Versantis raises cash to take liver failure drug to clinical POC

Versantis has raised a €16 million ($18 million) series B round. The Swiss biotech will use the money to gather clinical proof-of-concept data on a drug designed to clear out ammonia and other toxic metabolites that contribute to poor health outcomes in liver disease patients.

ETH Zurich-spinout Versantis is built on a platform technology that makes novel use of pH-gradient liposomes that have been explored in the context of drug delivery for decades. Versantis’ big idea is to flip the technology on its head, using the liposomes to capture toxins rather than release drugs. That idea led Versantis to explore the use of its liposomes as tools to protect patients with liver disease. 

Patients with decompensated liver disease are admitted to hospital, where a catheter is inserted to drain off liquid from the abdominal cavity. Versantis wants to piggyback on that existing workflow by using the catheter to get its lead liposomal micro-scavenging candidate, VS-01, into and out of the abdominal cavity. 

"These micro-scavengers in the peritoneal cavity will very efficiently capture the excess of toxins that are affecting the patient. The liposomes will sit in the cavity for approximately two hours. When they are loaded with the toxins, they will simply be drained out. All the toxins that were affecting the patient are manually removed,” Versantis CEO Vincent Forster said.

On paper, the approach will enable physicians to quickly protect patients from the body-wide issues that toxins can cause. The liver, brain and kidneys are all affected by the toxins targeted by VS-01. By removing the toxins, Versantis thinks it can prevent and reverse organ failure, thereby increasing the likelihood that a patient will survive. 

The concept has caught the attention of investors. Swisscanto Invest by Zürcher Kantonalbank led the round with the support of Esperante Ventures, investiere and new private investors. Existing backers Redalpine, HealthEquity and Zürcher Kantonalbank Start-up Finance also participated in this round.

Versantis will use the cash to finish a phase 1b trial that is looking at the safety of VS-01. Versantis COO Meriam Kabbaj is confident that the trial will deliver positive safety data when it reads out in the second quarter of next year, noting that VS-01 features no new chemical entities.

The series B will see Versantis through the phase 1b and into a pair of midphase proof-of-concept trials. One trial will assess VS-01 in decompensated liver disease patients who are at risk of organ failure. 

"We truly believe the early handling of these patients will prevent them from worsening," Kabbaj said.

The other study will look at VS-01 in patients who have acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF). In ACLF, the goal is to reverse organ failure. Versantis plans to wrap up those activities within three years and initiate licensing and partnering talks.