reputation. It is not always possible to identify and deter misconduct by employees and other third parties, and the precautions we take to detect and prevent this activity may not be effective in controlling unknown or unmanaged risks or losses or in protecting us from governmental investigations or other actions or lawsuits stemming from a failure to comply with these laws or regulations. Additionally, we are subject to the risk that a person could allege such fraud or other misconduct, even if none occurred. If any such actions are instituted against us, and we are not successful in defending ourselves or asserting our rights, those actions could have
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a significant impact on our business, including the imposition of significant civil, criminal and administrative penalties, damages, monetary fines, imprisonment, possible exclusion from participation in Medicare, Medicaid and other federal healthcare programs, additional reporting requirements and oversight if we become subject to a corporate integrity agreement or similar agreement to resolve allegations of non-compliance with these laws, contractual damages, reputational harm, diminished profits and future earnings, and curtailment of our operations, any of which could adversely affect our ability to operate our business, financial condition and results of operations.
We conduct certain research and development operations through our Australian wholly-owned subsidiary. If we lose our ability to operate in Australia, or if our subsidiary is unable to receive the research and development incentive payment allowed by Australian regulations, our business and results of operations could suffer.
In October 2018, we formed a wholly-owned Australian subsidiary, Keros Therapeutics Australia Pty Ltd, to conduct various preclinical studies and clinical trials for our product candidates in Australia. Due to the geographical distance and lack of employees currently in Australia, as well as our lack of experience operating in Australia, we may not be able to efficiently or successfully monitor our clinical activities in Australia, including conducting preclinical studies and clinical trials. Furthermore, we have no assurance that the results of any clinical trials that we conduct for our product candidate in Australia will be accepted by the FDA or comparable foreign regulatory authorities for development and commercialization approvals.
In addition, current Australian tax regulations provide for a refundable research and development incentive payment equal to 43.5% of qualified expenditures. We received incentive payments of approximately $2.5 million and $0.6 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. If our subsidiary loses its ability to operate in Australia, or if we are ineligible or unable to receive the research and development incentive payment, or the Australian government significantly reduces or eliminates the incentive program, our business and results of operation may be adversely affected.
A variety of risks are associated with operating our business internationally which could materially adversely affect our business.
We conduct certain research and development operations in Australia and New Zealand and may conduct certain future clinical trials outside of the United States. Additionally, while we have not taken any steps to enter into any non-U.S. markets, we may do so in the future. Accordingly, we are subject to risks related to operating in foreign countries, including:
different standards of care in various countries that could complicate the evaluation of our product candidates;
different United States and foreign drug import and export rules;
reduced protection for intellectual property rights in certain countries;
unexpected changes in tariffs, trade barriers and regulatory requirements;
economic weakness, including inflation, or political instability in particular foreign economies and markets;
compliance with tax, employment, immigration, and labor laws for employees living or traveling abroad;
compliance with the FCPA and other anti-corruption and anti-bribery laws;
foreign taxes, including withholding of payroll taxes;
foreign currency fluctuations, which could result in increased operating expenses and reduced revenue, and other obligations incident to doing business in another country;
workforce uncertainty in countries where labor unrest is more common than in the United States;
production shortages resulting from any events affecting raw material supply or manufacturing capabilities abroad;
different payor reimbursement regimes, governmental payors or patient self-pay systems and price controls;
potential liability resulting from development work conducted by foreign partners;
business interruptions resulting from natural disasters, outbreaks of contagious diseases, such as COVID-19, or geopolitical actions, including war and terrorism, or systems failure including cybersecurity breaches; and
compliance with evolving and expansive foreign regulatory requirements, including data privacy laws (such as the GDPR).
We are subject to certain U.S. and foreign anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, export control, sanctions and other trade laws and regulations. We can face serious consequences for violations.
We are presently conducting clinical development solely in Australia and New Zealand and may choose to conduct additional international clinical trials in the future. The U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, or FCPA, prohibits companies and their employees and third-party intermediaries from paying, offering, promising or authorizing others to pay or offer anything of value, directly or indirectly, to any foreign official, political party or candidate for the purpose of influencing any act or decision of the foreign entity in order to assist the individual or business in obtaining or retaining business.
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The FCPA also obligates companies whose securities are listed in the United States to comply with certain accounting provisions requiring the company to maintain books and records that accurately and fairly reflect all transactions of the corporation, including international subsidiaries, and to devise and maintain an adequate system of internal accounting controls. The FCPA presents particular challenges in the pharmaceutical industry, because, in many countries, hospitals are owned and operated by the government, and doctors and other hospital employees are considered foreign officials. We can be held liable for the corrupt or other illegal activities of our employees, representatives, contractors, business partners and agents, even if we do not explicitly authorize or have actual knowledge of such activities. Noncompliance with the FCPA and anti-corruption laws could subject us to whistleblower complaints, investigations, sanctions, settlements, prosecution, other enforcement actions, disgorgement of profits, significant fines, damages, other civil and criminal penalties or injunctions, suspension and/or debarment from contracting with certain persons, the loss of export privileges, reputational harm, adverse media coverage and other collateral consequences. If any subpoenas or investigations are launched, or governmental or other sanctions are imposed, or if we do not prevail in any possible civil or criminal litigation, our business, results of operations and financial condition could be materially harmed.
In addition, our products may be subject to export controls, trade sanctions laws and regulations. Governmental regulation of the import or export of our products, or our failure to obtain any required import or export authorization for our products, when applicable, could harm our international sales and adversely affect our revenue. Compliance with applicable regulatory requirements regarding the export of our products may create delays in the introduction of our products in international markets or, in some cases, prevent the export of our products to some countries altogether. Furthermore, U.S. export control laws and economic sanctions prohibit the shipment of certain products and services to countries, governments, and persons targeted by U.S. sanctions. If we fail to comply with export and import regulations and such economic sanctions, penalties could be imposed, including fines and/or denial of certain export privileges. Moreover, any new export or import restrictions, new legislation or shifting approaches in the enforcement or scope of existing regulations, or in the countries, persons, or products targeted by such regulations, could result in decreased use of our products by, or in our decreased ability to export our products to, existing or potential customers with international operations. Any decreased use of our products or limitation on our ability to export or sell our products would likely adversely affect our business.
If we fail to comply with environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, we could become subject to fines or penalties or incur costs that could have a material adverse effect on the success of our business.
We are subject to numerous environmental, health and safety laws and regulations, including those governing laboratory procedures and the handling, use, storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous materials and wastes. Our research and development activities involve the use of biological and hazardous materials and produce hazardous waste products. We generally contract with third parties for the disposal of these materials and wastes. We cannot eliminate the risk of contamination or injury from these materials, which could cause an interruption of our commercialization efforts, research and development efforts and business operations, environmental damage resulting in costly clean-up and liabilities under applicable laws and regulations governing the use, storage, handling and disposal of these materials and specified waste products. Although we believe that the safety procedures utilized by our third-party manufacturers for handling and disposing of these materials generally comply with the standards prescribed by these laws and regulations, we cannot guarantee that this is the case or eliminate the risk of accidental contamination or injury from these materials. In such an event, we may be held liable for any resulting damages and such liability could exceed our resources and state or federal or other applicable authorities may curtail our use of certain materials and/or interrupt our business operations. Furthermore, environmental laws and regulations are complex, change frequently and have tended to become more stringent. We cannot predict the impact of such changes and cannot be certain of our future compliance. In addition, we may incur substantial costs in order to comply with current or future environmental, health and safety laws and regulations. These current or future laws and regulations may impair our research, development or production efforts. Failure to comply with these laws and regulations also may result in substantial fines, penalties or other sanctions.
