Swedish developer Modus brings in $15M to fund sickle cell drug

Red blood cells
Sevuparin was developed by removing antithrombin binding sites from heparin, providing a mechanism of action the company describes as anti-adhesive and anti-inflammatory, but not anti-coagulant. (Wikimedia Commons)

Modus Therapeutics has raised over 140 million Swedish krona, or about $15.7 million, to advance clinical development of the company’s compound for sickle cell disease.

The series A financing round was led by European venture capital firm HealthCap, which put up about 42% of the cash as a new investor in the Stockholm-based company. The rest of the funds were raised through existing shareholders translating their convertible notes into shares.

Modus’ lead candidate, sevuparin, was initially developed at the Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden through a chemical depolymerization of heparin. By removing anti-thrombin binding sites, the compound provides a mechanism of action that the company describes as anti-adhesive and anti-inflammatory, but not anti-coagulant.

“We welcome the support of HealthCap, a high-profile life science investor, alongside the continuing commitment of our existing shareholders,” Ellen Donnelly, CEO of Modus Therapeutics, said in a statement. “The funds that we have raised will allow us to complete our current phase 2 trial with sevuparin in patients with SCD and commence a new program focused on a subcutaneous formulation.”

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The ongoing clinical trial, in collaboration with Ergomed, aims to restore blood flow and prevent microvascular obstructions in adults and adolescents with sickle cell disease, comparing continuous IV sevuparin with placebo. Modus expects the study to be completed in October and is planning future trials in an at-home setting with the self-administered subcutaneous injection.

In April, the FDA granted sevuparin a rare pediatric disease designation for the indication, which affects 90,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S., making the company eligible to receive a priority review voucher if the drug is approved. The company estimates about 40,000 SCD patients in Europe, and over 850,000 in the Middle East and North Africa.

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“HealthCap sees ample opportunities for Modus Therapeutics’ orphan drug candidate sevuparin to be an important treatment for SCD patients,” said HealthCap Partner Mårten Steen. “We look forward to the next important step in the company's development, which is the completion of the ongoing phase 2 study and prepare for pivotal studies.”

Modus has also studied sevuparin in uncomplicated falciparum malaria, when nonspecific symptoms such as fever are present but there are no signs of organ damage or severe infection, alongside the University of Oxford and the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit.

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The phase 1/2 study, terminated in 2014, assessed IV sevuparin given with an anti-parasite combination of atovaquone and proquanil, known as Malanil or Malarone, with the goal of assessing tolerability and reversing the sequestration of mature, parasitized red blood cells in the smallest blood vessels. The study showed early anti-adhesive effects, but did not meet its primary efficacy endpoint after slow recruitment, the company said.