Alentis Therapeutics has raised CHF 12.5 million ($12.2 million) to take an advanced liver disease drug toward clinical development. The series A tees a team led by ex-Ablynx CBO Markus Ewert up to advance a lead antibody against a previously undiscovered liver target.
Basel, Switzerland-based Alentis will use the money to mount an R&D campaign it hopes will lead to a drug that can address the growing unmet need in liver fibrosis and cancer. Today, advanced liver disease is a one-way street. Advanced fibrosis is either held steady or gets progressively worse, raising the risk of a patient developing liver cancer as it does. Alentis thinks it doesn’t have to be that way.
“There's an opportunity to reverse [fibrosis] and eventually avoid the fatal progression,” Ewert said.
Ewert, fresh from his role in Ablynx’s €3.9 billion takeover by Sanofi, has joined Alentis as CEO to try to seize that opportunity. Alentis’ hopes of doing so are based on a drug discovery platform and the novel targets and candidates it generates.
Building on the work of research centers in the French city of Strasbourg, Alentis has used knowledge of how gene expression changes as liver disease progresses and cell circuits affect fibrosis and cancer to mimic patients’ evolving biology in cell culture.
“You essentially have something like a diseased liver ... in a petri dish,” Ewert said.
The platform led Alentis to a previously undiscovered molecule it thinks plays a very important role in driving disease biology and cancer. That confidence is backed up by early-stage evidence of what happens when the target is drugged. Having tested an antibody against the target in animal models and human-derived tissues, Alentis has the data to raise a series A and commit to further work.
Swiss VC firms BioMedPartners and BB Pureos Bioventures co-led the round with the support of BPI France, Schroder Adveq and German High-Tech Gründerfonds. Alentis is in talks with other potential investors and could secure further funding in the near future.
The money will enable Alentis to start regulated development and manufacturing of its lead drug while further characterizing the target, how it interacts with the antibody and how the interaction affects signaling and disease pathology.
Alentis, which currently has four employees supported by a network of advisors, is doing research and work related to its platform at a site in Strasbourg. Development, operations and other activities are running out of Basel, where Alentis thinks the depth of biopharma talent will help as it uses the series A to build out its team and tap into the expertise possessed by consultants.