Chasing Novartis and Roche, Ventus banks $140M to take inflammatory disease drug into the clinic

The money keeps flowing into Ventus Therapeutics. Just 10 months after raising one mega-round, the undruggable target specialist has banked a further $140 million as it prepares to file three INDs next year.

Ventus is developing two molecules, one of which penetrates the brain, against NLRP3, a target that has attracted the interest of companies including Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis and Roche. The third asset that is barrelling toward the clinic targets cGAS, a regulator of the STING pathway. Again, the drug is in an area that a who’s who of biopharma companies have targeted, and in some cases left, in recent years.  

Investors including SoftBank Vision Fund and RA Capital Management, the co-leads of the series C, have backed Ventus in the belief its platform can deliver differentiated drug candidates. Ventus' platform is designed to shed light on previously unknown or poorly understood binding pockets for small molecules.

Tests of whether the platform can enable Ventus to overcome problems faced by other companies are on the horizon. Ventus’ pipeline is led by its peripherally restricted inhibitor of NLRP3. Years ago, Pfizer tested an NLRP3 inhibitor, only for safety issues to curtail the program. Later research ignited interest in the target, leading to deals such as Roche’s €380 million ($435 million) bet on Inflazome and hopes that NLRP3 is the key to treating a wide range of diseases driven by inflammation.

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Ventus is trailing the frontrunners in NLRP3 but has expressed confidence in its chances of coming from behind in the past, with CEO Marcelo Bigal arguing that rival molecules are based on Pfizer’s failed drug candidate and lack meaningful differentiation. Ventus’ molecules are “completely structurally distinct,” Bigal said last year, notably because they lack the pro-fibrotic areas linked to Pfizer’s safety problems.

IND filings for Ventus’ peripherally restricted and brain-penetrant NLRP3 inhibitors, which are scheduled for next year, will mark the start of efforts to show the molecules’ features translate into better clinical outcomes. Ventus also plans to file an IND for its cGAS program next year.