Although we maintain workers’ compensation insurance to cover us for costs and expenses we may incur due to injuries to our employees resulting from the use of hazardous materials or other work-related injuries, this insurance may not provide adequate coverage against potential liabilities. We do not carry specific biological waste or hazardous waste insurance coverage, workers compensation or property and casualty and general liability insurance policies that include coverage for damages and fines arising from biological or hazardous waste exposure or contamination.
The December 2017 tax reform law could adversely affect our business and financial condition.
On December 22, 2017, the Tax Act was enacted and significantly revised the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, or the Code. The Tax Act, among other things, contained significant changes to U.S. federal corporate income taxation, including reduction of the corporate tax rate from a top marginal rate of 35% to a flat rate of 21%, limitation of the tax deduction for interest expense to 30% of adjusted taxable income (except for certain small
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businesses), limitation of the deduction for net operating losses, or NOLs, to 80% of current year taxable income and elimination of NOL carry backs (in each case applicable to NOLs arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017), one-time taxation of offshore earnings at reduced rates regardless of whether they are repatriated, elimination of U.S. tax on foreign earnings (subject to certain important exceptions), immediate deductions for certain new investments instead of deductions for depreciation expense over time, and modifying or repealing many other business deductions and credits, including the reduction of the business tax credit for certain clinical testing expenses incurred in the testing of certain drugs for rare diseases or conditions generally known as “orphan drugs.” On March 27, 2020, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act was signed into law. The CARES Act changes certain provisions of the Tax Act. Under the CARES Act, NOLs arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 and before January 1, 2021 may be carried back to each of the five taxable years preceding the tax year of such loss, but NOLs arising in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020 may not be carried back. In addition, the CARES Act eliminates the limitation on the deduction of NOLs to 80% of current year taxable income for taxable years beginning before January 1, 2021, and increases the amount of interest expense that may be deducted to 50% of adjusted taxable income for taxable years beginning in 2019 or 2020. Notwithstanding the reduction in the corporate income tax rate, the overall impact of the Tax Act, as modified by the CARES Act, is uncertain and our business, financial conditions, results of operations and growth prospects could be materially and adversely affected. In addition, it is uncertain if and to what extent various states will conform to the Tax Act, as modified by the CARES Act. The impact of the Tax Act, as modified by the CARES Act, on holders of our common stock is also uncertain and could be adverse. We urge our stockholders to consult with their legal and tax advisors with respect to this legislation and the potential tax consequences of investing in or holding our common stock.
Our ability to use our net operating loss carryforwards and certain tax credit carryforwards may be subject to limitation.
As of December 31, 2020, we had $37.7 million of U.S. federal, $25.9 million of state and $15.7 million of foreign NOL carryforwards. Under the Tax Act, as modified by the CARES Act, federal NOLs incurred in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2017 can be carried forward indefinitely, but the deductibility of federal NOLs in taxable years beginning after December 31, 2020, is limited. The CARES Act also provides for the ability for companies to carry back net operating losses arising in tax years beginning after 2017 and before 2021 for up to 5 years. We evaluated the provisions of the CARES Act and, as a result, recorded an income tax receivable of approximately $0.2 million related to the carry back of our 2019 net operating loss to claim a refund for prior federal tax liabilities and, as a result, our net operating loss carryforwards will be reduced.
Our NOL carryforwards are subject to review and possible adjustment by the U.S. and state tax authorities. In addition, under Sections 382 and 383 of the Code and corresponding provisions of state law, if a corporation undergoes an “ownership change,” which is generally defined as a greater than 50% change (by value) in its equity ownership over a three-year period, the corporation’s ability to use its pre-change NOL carryforwards and R&D credits to offset its post-change income may be limited. This could limit the amount of NOLs or R&D credit carryforwards that we can utilize annually to offset future taxable income or tax liabilities. Subsequent ownership changes and changes to the U.S. tax rules in respect of the utilization of NOLs and R&D credits carried forward may further affect the limitation in future years. In addition, at the state level, there may be periods during which the use of NOLs is suspended or otherwise limited, which could accelerate or permanently increase state taxes owed.
In February 2021, we completed a study to assess whether an ownership change has occurred or whether there have been multiple ownership changes since our formation. The results of this study indicated that we experienced ownership changes as defined by Section 382 of the Code in 2016 and 2020. These ownership changes have subjected and will continue to subject our net operating loss carryforwards to an annual limitation, which will significantly restrict our ability to use them to offset our taxable income in periods following an ownership change. Based on the results of the study, management has determined that these limitations may have a material impact on our ability to utilize our net operating losses and research and development credit carryforwards to offset future tax liabilities.
Risks Related to Our Common Stock
An active, liquid and orderly trading market may not develop for our common stock and as a result it may be difficult for you to sell your shares of our common stock.
Prior to our IPO in April 2020, there was no public market for shares of our common stock. Although our common stock is currently listed on the Nasdaq Global Market, we cannot assure you that an active trading market for our shares will develop or be sustained. In the absence of an active trading market for our common stock, investors may not be able to sell their shares of common stock without depressing the market price for the common stock, or may not be able to sell the shares at all. An inactive trading market may also impair our ability to raise capital to continue to fund operations by
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selling shares and may impair our ability to enter into collaborations or acquire other companies or technologies using our shares as consideration.
Our quarterly operating results may fluctuate significantly or may fall below the expectations of investors or securities analysts, each of which may cause our stock price to fluctuate or decline.
We expect our operating results to be subject to quarterly fluctuations. Our net loss and other operating results will be affected by numerous factors, including:
variations in the level of expense related to the ongoing development of our product candidates and preclinical development programs;
results of preclinical studies and future clinical trials, or the addition or termination of future clinical trials or funding support by us, or current or future collaborators or licensing partners;
our execution of any collaboration, licensing or similar arrangements, and the timing of payments we may make or receive under existing or future arrangements or the termination or modification of any such existing or future arrangements;
any intellectual property infringement lawsuit or opposition, interference or cancellation proceeding in which we may become involved;
additions and departures of key personnel;
strategic decisions by us, such as acquisitions, divestitures, spin-offs, joint ventures, strategic investments or changes in business strategy;
if any of our product candidates receives regulatory approval, the terms of such approval and market acceptance and demand for such product candidates;
regulatory developments affecting our product candidates; and
general economic conditions, as well as economic conditions specifically affecting the biopharmaceutical industry, including those related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
If our quarterly operating results fall below the expectations of investors or securities analysts, the price of our common stock could decline substantially. Furthermore, any quarterly fluctuations in our operating results may, in turn, cause the price of our common stock to fluctuate substantially. We believe that quarterly comparisons of our financial results are not necessarily meaningful and should not be relied upon as an indication of our future performance.
The market price of our common stock has been and is likely to continue to be volatile and fluctuate substantially.
The market price of our common stock has been and is likely to continue to be highly volatile and may fluctuate substantially as a result of a variety of factors, some of which are related in complex ways. The market price for our common stock may fluctuate significantly in response to numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control, including the factors listed below and other factors described in this “Risk Factors” section:
results of preclinical studies and clinical trials of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any other product candidate we may develop or those of our competitors;
actual or anticipated changes in estimates as to financial results, development timelines or recommendations by securities analysts;
commencement or termination of collaboration, licensing or similar arrangements for our development programs;
announcements by our competitors of significant acquisitions, strategic partnerships, joint ventures, collaborations or capital commitments;
failure or discontinuation of any of our development programs;
results of clinical trials of product candidates of our competitors;
regulatory or legal developments in the United States and other countries;
developments or disputes concerning patent applications, issued patents or other proprietary rights;
the recruitment or departure of key personnel;
the level of expenses related to the development of KER-050, KER-047, KER-012 and any other product candidate we may develop;
variations in our financial results or those of companies that are perceived to be similar to us;
announcements or expectations of additional financing efforts by us;
sales of our common stock by us, our insiders or other stockholders;
expiration of market stand-off or lock-up agreements;
recommendations and changes in estimates or recommendations by securities analysts, if any, that cover our stock;
changes in the structure of healthcare payment systems;
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market conditions in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology sectors;
general economic, political, and market conditions and overall fluctuations in the financial markets in the United States and abroad; and
investors’ general perception of us and our business.
