Big-name backers give ReViral $21M to move RSV drug into the clinic

Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners and OrbiMed have co-led a $21 million (€18.8 million) Series A round in ReViral, a London-based biotech that is edging a drug against respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) toward the clinic.

ReViral CSO Stuart Cockerill

The investment marks the start of ReViral's evolution from a seed-funded research organization into a fully fledged clinical phase biotech. A Seeding Drug Discovery award from the Wellcome Trust has funded preclinical work on ReViral's small molecule inhibitors of RSV fusion. But with the more costly tasks of IND-enabling toxicology tests and early-phase clinical trials now looming into view, the firm has tapped Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners and OrbiMed for cash. Brace Pharma Capital chipped in to the round, too, and the Wellcome Trust converted its loan into equity.

ReViral has attracted the investors on the strength of its lead drug RV521 and the team it has put in place to advance the program. Stuart Cockerill, who led the team that discovered GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) breast cancer drug Tykerb and helped to save it from the chop during a merger, is a founder and chief scientific officer. Cockerill is joined on the management team by two colleagues from his time at Arrow Therapeutics, Ken Powell and Neil Mathews. Powell was CEO of antiviral specialist Arrow when AstraZeneca ($AZN) bought the company for $150 million in 2007.

While the drugs that prompted the buyout have floundered since the buyout--hepatitis C drug AZD2836 was discontinued in 2009 and RSV candidate RSV604 never advanced past Phase II--the antiviral expertise that got the programs into the clinic is a powerful draw for investors. The hope now for ReViral and its backers is that RV521 can advance further than the programs developed by Arrow. ReViral thinks the cash will see it through to proof-of-concept clinical trials of RV521 with enough leftover to continue work on its backup asset and other programs.

If RV521 can overcome the odds by acing trials and muscling past rival RSV programs in development at AstraZeneca's MedImmune and others companies, it stands a chance of capturing the market for treating a pathogen that currently causes an estimated 64 million infections a year. That is the sort of number that gets the attention of financiers. "We have been following the RSV field for some time," OrbiMed partner Chau Khuong said in a statement. The characteristics of ReViral prompted OrbiMed to make its move into RSV. "[We] see ReViral as a leader in this space," Khuong said.

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