Biotech Genkyotex nails down $26M to fund drug for diabetic kidney disease

With big plans to advance a first-in-class compound for diabetic nephropathy, the startup Genkyotex has rallied its existing backers to extend its Series C round by $26 million (CHF 25 million). And the influx of funding bankrolls the biotech's lead drug through Phase II development to combat the kidney-damaging disease in diabetics.

Geneva-based Genkyotex has now raised $44 million (CHF 43 million) in the third-round financing, with backing from Swiss incubator Eclosion, France's Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners, Vesalius Biocapital Partners in Luxembourg and MP Healthcare Venture, the VC arm of Japan's Mitsubishi Tanabe Pharma Group. The capital has enabled the startup, formed in 2006, to establish a pipeline of drugs that inhibit NOX enzymes, which produce reactive oxygen species that impact oxidative stress and lead to tissue damage in a variety of diseases, Genkyotex CEO Ursula Ney explained in an interview with FierceBiotech.

While early research of the field focused on the NOX2 enzyme, Ney said, Genkyotex's lead candidate--code-named GKT137831--targets NOX1 and NOX4 enzymes, the latter of which has been found to play a role in kidney function. Animal studies show the drug can also reverse fibrosis, Ney says, and targeting the NOX pathways could lead to treatments for a variety of devastating fibrotic diseases that have attracted investment from major pharma concerns.  

Diabetic nephropathy is a leading cause of death in diabetics, according to the National Institutes of Health, and current treatments include kidney transplants and meds to control blood sugar and blood pressure. Genkyotex, which targets underlying drivers of the disease, plans to wrap up a Phase Ib study of 831 later this quarter, and the Phase II program is expected to kick off late this year. A key endpoint in the mid-stage study will be the drug's impact on proteinuria, which is protein found in urine that is linked with kidney problems, Ney said. The goal is to reduce proteinuria in patients on 831.

"There's a lot of interest now from pharma in oxidative stress [and] in the NOX platform," Ney told FierceBiotech. "I think until last year the company was pretty much under the radar, and I think our profile has raised over the past year particularly as we've gotten into Phase I with our lead compound."

The company's animal data show that its NOX inhibitors can reverse fibrosis, which is tissue scarring that leads to organ failure and death. Drugmakers have herded into the fibrosis arena, with Biogen Idec ($BIIB), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) and Gilead Sciences ($GILD) purchasing biotechs with assets in the field over the past few years. And Ney expects that drugs such as 831 could treat fibrosis of the lungs and liver as well as the lead indication of diabetic nephropathy, which is associated with kidney fibrosis.

- here's the press release