The stock market in general, and the markets for pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and biotechnology stocks in particular, have experienced extreme price and volume fluctuations that have been often unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of the issuer. In addition, the trading prices for common stock of other pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical and biotechnology companies have been highly volatile as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 outbreak continues to rapidly evolve. The extent to which the outbreak may impact our business, preclinical studies and clinical trials will depend on future developments, which are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence.
These and other market and industry factors may cause the market price and demand for our common stock to fluctuate substantially, regardless of our actual operating performance, which may negatively affect the liquidity of our common stock.
We could be subject to securities class action litigation.
In the past, securities class action litigation has often been brought against public companies following declines in the market prices of their securities. This risk is especially relevant for biopharmaceutical companies, which have experienced significant stock price volatility in recent years. If we face such litigation, it could result in substantial costs and a diversion of management’s attention and our resources, which could harm our business, operating results, financial condition and cash flows.
Future sales and issuances of our common stock or rights to purchase common stock, including pursuant to our equity incentive plans, could result in additional dilution of the percentage ownership of our stockholders and could cause our stock price to fall.
Additional capital will be needed in the future to continue our planned operations. To the extent we raise additional capital by issuing equity securities, our stockholders may experience substantial dilution. We may sell common stock, convertible securities or other equity securities in one or more transactions at prices and in a manner, we determine from time to time. If we sell common stock, convertible securities or other equity securities in more than one transaction, investors may be materially diluted by subsequent sales. These sales may also result in material dilution to our existing stockholders, and new investors could gain rights superior to our existing stockholders.
Pursuant to our 2020 Equity Incentive Plan, or 2020 Plan, our management is authorized to grant stock options and other equity-based awards to our employees, directors and consultants. The number of shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2020 Plan will automatically increase on January 1 of each year, for a period of ten years, from January 1, 2021 continuing through January 1, 2030, by 4.0% of the total number of shares of our common stock outstanding on December 31 of the preceding calendar year, or a lesser number of shares as may be determined by our board of directors. If our board of directors elects to increase the number of shares available for future grant by the maximum amount each year, our stockholders may experience additional dilution, which could cause our stock price to fall.
We do not intend to pay dividends on our common stock so any returns will be limited to the value of our stock.
You should not rely on an investment in our common stock to provide dividend income. We currently anticipate that we will retain future earnings for the development, operation and expansion of our business and do not anticipate declaring or paying any cash dividends for the foreseeable future. Any return to stockholders will therefore be limited to the appreciation of their stock, which may never occur, as the only way to realize any return on their investment.
Our executive officers, directors, and stockholders and their affiliates who beneficially own more than 5% of our common stock will continue to exercise significant influence over our company, which will limit your ability to influence corporate matters and could delay or prevent a change in corporate control.
As of December 31, 2020, our executive officers, directors and stockholders and their affiliates who beneficially own more than 5% of our common stock beneficially held a significant percentage of our outstanding common stock. As a result, these stockholders, if they act together, will be able to exercise significant influence over our management and affairs and the outcome of matters submitted to our stockholders for approval, including the election of directors and any
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sale, merger, consolidation, or sale of all or substantially all of our assets. In addition, this concentration of ownership might adversely affect the market price of our common stock by:
delaying, deferring or preventing a change of control of our company;
impeding a merger, consolidation, takeover or other business combination involving our company; or
discouraging a potential acquirer from making a tender offer or otherwise attempting to obtain control of our company.
Conflicts of interest may arise because some members of our board of directors are representatives of our principal stockholders.
Certain of our principal stockholders or their affiliates are venture capital funds or other investment vehicles that could invest in entities that directly or indirectly compete with us. As a result of these relationships, conflicts may arise between the interests of the principal stockholders or their affiliates and the interests of other stockholders, and members of our board of directors that are representatives of such principal stockholders may not be disinterested in such conflicts. Neither the principal stockholders nor the representatives of the principal stockholders on our board of directors, by the terms of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation, are required to offer us any transaction opportunity of which they become aware and could take any such opportunity for themselves or offer it their other affiliates, unless such opportunity is expressly offered to them solely in their capacity as members of our board of directors.
Sales of a substantial number of shares of our common stock in the public market could cause our stock price to fall.
If our existing stockholders sell, or indicate an intention to sell, substantial amounts of our common stock in the public market, the market price of our common stock could decline. We are unable to predict the effect that such sales, particularly by our directors, executive officers and significant stockholders, may have on the prevailing market price of our common stock.
In addition, we have filed two registration statements on Form S-8, registering the issuance of an aggregate of 4,449,814 shares of common stock subject to options or other equity awards issued or reserved for future issuance under our equity incentive plans. Shares registered under these registration statements on Form S-8 are available for sale in the public market subject to vesting arrangements and exercise of options and the restrictions of Rule 144 under the Securities Act in the case of our affiliates. In addition, certain holders of shares of our common stock have rights, subject to some conditions, to require us to file registration statements covering their shares or to include their shares in registration statements that we may file for ourselves or other stockholders. If we were to register the resale of these shares, they could be freely sold in the public market. If these additional shares are sold, or if it is perceived that they will be sold, in the public market, the trading price of our common stock could decline.
If securities or industry analysts publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, our stock price and trading volume could decline.
The trading market for our common stock will rely, in part, on the research and reports that industry or financial analysts publish about us or our business. We do not have any control over these analysts. If one or more of the analysts covering our business downgrade their evaluations of our stock or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the price of our stock would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease to cover our stock or fail to publish reports on us regularly, we could lose visibility in the market for our stock, which, in turn, could cause our stock price and trading volume to decline.
We will incur significantly increased costs as a result of operating as a public company, and our management will be required to devote substantial time to new compliance initiatives and corporate governance practices.
As a public company, and particularly after we are no longer an emerging growth company, we will incur significant legal, accounting and other expenses that we did not incur as a private company. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, as amended, or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the listing requirements of the Nasdaq Stock Market and other applicable securities rules and regulations impose various requirements on public companies, including establishment and maintenance of effective disclosure and financial controls and corporate governance practices. Our management and other personnel will need to devote a substantial amount of time to these compliance initiatives. Moreover, we expect these rules and regulations to substantially increase our legal and financial compliance costs and to make some activities more time consuming and costly. For example, we expect that these rules and regulations may make it more difficult and more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance and we may be required to incur substantial costs to maintain sufficient coverage. We are evaluating these rules and regulations, and cannot predict or estimate the amount or timing of additional costs we may incur or the timing of such costs. The impact of these requirements could also make it more difficult for us to
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attract and retain qualified persons to serve on our board of directors, our board committees or as executive officers. The increased costs may require us to reduce costs in other areas of our business or increase the prices of our services. Moreover, these rules and regulations are often subject to varying interpretations, in many cases due to their lack of specificity, and, as a result, their application in practice may evolve over time as new guidance is provided by regulatory and governing bodies. This could result in continuing uncertainty regarding compliance matters and higher costs necessitated by ongoing revisions to disclosure and governance practices.
We are an “emerging growth company” and a “smaller reporting company” and, as a result of the reduced disclosure and governance requirements applicable to emerging growth companies or smaller reporting companies, our common stock may be less attractive to investors.
