Ethris' inhaled mRNA-based asthma drug ups its target protein without toxicity, early data show

Ethris’ mRNA-based treatment to prevent viral infections in people with uncontrolled asthma so far appears to be safe and increases expression of its target protein, early data suggest. 

The German biotech announced June 25 interim phase 1 data on its lead candidate, ETH47, which indicate it successfully encodes the protein interferon lambda (IFNλ) in healthy people. A full readout is expected in the third quarter of 2024. 

“Given the strong association between viral infections, [particularly] with rhinovirus, and asthma exacerbations, Ethris’ mRNA product candidate … has the potential to fill a significant gap in the asthma treatment paradigm,” Eric Bateman, M.D., a board member of the Global Initiative for Asthma, commented in Ethris’ press release.  

People with uncontrolled asthma are more susceptible to severe respiratory viral infections than those without the condition on account of a unique inflammatory response in the lungs that dysregulates the production of interferons, including IFNλ. Viruses also make asthma worse—in fact, they’re the most common cause of asthma exacerbation. 

ETH47 is administered through the nose and works by increasing the amount of IFNλ in the respiratory tract. It’s ability to circumvent the challenge of getting mRNA to the lungs is owed to the company’s lipidoid nanoparticle delivery system, SNaP LNP. Lipidoids are similar to lipid particles, like the ones used in the COVID-19 vaccines, but with some differences that make them useful for delivering mRNA both via inhalation and through injection into the muscle.

Regarding side effects, Ethris said in its press release about the data that there were no clinically relevant severe or drug-related adverse events across any of the tested doses.

Besides providing evidence that ETH47’s mechanism of action is safe and works as intended, the results are the first signs of clinical life for the company’s platform, stabilized non-immunogenic mRNA, or SNIM RNA. The platform is the basis for Ethris’ primary ciliary dyskinesia program, too, for which the company has three drugs in development. 

As of mid-June, Ethris’ work on ETH47 is being funded in part by the Gates Foundation, which donated $5 million to get the drug ready for phase 2 trials and build out manufacturing capabilities. That financing will include an equity component that will close at the company’s next funding round. Ethris’ last round was a $26.3 million series B that closed in February 2022.

Ethris previously signed a 25 million euro ($29 million) deal with AstraZeneca back in 2017 to develop therapies for respiratory diseases based on its SNIM RNA technology. Though that partnership was not renewed at the end of its five-year term, it is working with Heget Therapeutics on its myocardial infarction program and is strategically partnered with Cipla on its mRNA platform. Cipla earlier this month invested an addition 3 million euros ($3.2 million) into Ethris on top of a 15 million euro ($16 million) investment it made in 2022. 

Editor's note: This story was updated June 29 with additional information about Ethris' partnerships.