Sanofi backs Escient's $77.5M round as it kick-starts first clinical test

Escient Pharmaceuticals has grabbed a meaty $77.5 million series B with the help of Sanofi’s VC arm as the biotech also starts its first in-human tests.

The San Diego biotech came onto the scene back in 2018 with $40 million in series A funding to develop novel G protein-coupled receptor-targeted drugs for a wide range of indications. The startup's first focus was on neuro-immuno-inflammatory and autoreactive diseases.

Now, it’s second funding round has nearly doubled from its first, giving it the cash to start a phase 1 for its leading drug EP547, a MRGPRX4-targeted product candidate to treat cholestatic and uremic pruritus, a form of severe itching resulting from liver or kidney disease.

The most recent epidemiologic data out from the Dialysis Outcomes and Practice Patterns Study suggest that around 40% of patients with end-stage renal disease experience moderate to severe pruritus and that uremic pruritus “has a major clinical impact” because it is strongly associated with poor quality of life, impaired sleep, depression and increased mortality.

With cholestatic pruritus, the itching comes as a result of several liver diseases and is most common in patients with primary biliary cirrhosis, primary sclerosing cholangitis and intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy, but is also fairly common in patients with chronic viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C.

Escient is developing EP547 based on the finding of disease-related accumulation of key metabolites that activate the MRGPRX4 itch receptor. It’s also eyeing a second program for mast cell-related diseases

The financing was led by Sanofi Ventures and Cowen Healthcare Investments with help from new investors Redmile Group and Perceptive Advisors.

“In just over two years since our launch, we’ve made significant progress developing our platform and pipeline. We have advanced both our understanding of the role MRGPRs in a number of therapeutic areas and our methods for drugging them to potentially treat several diseases based on novel and specific mechanisms of action,” said Alain Baron, M.D., CEO of Escient.

“Through our work, we’ve identified promising drug candidates that we are advancing into clinical development with the potential to build a pipeline of class-leading, once-daily, oral therapeutics to address debilitating diseases.”