We are an “emerging growth company” as defined in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, or the JOBS Act. For as long as we continue to be an emerging growth company, we may take advantage of exemptions from various reporting requirements that are applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies, including (i) not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, (ii) reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation in our periodic reports and proxy statements and (iii) exemptions from the requirements of holding nonbinding advisory stockholder votes on executive compensation and stockholder approval of any golden parachute payments not approved previously. Under the JOBS Act, emerging growth companies can also delay adopting new or revised accounting standards until such time as those standards apply to private companies. We have elected to take advantage of the benefits of this extended transition period. Our financial statements may therefore not be comparable to those of companies that comply with such new or revised accounting standards. Until the date that we are no longer an “emerging growth company” or affirmatively and irrevocably opt out of the exemption provided by Section 7(a)(2)(B) of the Securities Act, upon issuance of a new or revised accounting standard that applies to our financial statements and that has a different effective date for public and private companies, we will disclose the date on which adoption is required for non-emerging growth companies and the date on which we will adopt the recently issued accounting standard.
We could be an emerging growth company until December 31, 2025, although circumstances could cause us to lose that status earlier, including if we are deemed to be a “large accelerated filer,” which occurs when the market value of our common stock that is held by non-affiliates equals or exceeds $700.0 million as of the prior June 30, or if we have total annual gross revenue of $1.07 billion or more during any fiscal year before that time, in which cases we would no longer be an emerging growth company as of the following December 31, or if we issue more than $1.0 billion in non-convertible debt during any three-year period before that time, in which case we would no longer be an emerging growth company immediately. Even after we no longer qualify as an emerging growth company, we may still qualify as a “smaller reporting company,” which would allow us to take advantage of many of the same exemptions from disclosure requirements, including not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation in our periodic reports and proxy statements.
We cannot predict if investors will find our common stock less attractive because we may rely on the exemptions and reduced disclosure obligations applicable to emerging growth companies and smaller reporting companies. If some investors find our common stock less attractive as a result, there may be a less active trading market for our common stock and our share price may be more volatile.
If we fail to maintain an effective system of internal control over financial reporting, we may not be able to accurately report our financial results or prevent fraud. As a result, stockholders could lose confidence in our financial and other public reporting, which would harm our business and the trading price of our common stock.
Pursuant to Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, our management will be required to report upon the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting beginning with the annual report for our fiscal year ending December 31, 2021. When we lose our status as an “emerging growth company” and a “smaller reporting company,” our independent registered public accounting firm will be required to attest to the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting. The rules governing the standards that must be met for management to assess our internal control over financial reporting are complex and require significant documentation, testing and possible remediation. To comply with the requirements of being a reporting company under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, we will need to implement additional financial and management controls, reporting systems and procedures and hire additional accounting and finance staff.
We cannot assure you that there will not be material weaknesses or significant deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting in the future. Any failure to maintain internal control over financial reporting could severely inhibit our ability to accurately report our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows. If we are unable to conclude that
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our internal control over financial reporting is effective, or if our independent registered public accounting firm determines we have a material weakness or significant deficiency in our internal control over financial reporting, investors may lose confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our financial reports, the market price of our common stock could decline, and we could be subject to sanctions or investigations by the Nasdaq Stock Market, the SEC or other regulatory authorities. Failure to remedy any material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting, or to implement or maintain other effective control systems required of public companies, could also restrict our future access to the capital markets.
Our disclosure controls and procedures may not prevent or detect all errors or acts of fraud.
We are subject to the periodic reporting requirements of the Exchange Act. We designed our disclosure controls and procedures to reasonably assure that information we must disclose in reports we file or submit under the Exchange Act is accumulated and communicated to management, and recorded, processed, summarized and reported within the time periods specified in the rules and forms of the SEC. We believe that any disclosure controls and procedures or internal controls and procedures, no matter how well-conceived and operated, can provide only reasonable, not absolute, assurance that the objectives of the control system are met. These inherent limitations include the realities that judgments in decision-making can be faulty, and that breakdowns can occur because of simple error or mistake. For example, our directors or executive officers could inadvertently fail to disclose a new relationship or arrangement causing us to fail to make a required related party transaction disclosure. Additionally, controls can be circumvented by the individual acts of some persons, by collusion of two or more people or by an unauthorized override of the controls. Accordingly, because of the inherent limitations in our control system, misstatements due to error or fraud may occur and not be detected.
Provisions in our corporate charter documents and under Delaware law could make an acquisition of us, which may be beneficial to our stockholders, more difficult and may prevent attempts by our stockholders to replace or remove our current management.
Provisions in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and our amended and restated bylaws may discourage, delay or prevent a merger, acquisition or other change in control of us that stockholders may consider favorable, including transactions in which you might otherwise receive a premium for your shares. These provisions also could limit the price that investors might be willing to pay in the future for shares of our common stock, thereby depressing the market price of our common stock. In addition, because our board of directors is responsible for appointing the members of our management team, these provisions may frustrate or prevent any attempts by our stockholders to replace or remove our current management by making it more difficult for stockholders to replace members of our board of directors. Among other things, these provisions:
establish a classified board of directors such that not all members of the board are elected at one time;
allow the authorized number of our directors to be changed only by resolution of our board of directors;
limit the manner in which stockholders can remove directors from the board;
establish advance notice requirements for stockholder proposals that can be acted on at stockholder meetings and nominations to our board of directors;
require that stockholder actions must be effected at a duly called stockholder meeting and prohibit actions by our stockholders by written consent;
prohibit our stockholders from calling a special meeting of our stockholders;
authorize our board of directors to issue preferred stock without stockholder approval, which could be used to institute a stockholder rights plan, or so-called “poison pill,” that would work to dilute the stock ownership of a potential hostile acquirer, effectively preventing acquisitions that have not been approved by our board of directors; and
require the approval of the holders of at least 66 2/3% of the votes that all our stockholders would be entitled to cast to amend or repeal certain provisions of our charter or bylaws.
Moreover, because we are incorporated in Delaware, we are governed by the provisions of Section 203 of the Delaware General Corporation Law, which prohibits a person who owns 15% or more of our outstanding voting stock from merging or combining with us for a period of three years after the date of the transaction in which the person acquired 15% or more of our outstanding voting stock, unless the merger or combination is approved in a prescribed manner. These provisions could discourage potential acquisition proposals and could delay or prevent a change in control transaction. They could also have the effect of discouraging others from making tender offers for our common stock, including transactions that may be in your best interests. These provisions may also prevent changes in our management or limit the price that investors are willing to pay for our stock.
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Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation designates the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware as the exclusive forum for substantially all disputes between us and our stockholders, which could limit our stockholders’ ability to obtain a favorable judicial forum for disputes with us or our directors, officers or employees.
Our amended and restated certificate of incorporation provides that the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware (or, if and only if the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware lacks subject matter jurisdiction, any state court located within the State of Delaware or, if and only if all such state courts lack subject matter jurisdiction, the federal district court for the District of Delaware) will be the exclusive forum for the following types of actions or proceedings under Delaware statutory or common law:
any derivative action or proceeding brought on our behalf;
any action or proceeding asserting a claim of breach of a fiduciary duty owed by any of our current or former directors, officers or other employees to us or our stockholders;
any action or proceeding asserting a claim against us or any of our current or former directors, officers or other employees, arising out of or pursuant to any provision of the Delaware General Corporation Law, our certificate of incorporation or our bylaws;
any action or proceeding to interpret, apply, enforce or determine the validity of our certificate of incorporation or our bylaws; and
any action asserting a claim against us or any of our directors, officers or other employees governed by the internal affairs doctrine.
This provision would not apply to suits brought to enforce a duty or liability created by the Exchange Act or any other claim for which the U.S. federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction.
