Atea raises $215M to support midphase COVID-19 antiviral trial 

Atea CEO Jean-Pierre Sommadossi (Atea Pharmaceuticals)

Bain Capital Life Sciences has powered Atea Pharmaceuticals to a $215 million financing round. The series D sets Atea up to run a phase 2 trial of its oral purine nucleotide prodrug in people hospitalized with moderate cases of COVID-19.

Jean-Pierre Sommadossi, co-founder of Sovaldi-developer Pharmasset, created Atea in 2014 to work on treatments for viral diseases. Atea raised close to $70 million across three rounds and ran a clutch of phase 1 and 2 trials in hepatitis C over the following years, without ever establishing itself as a big name in biotech. That is about to change.

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Wednesday, investors including Bain, RA Capital Management and Perceptive Advisors put Atea on the map with a mega-round that will fund work to reposition hepatitis C candidate AT-527 for use in the treatment of COVID-19.

Atea disclosed the financing on the same day it posted a listing for a phase 2 trial that will test AT-527 in 180 people hospitalized with moderate COVID-19. The trial is designed to find out whether AT-527 is better than placebo at stopping patients from progressing to respiratory failure. Given the unmet need, a rapid route to market is possible.

While Atea originally tested AT-527 in hepatitis C patients, the biotech thinks the molecule’s ability to interfere with viral RNA polymerase, thereby inhibiting replication, may make it effective against SARS-CoV-2. Atea has internal in vitro data on the activity of AT-527 against human coronaviruses to back up its hypothesis.

The series D will enable Atea to test that hypothesis in a phase 2 trial that is scheduled to start this month and has an estimated primary completion date in July. Initiating the trial marks a milestone in Atea’s pivot to COVID-19. 

“We have shifted all of our immediate resources and our team’s deep expertise in virology and pharmacology to help address the unmet needs in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. An oral treatment for COVID-19 patients should prevent progression of the disease and may help lessen the burden on critical inpatient resources,” Atea CEO Sommadossi said in a statement.

The shift to COVID-19 and fallout from the pandemic has affected some of Atea’s other programs. While work on treatments for dengue and respiratory syncytial virus is continuing, development of three hepatitis C programs has been delayed by the pandemic. Atea plans to use some of the series D money to fund its non-COVID-19 programs.

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