Takeda and NEA back $39M series A for GI biotech OrphoMed

OrphoMed gained a $39 million early funding boost from a Japanese big pharma and a host of VCs as it looks to push on with work on its leading med for forms of irritable bowel syndrome that it hopes can have a better safety profile than those meds on the market.

Specifically, the cash will be put toward tests on ORP-101 for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome with diarrhea (IBS-D). The med works as a partial agonist of the μ opioid receptor and antagonist of the κ opioid receptor. It’s designed help lower abdominal and gastric hypermotility in these patients, all without CNS penetration, according to its release. The med is fully owned by OrphoMed, with no “downstream royalties or milestone payments,” the biotech says.

The round was led by New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and co-led by existing seed investor Takeda Ventures, with help from other prior investors, namely Pappas Capital, through its newest fund, Pappas Ventures V; Relativity Healthcare Partners and the Mario Family Fund. 

And, as is usual with these raises, the biotech also welcomes Frank Torti, M.D., partner at NEA, and Arthur Pappas, managing partner of Pappas Capital, to its board.

Nikhilesh Singh, Ph.D, OrphoMed co-founder and CEO, said in the release: “We are committed to developing drugs for gastrointestinal and hepatic conditions where there is a need for more efficacious and safer treatments. We are excited by the investment from top-tier venture groups, as it validates the company’s technology and strategy to pursue ORP-101, which has the potential to be a superior treatment alternative to existing therapies for IBS-D.”

Several drugs for IBS-D are on the market, including Patheon/Forest Pharmaceuticals’ Viberzi (eluxadoline) and Salix Pharmaceuticals’ Xifaxan (rifaximin).

They both come with safety issues, however, with Viberzi’s potential risks including, ironically, constipation, as well as nausea and abdominal pain, with its most serious known risk being spasm in the sphincter of Oddi, the smooth muscle that surrounds the end portion of the common bile and pancreatic ducts, which can result in pancreatitis.

OrphoMed believes its drug could be safer, as ORP-101 has shown in early tests at least to not cause constriction of the sphincter of Oddi.

Xifaxan, meanwhile, can cause nausea and an increase in alanine aminotransferase, a liver enzyme measured in blood, which could indicate liver toxicity. Viberzi works by activating receptors in the nervous system that can lessen bowel contractions, while Xifaxan was originally an antibiotic for travelers’ diarrhea.

“There are only a couple of drugs approved for the treatment of IBS-D, each with its own specific limitations, either regarding safety or efficacy,” Kenneth Widder, M.D., OrphoMed’s executive chairman, explained in the release. “There still are a significant number of patients who cannot be treated with existing approved drugs. As such, we feel there is a large opportunity to bring forward a drug which circumvents the limitations of those drugs currently on the market.”