In addition, our amended and restated certificate of incorporation provides that the federal district courts of the United States will be the exclusive forum for resolving any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act, unless we consent in writing to the selection of an alternative forum.
These exclusive-forum provisions may limit a stockholder’s ability to bring a claim in a judicial forum that it finds favorable for disputes with us or our directors, officers or other employees, which may discourage these types of lawsuits. Furthermore, the enforceability of similar choice of forum provisions in other companies’ certificates of incorporation has been challenged in legal proceedings, and it is possible that a court could find these types of provisions to be inapplicable or unenforceable. For example, the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware recently determined that a provision stating that U.S. federal district courts are the exclusive forum for resolving any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act is not enforceable. However, on March 18, 2020, this decision was ultimately overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court. If a court were to find the exclusive-forum provision contained in our amended and restated certificate of incorporation to be inapplicable or unenforceable in an action, we may incur additional costs associated with resolving such action in other jurisdictions, which could harm our business.
ITEM 1B. UNRESOLVED STAFF COMMENTS
None.
ITEM 2. PROPERTIES
Our principal office is located at 99 Hayden Avenue, Suite 120, Building E, Lexington, Massachusetts 02421, where we lease approximately 10,400 square feet of office and laboratory space under a lease that terminates in 2022. In March 2021, we entered into a license agreement for approximately 2,550 square feet of office and laboratory space to expand our principal office. This agreement expires in September 2021, unless earlier terminated. We believe that these facilities will be adequate for our near-term needs. If required, we believe that suitable additional or substitute space will be available in the future on commercially reasonable terms to accommodate any such expansion of our operations.
ITEM 3. LEGAL PROCEEDINGS
From time to time, we may become subject to arbitration, litigation or claims arising in the ordinary course of business. We are not currently a party to any material arbitration or legal proceedings. The results of any future claims or proceedings cannot be predicted with certainty, and regardless of the outcome, litigation can have an adverse impact on us because of defense and litigation costs, diversion of management resources, and other factors.
ITEM 4. MINE SAFETY DISCLOSURES
Not applicable.
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PART II
ITEM 5. MARKET FOR REGISTRANT’S COMMON EQUITY, RELATED STOCKHOLDER MATTERS AND ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
Market Information
Our common stock commenced trading on the Nasdaq Global Market on April 8, 2020 and trades under the symbol “KROS.” Prior to April 8, 2020, there was no public market for our common stock.
Holders
As of March 19, 2021, there were 54 stockholders of record of our common stock, one of which is Cede & Co., a nominee for Depository Trust Company, or DTC. All of the shares of common stock held by brokerage firms, banks and other financial institutions as nominees for beneficial owners are deposited into participant accounts at DTC, and are considered to be held of record by Cede & Co. as one stockholder.
Dividends
We have never declared or paid any dividends on our capital stock. We currently intend to retain all available funds and any future earnings for the operation and expansion of our business and, therefore, we do not anticipate declaring or paying cash dividends in the foreseeable future. The payment of dividends will be at the discretion of our board of directors and will depend on our results of operations, capital requirements, financial condition, prospects, contractual arrangements, any limitations on payment of dividends present in any future debt agreements and other factors that our board of directors may deem relevant.
Stock Performance Graph
This performance graph below shall not be deemed "soliciting material" or to be "filed" with the SEC for purposes of Section 18 of the Exchange Act, or otherwise subject to the liabilities under that Section, and shall not be deemed to be incorporated by reference into this Annual Report on Form 10-K or any other filing of Keros Therapeutics, Inc. under the Exchange Act or the Securities Act, whether made before or after the date hereof and irrespective of any general incorporation language in any such filing, except to the extent that we specifically incorporate this information by reference therein.
The graph set forth below compares the cumulative total stockholder return on our common stock between April 8, 2020 (the date our common stock commenced trading on the Nasdaq Global Market) and December 31, 2020, with the cumulative total return of (a) the Nasdaq Composite Index and (b) the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index, over the same period. This graph assumes the investment of $100 on April 8, 2020 in our common stock, the Nasdaq Composite Index, and the Nasdaq Biotechnology Index and assumes the reinvestment of dividends, if any. The graph assumes our closing sales price on April 8, 2020 of $20.08 per share as the initial value of our common stock and not the initial offering price to the public of $16.00 per share.
The comparisons shown in the graph below are based upon historical data. We caution that the stock price performance shown in the graph below is not necessarily indicative of, nor is it intended to forecast, the potential future performance of our common stock.
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https://cdn.kscope.io/9fa5c03c143c0787e583b45dc51482c1-kros-20201231_g29.jpg
Recent Sales of Unregistered Securities
None.
Use of Proceeds
Initial Public Offering
On April 13, 2020, we closed our initial public offering, or IPO, in which we issued and sold an aggregate of 6,900,000 shares of common stock at a public offering price of $16.00 per share. All of the shares of common stock issued and sold in our IPO were registered under the Securities Act pursuant to a registration statement on Form S-1 (Registration No. 333-237212), which was declared effective by the SEC on April 7, 2020. The offering commenced on April 7, 2020, and, following the sale of the shares upon the closing of the IPO, the offer terminated.
The aggregate net proceeds to us from the public offering were approximately $100.1 million, after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and offering expenses payable by us of approximately $2.5 million. No offering expenses were paid directly or indirectly to any of our directors or officers (or their associates) or persons owning 10% or more of any class of our equity securities or to any other affiliates.
The following information updates the planned use of proceeds information from our IPO we previously disclosed in the final prospectus for our IPO dated April 7, 2020, which we filed with the SEC pursuant to Rule 424(b)(4) of the Securities Act on April 8, 2020: we intend to use the net proceeds from the IPO, together with our existing cash and cash equivalents, to advance the clinical development of KER-050, including the advancement of Phase 2 clinical trials in patients with MDS and in patients with myelofibrosis, to advance the clinical development of KER-047, including the initiation of separate Phase 2 clinical trials in patients with IDA and in patients with IRIDA, and to advance KER-012 into clinical development, including the initiation of a Phase 1 clinical trial. We intend to use the remainder to fund other research and development activities, including activities related to our proprietary discovery approach, working capital and general corporate purposes.
November 2020 Public Offering of Common Stock
On November 17, 2020, we closed a public offering in which we issued and sold an aggregate of 2,990,000 shares of common stock at a public offering price of $50.00 per share. All of the shares of common stock issued and sold in this public offering were registered under the Securities Act pursuant to a registration statement on Form S-1 (Registration No. 333-250010), which was declared effective by the SEC on November 12, 2020. Jefferies LLC, SVB Leerink LLC and Piper Sandler & Co. acted as joint book-running managers for the offering. H.C. Wainwright & Co., LLC acted as co-manager for the offering. The offering commenced on November 12, 2020, and, following the sale of the shares upon the closing of the offering, the offer terminated.
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The aggregate net proceeds to us from the public offering were approximately $140.1 million, after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and offering expenses payable by us of approximately $9.4 million. No offering expenses were paid directly or indirectly to any of our directors or officers (or their associates) or persons owning 10% or more of any class of our equity securities or to any other affiliates.
There has been no material change in the use of proceeds from our public offering from those disclosed in the final prospectus for our public offering dated November 12, 2020 and filed with the SEC pursuant to Rule 424(b)(4) of the Securities Act on November 13, 2020.
Purchase of Equity Securities by the Issuer and Affiliated Purchasers
None.
ITEM 6. SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA
The following tables set forth our selected financial data for the periods indicated. We derived the selected consolidated statements of operations data for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2020 and 2019 from our audited financial statements included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The selected consolidated statements of operations data for the year ended December 31, 2018 and the selected consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2018 are derived from our audited financial statements not included in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of results to be expected for any period in the future.
