Novartis, Lilly lead a $44M round for rare disease biotech Aeglea

Austin, Texas, biotech Aeglea Biotherapeutics raised $44 million in Series B cash to bankroll its enzyme-replacement therapy for a rare metabolic disorder, with Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Novartis ($NVS) leading the round.

The company, founded in 2013, is at work on AEB1102, an engineered version of the enzyme arginase I designed to treat the rare, inborn disease hyperargininemia, or HA. The disease results from a lack of the enzyme and can lead to serious cognitive problems and intellectual disability, Aeglea said, with no effective therapy to treat its underlying cause.

With its new funds, Aeglea plans to get AEB1102 into a Phase I/II proof-of-concept study as soon as the second half of this year, hoping to demonstrate that its top prospect can halt the advance of HA and improve patients' lives. At the same time, Aeglea believes the drug has potential in oncology, homing in on arginine-dependent tumor cells that could be starved to death by enzyme replacement with AEB1102. The company is screening for ideal patients and plans to kick off a Phase I trial in that indication as soon as the third quarter.

George Georgiou

The biotech's work, based on technology developed in the lab of the University of Texas' George Georgiou, centers on the use of enzymes to break down amino acids and treat disease. Aeglea is developing an enzyme designed to degrade the amino acid homocysteine to treat the rare disease homocystinuria, another that targets cysteine to kill malignancies and a third that erodes methionine to fight solid tumors.

"With its pipeline of optimized drug candidates, this financing enables Aeglea to begin establishing the potential of amino acid-degrading enzymes to improve the outcomes associated with these altered metabolic pathways," Armen Shanafelt, general partner at Lilly Ventures and Aeglea chairman, said in a statement. "Aeglea is now positioned to become a leader in providing treatments for patients suffering from diseases caused by the extremes of metabolism, as well as treatments that exploit the metabolic vulnerabilities these defects cause in cancer."

The venture arms of Lilly and Novartis led Aeglea's latest financing, joined by a syndicate that includes OrbiMed, RA Capital Management, Rock Springs Capital, Ally Bridge Group and Cowen Investments. The company closed a $12 million Series A early last year.

- read the statement