The data should be read together with the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and in conjunction with the consolidated financial statements, related notes and other financial information included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. The selected financial data in this section are not intended to replace our consolidated financial statements and are qualified in their entirety by our consolidated financial statements, related notes and other financial information included elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K.
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YEAR ENDED 
DECEMBER 31,
202020192018
(in thousands, except share and per share data)
Consolidated Statement of Operations Data:
Revenue:
Research collaboration revenue$— $10,000 $10,000 
Total revenue— 10,000 10,000 
Operating expenses:
Research and development(33,860)(17,379)(10,111)
General and administrative(12,797)(3,184)(1,580)
Total operating expenses(46,657)(20,563)(11,691)
Loss from operations(46,657)(10,563)(1,691)
Other income (expense), net:
Interest income (expense), net
(6)(8)
Research and development incentive income2,460 558 370 
Change in fair value of preferred stock tranche liability(1,490)(2,564)(43)
Other income, net
160 241 280 
Total other income (expense), net1,124 (1,773)613 
Loss before income taxes(45,533)(12,336)(1,078)
Income tax benefit (provision)172 — (257)
Net loss$(45,361)$(12,336)$(1,335)
Net loss attributable to common stockholders—basic and diluted$(45,361)$(14,136)$(2,346)
Net loss per share attributable to common stockholders—basic and diluted(1)
$(2.93)$(6.08)$(1.08)
Weighted average common stock outstanding—basic and diluted(1)
15,506,397 2,326,857 2,174,514 
(1)See Note 12 to our consolidated financial statements appearing elsewhere in this Annual Report on 10-K for further details on the calculation of basic and diluted net loss per share attributable to common stockholders.
DECEMBER 31,
202020192018
 
(in thousands)
Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:
Cash and cash equivalents$265,876 $7,020 $23,259 
Working capital(1)
260,542 4,441 14,062 
Total assets269,443 10,955 27,412 
Total liabilities7,722 10,460 14,654 
Convertible preferred stock(2)
— 19,941 19,941 
Total stockholders’ equity (deficit)261,721 (19,446)$(7,183)
(1)Working capital is defined as current assets less current liabilities.
(2)All outstanding shares of our convertible preferred stock automatically converted into 10,725,129 shares of our common stock in connection with the completion of our initial public offering.
ITEM 7. MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS
The following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations should be read in conjunction with the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial Data” and our consolidated financial statements and related notes appearing elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K. Some of the information contained in this discussion
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and analysis or set forth elsewhere in this Annual Report on Form 10-K, including information with respect to our plans and strategy for our business, includes forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. As a result of many factors, including those factors set forth in the “Risk Factors” section of this Annual Report on Form 10-K, our actual results could differ materially from the results described in, or implied by, these forward-looking statements.
Overview
We are a clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focused on the discovery, development and commercialization of novel treatments for patients suffering from hematological and musculoskeletal disorders with high unmet medical need. We are a leader in understanding the role of the Transforming Growth Factor-Beta, or TGF-ß, family of proteins, which are master regulators of red blood cell and platelet production as well as of the growth, repair and maintenance of muscle and bone. We have leveraged this understanding and developed a discovery approach to generate large and small molecules to address diseases of these tissues. Targeting TGF-ß signaling pathways has been clinically proven to elicit robust changes in blood cells, muscle and bone, which we believe provides a precedent and strong rationale for our strategy. Our lead protein therapeutic product candidate, KER-050, is being developed for the treatment of low blood cell counts, or cytopenias, including anemia and thrombocytopenia, in patients with myelodysplastic syndromes, or MDS, and in patients with myelofibrosis. We have initiated a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with MDS and expect to report initial data from Part 1 of this trial in mid-2021. We also plan to initiate a Phase 2 clinical trial in patients with myelofibrosis in mid-2021. Our lead small molecule product candidate, KER-047, is being developed for the treatment of anemia resulting from iron imbalance, as well as for the treatment of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, or FOP, a rare musculoskeletal disorder. We have completed our expanded Phase 1 clinical trial of KER-047 and expect to commence two open-label Phase 2 clinical trials in the second half of 2021, one in patients with iron deficiency anemia and one in patients with iron-refractory iron deficiency anemia. Our third product candidate, KER-012, is being developed for the treatment of disorders associated with bone loss, such as osteoporosis and osteogenesis imperfecta, and for the treatment of pulmonary arterial hypertension, or PAH. We plan to progress KER-012 into a Phase 1 clinical trial in the second half of 2021. We believe KER-047 and KER-012 offer substantial opportunities for us to continue to apply our understanding of TGF-ß signaling pathways and expand our development programs in related hematological and musculoskeletal disorders with high unmet medical need.
Since our inception in 2015, we have devoted the majority of our efforts into business planning, research and development of our product candidates, including by conducting clinical trials and preclinical studies, raising capital and recruiting management and technical staff to support these operations. To date, we have not generated any revenue from product sales as none of our product candidates have been approved for commercialization. We have historically financed our operations primarily through the sale of convertible preferred stock and cash received from licensing agreements.
Retrospective Reverse Stock Split
On March 31, 2020, we effected a one-for-2.1703 reverse stock split of our issued and outstanding shares of common stock and convertible preferred stock, as well as a proportional adjustment to the existing conversion ratios for our convertible preferred stock. All issued and outstanding common stock and convertible preferred stock and related share and per share amounts contained in this Annual Report on Form 10-K have been retroactively adjusted to reflect the reverse stock split for all periods presented.
Initial Public Offering
On April 13, 2020, we completed an initial public offering, or IPO, of our common stock, in which we issued and sold 6,900,000 shares of common stock, which includes 900,000 shares issued and sold pursuant to the full exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares, at a public offering price of $16.00 per share. The aggregate net proceeds to us from the IPO were approximately $100.1 million after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and offering expenses. The shares began trading on the Nasdaq Global Market on April 8, 2020. Upon completion of the IPO, all of our outstanding shares of convertible preferred stock converted into 10,725,129 shares of our common stock.
November 2020 Public Offering of Common Stock
On November 17, 2020, we closed a public offering in which we issued and sold 2,990,000 shares of common stock at a public offering price of $50.00 per share, which included 390,000 shares of common stock issued pursuant to the exercise in full of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares. The aggregate net proceeds to us from the public offering were approximately $140.1 million, after deducting underwriting discounts and commissions and offering expenses.
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We have incurred recurring operating losses since inception in 2015. Our ability to generate product revenue sufficient to achieve profitability will depend on the successful development and commercialization of one or more of our product candidates. Our net loss was $45.4 million and $12.3 million for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019, respectively. As of December 31, 2020, we had an accumulated deficit of $65.0 million. We expect to continue to generate operating losses and negative operating cash flows for the foreseeable future in connection with our ongoing activities.
We will not generate any revenue from product sales unless and until we successfully complete clinical development and obtain regulatory approval for one or more of our product candidates. If we obtain regulatory approval for any of our product candidates, we expect to incur significant expenses related to developing our internal commercialization capability to support product sales, marketing and distribution.
As a result, we will need substantial additional funding to support our operating activities as we advance our product candidates through clinical development, seek regulatory approval and prepare for and, if any of our product candidates are approved, proceed to commercialization. Until such time as we can generate significant revenue from product sales, if ever, we expect to finance our operating activities through a combination of equity offerings, debt financings, and license and development agreements in connection with any future collaborations. Adequate funding may not be available to us on acceptable terms, or at all.
If we are unable to obtain funding, we will be forced to delay, reduce or eliminate some or all of our research and development programs, product portfolio expansion or commercialization efforts, which could adversely affect our business prospects, or we may be unable to continue operations. Although we continue to pursue these plans, there is no assurance that we will be successful in obtaining sufficient funding on terms acceptable to us to fund continuing operations, if at all.
As of December 31, 2020, we had cash and cash equivalents of $265.9 million. We expect that our existing cash and cash equivalents as of December 31, 2020 will enable us to fund our operating expenses and capital expenditure requirements into the fourth quarter of 2023. See “—Liquidity and Capital Resources.”
COVID-19 Business Update
With the global COVID-19 pandemic continuing throughout 2021, we have implemented business continuity plans designed to address and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our employees, and our business operations, including our preclinical studies and clinical trials, supply chains and third-party providers. We are closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation as we evolve our business continuity plans and response strategy. On March 23, 2020, the governor of Massachusetts ordered the closure of all non-essential businesses effective March 24, 2020 through April 7, 2020, which was subsequently extended through May 18, 2020. On May 18, 2020, the governor of Massachusetts issued a new order implementing a phased re-opening of workplaces, effective May 18, 2020. As of March 22, 2021, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially entered step one of the fourth phase of re-opening. Because of the nature of our operations, we are currently considered to be an essential business so, to date, our operations have only been partially affected by these orders. The outbreak and government measures taken in response have also had a significant impact, both direct and indirect, on third-party businesses and commerce, as worker shortages have occurred; supply chains have been disrupted; facilities and production have been suspended; and demand for certain goods and services, such as medical services and supplies, has spiked, while demand for other goods and services, such as travel, has fallen. In response to the spread of COVID-19, we have closed our principal executive office, with our administrative employees continuing their work outside of our office and limited the number of staff in any given research laboratory. We are currently preparing plans to reopen our office to allow employees to return to the office, which will be based on a phased approach that is principles-based and local in design, with a focus on continuity of preclinical studies and clinical trial activities, employee safety and optimal work environment. While we are experiencing limited financial impacts at this time, given the global economic slowdown, the overall disruption of global healthcare systems and the other risks and uncertainties associated with the pandemic, our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects could be materially adversely affected.
Preclinical and Clinical Developments
With respect to preclinical and clinical development, we have taken measures to implement remote and virtual approaches, including remote participant monitoring where possible, to maintain participant safety and trial continuity and to preserve study integrity. For several of our clinical development programs, we are experiencing, and expect to continue to experience, a disruption or delay in our ability to initiate trial sites and enroll and assess participants. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, we have experienced and expect to continue to experience an impact on our ability to enroll participants in our clinical trials. We have experienced and expect to continue to experience an impact on the ability to supply study drug, report trial results or interact with clinicians, investigators, regulators, ethics committees or
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other important agencies due to limitations in regulatory authority employee resources or otherwise. In addition, we rely on contract research organizations, or CROs, or other third parties to assist us with clinical trials, and we cannot guarantee that they will continue to perform their contractual duties in a timely and satisfactory manner as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. If the COVID-19 pandemic continues and persists for an extended period of time, we could experience significant disruptions to our preclinical and clinical development timelines, which would adversely affect our business, financial condition, results of operations and growth prospects.
Supply Chain
As for our third-party manufacturers, distributors and other partners, we are working closely with them to manage our supply chain activities and mitigate potential disruptions to our clinical supply as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We expect to have adequate supply for the development of our product candidates. However, if the COVID-19 pandemic persists for an extended period of time and begins to impact essential distribution systems such as FedEx and postal delivery, we could experience disruptions to our supply chain and operations, and associated delays in the manufacturing and supply of our product candidates, which would adversely impact our ability to carry out our clinical trials.
Financial Impact
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to rapidly evolve and has already resulted in a significant disruption of global financial markets. If the disruption persists and deepens, we could experience an inability to access additional capital, which could in the future negatively affect our operations. While we expect the COVID-19 pandemic to adversely affect our business operations, our clinical development and regulatory efforts, our corporate development objectives and the value of and market for our common stock will depend on future developments that are highly uncertain and cannot be predicted with confidence at this time, as a result of uncertainty regarding ultimate duration of the pandemic, travel restrictions, quarantines, social distancing and business closure requirements in the United States, Australia and New Zealand and the effectiveness of actions taken globally to contain and treat the disease.
Licensing Agreements
2016 Exclusive Patent License Agreement with The General Hospital Corporation
In April 2016, we entered into an exclusive patent license agreement with The General Hospital Corporation, or MGH, and such agreement was subsequently amended in May 2017 and February 2018. Under the license agreement with MGH, or the MGH Agreement, we obtained an exclusive, worldwide license, with the right to sublicense, under certain patents and technical information of MGH, to make, have made, use, have used, sell, have sold, lease, have leased, import, have imported or otherwise transfer licensed products and processes for use in the treatment, diagnosis, palliation and prevention of diseases and disorders in humans and animals. We are required to use commercially reasonable efforts to develop and commercialize licensed products and processes, and must achieve certain required diligence milestones.
Under the terms of the MGH Agreement, we made an initial license payment of $0.1 million in 2016 and reimbursed MGH approximately $0.3 million of prior patent prosecution expenses related to the licensed patents in 2017. We also issued MGH an aggregate of 358,674 shares of our common stock. Additionally, we are required to pay a nominal annual maintenance fee prior to the first commercial sale of our first product or process, a mid-five digit annual maintenance fee after the first commercial sale of our first product or process that is creditable against royalties, certain clinical and regulatory milestone payments for the first three products or indications to achieve such milestones, which milestone payments are $8.6 million in the aggregate, and certain commercial milestone payments for the first three products or indications to achieve such milestones, which milestone payments are $18.0 million in the aggregate. We are also obligated to pay tiered royalties on net sales of licensed products ranging in the low-single digits to mid-single digits. The royalty rates are subject to up to a maximum 50% reduction for lack of a valid claim, in the event that it is necessary for us to obtain a license to any third-party intellectual property related to the licensed products, and generic competition. The obligation to pay royalties under the MGH Agreement expires on a licensed product-by-licensed product and country-by-country basis upon the later of expiry of the last valid claim of the licensed patents that cover such licensed product in such country and ten years from the first commercial sale of such product in such country. We are also obligated to pay a percentage of non-royalty-related payments received by us from sublicensees ranging in the sub-teen double digits and a change of control fee equal to a low-single digit percentage of the payments received as part of any completed transaction up to a low-seven digit amount.
Termination of 2017 Research Collaboration and Exclusive License Agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S
In December 2017, we entered into a research collaboration and exclusive license agreement with Novo Nordisk A/S, or Novo Nordisk. Under the agreement with Novo Nordisk, or the Novo Nordisk Agreement, we are collaborating with Novo Nordisk on research and development of fusion molecules consisting of a ligand binder present as part of a larger
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molecule, or ligand traps. Pursuant to the Novo Nordisk Agreement, Novo Nordisk had the right to select a prespecified number of ligand traps for further development and commercialization by Novo Nordisk. Following execution, Novo Nordisk selected one existing ligand trap to further develop and commercialize and prior to the completion of the two-year research program, selected a second ligand trap arising from the collaboration. Under the terms of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, we received $20.0 million in 2018, $16.0 million of which represented the initial license fee and $4.0 million of which related to research funding ($2.0 million for each year of the two-year research program).
On October 26, 2020, Novo Nordisk gave written notice of termination of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, effective six months following the delivery of notice, on April 26, 2021. Upon termination, all worldwide rights to all ligand traps selected under the Novo Nordisk Agreement, along with all rights to develop our molecules in the fields of diabetes, obesity, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and cachexia, will revert to us. Under the terms of the Novo Nordisk Agreement, Novo Nordisk is obligated to continue to reimburse the Company for certain research and development costs through April 26, 2021. Upon effectiveness of the termination, such reimbursements will cease.
Components of Our Results of Operations
Revenue
To date, we have not generated any revenue, and do not expect to generate any revenue in the foreseeable future, from product sales. We have generated revenue solely from the Novo Nordisk Agreement. We may in the future generate revenue from other strategic collaborations.
Operating Expenses
Research and Development Expenses
Research and development expenses consist primarily of costs incurred for our research activities, including our discovery efforts and the preclinical and clinical development of our current and potential future product candidates, and include:
salaries, benefits and other related costs, including stock-based compensation expense, for personnel engaged in research and development functions;
expenses incurred under agreements with third parties, including CROs that conduct research, preclinical and clinical activities on our behalf, as well as contract manufacturing organizations, or CMOs, that manufacture drug product for use in our preclinical studies and clinical trials;
license fees incurred in connection with license agreements;
research and development supplies and services expenses;
facility-related expenses, which include direct depreciation costs and allocated expenses for rent and maintenance of facilities and other operating costs;
cost of outside consultants, including their fees and related travel expenses, engaged in research and development functions;
expenses related to regulatory affairs; and
fees related to our scientific advisory board.
We expense research and development costs as incurred. Costs for external development activities are recognized based on an evaluation of the progress to completion of specific tasks using information provided to us by our vendors. Payments for these activities are based on the terms of the individual agreements, which may differ from the pattern of costs incurred, and are reflected in our consolidated financial statements as prepaid or accrued research and development expenses. Nonrefundable advance payments for goods or services to be received in the future for use in research and development activities are recorded as prepaid expenses and expensed as the related goods are delivered or the services are performed.
Research and development activities are central to our business model. We expect that our research and development expenses will continue to increase for the foreseeable future as we continue ongoing and initiate new clinical trials for our product candidates and continue to discover and develop additional product candidates. If any of our product candidates enter into later stages of clinical development, they will generally have higher development costs than those in earlier stages of clinical development, primarily due to the increased size and duration of later-stage clinical trials. There are numerous factors associated with the successful commercialization of any product candidates we may develop in the future, including future trial design and various regulatory requirements, many of which cannot be determined with accuracy at this time based on our stage of development. Additionally, future commercial and regulatory factors beyond our control will impact our clinical development program and plans.
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General and Administrative Expenses
General and administrative expenses consist primarily of salaries and other related costs, including stock-based compensation, for personnel in our executive, finance, corporate and business development and administrative functions. General and administrative expenses also include professional fees for legal, patent, accounting, information technology, auditing, tax and consulting services, and travel expenses and facility-related expenses, which include direct depreciation costs and allocated expenses for rent and maintenance of facilities and other operating costs.
We expect that our general and administrative expenses will increase in the future as we increase our headcount to support our continued research and development and potential commercialization of our product candidates. We also expect to incur increased expenses associated with being a public company, including costs of accounting, audit, legal, regulatory and tax compliance services, director and officer insurance costs, and investor and public relations costs.
Other Income (Expense), Net
Interest Income (Expense), Net
Interest income (expense), net primarily consists of interest earned on money market accounts and interest expense related to leasehold improvement debt amortization. Our interest income (expense), net has not been significant to date.
Tax Benefit
We recognize deferred tax assets and liabilities for the expected future tax consequences of events that have been included in our consolidated financial statements and tax returns. Deferred tax assets and liabilities are determined based upon the differences between the financial statement carrying amounts and the tax bases of existing assets and liabilities and for loss and credit carryforwards, using enacted tax rates expected to be in effect in the year in which the differences are expected to reverse. Deferred tax assets are reduced by a valuation allowance if it is more likely than not that these assets may not be realized. We determine whether it is more likely than not that a tax position will be sustained upon examination. If it is not more likely than not that a position will be sustained, none of the benefit attributable to the position is recognized. The tax benefit to be recognized for any tax position that meets the more-likely-than-not recognition threshold is calculated as the largest amount that is more than 50% likely of being realized upon resolution of the contingency. We account for interest and penalties related to uncertain tax positions as part of its provision for income taxes.
Research and Development Incentive Income
Research and development incentive income includes payments under the Research and Development Incentive Program, or the R&D Incentive, from the Australian government. The R&D Incentive is one of the key elements of the Australian government’s support for Australia’s innovation system and was developed to assist businesses recover some of the costs of undertaking research and development. The R&D Incentive provides tax offsets to eligible companies that engage in research and development activities and has two core components:
43.5% refundable tax offset for certain eligible research and development entities with an aggregated turnover of less than $20.0 million per annum; and
38.5% non-refundable tax offset for all other eligible research and development entities. Unused offset amounts may be able to be carried forward for use in future income years.
We have assessed our research and development activities and expenditures to determine which activities and expenditures are likely to be eligible under the R&D Incentive. We recognize the amount we expect to be reimbursed for qualified expenses as income at each period end. We estimate the refundable tax offset available to us based on available information at the time. This estimate is also reviewed by our external tax advisors on an annual basis.
Other Income, Net
Other income, net primarily consists of unrealized gains on foreign currency and dividend income earned on money market fund accounts.
Change in Fair Value of Preferred Stock Tranche Obligation
The change in fair value of our preferred stock tranche obligation fluctuated based on remeasurement at each reporting period. Our preferred stock tranche obligation stemmed from our obligation to issue additional shares to investors upon the closing of additional tranches of preferred stock. Upon the waiver of the Series B-2 preferred stock milestone by our board of directors in March 2020, this liability was fully settled. Until settlement, fluctuations in the fair value of our preferred stock tranche obligation were based on the remeasurement at each reporting period.
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Results of Operations
Comparison for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019
The following table summarizes our results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 (in thousands):
YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31,
20202019
REVENUE:
Research collaboration revenue$— $10,000 
Total revenue— 10,000 
OPERATING EXPENSES:
Research and development(33,860)(17,379)
General and administrative(12,797)(3,184)
Total operating expenses(46,657)(20,563)
LOSS FROM OPERATIONS(46,657)(10,563)
OTHER INCOME (EXPENSE), NET:
Interest expense, net(6)(8)
Research and development incentive income2,460 558 
Change in fair value of preferred stock tranche obligation(1,490)(2,564)
Other income (expense), net160 241 
Total other income (expense), net1,124 (1,773)
Loss before income taxes(45,533)(12,336)
Income tax benefit172 — 
Net loss$(45,361)$(12,336)
Revenue
Our revenue for the year ended December 31, 2019 consisted of earnings under the Novo Nordisk Agreement, whereby we granted Novo Nordisk an exclusive license to develop and commercialize the licensed products listed under that agreement and Novo Nordisk granted us a non-exclusive license to its applicable intellectual property so that we could perform the activities for which we are responsible. In accordance with the pattern of our performance of the research and development activities required under the Novo Nordisk Agreement we recognized the total $20.0 million of the revenue over the two-year term of the agreement, resulting in $10.0 million of revenue being recognized for the year ended December 31, 2019. All revenue under the Novo Nordisk Agreement was earned as of December 31, 2019. As such, we did not recognize any revenue for the year ended December 31, 2020.
Research and Development Expenses
The following table summarizes our research and development expenses for the years ended December 31, 2020 and 2019 (in thousands):
YEAR ENDED DECEMBER 31,INCREASE/
(DECREASE)
20202019
KER-050$13,461 $6,418 $7,043 
KER-0476,703 3,637 3,066 
KER-0122,954 — 2,954 
Personnel expenses (including share-based compensation)5,936 3,637 2,299 
Preclinical and development fees2,168 2,274 (106)
Professional fees1,929 780 1,149 
Other expenses709 633 76 
$33,860