By breaking European VC records with its research, Sanifit is helping to whet appetites for other life science startups and funders in Spain.
CEO: Joan Perelló, Ph.D.
Based: Palma, Spain, and San Diego, California
Clinical focus: The Spanish biotech is fixed on calciphylaxis, a relatively unknown disease in which calcium accumulates in small blood vessels, spurring necrotic skin ulcers. Around 55% of patients die within one year of diagnosis.
The scoop: Sanifit's drug, known as SNF472, works by binding to calcification sites. Data on its ability to heal wounds and relieve pain could help it become the first approved drug targeting the underlying cause of the disease.
What makes Sanifit fierce: When you think of Spain, sunny beaches and amazing football teams come to mind, not biotech. But its life sciences industry, though still in an embryonic stage, is growing, and much of that growth can be credited to Sanifit.
This biotech is breaking the mold in its native country. Back in June, Sanifit raised a massive €55.2 million ($62.9 million) series D round. That figure may be pretty common in the U.S., but it smashed Spanish biotech VC records and ranked as one of the biggest life sciences raises in Europe for the year.
And what record did it break? Its own, as it turns out. Sanifit and its €36.6 million series C had already made headlines back in 2015 as the then-largest-ever private round for a Spanish biotech.
Five Spanish investors participated in the latest round, meaning local VCs played a significant role in a big financing. Caixa Capital Risc, a unit of one of Spain’s largest banks, led the series D with the support of two of its compatriots, Columbus Venture Partners and Alta Life Sciences, that backed Sanifit for the first time. Two of Sanifit's existing Spanish investors, Ysios Capital and HealthEquity, also contributed to the series D.
The biotech is not just impressive in its own right, but rather has helped spur a nascent life sciences funding and startup environment in its native land. CEO Joan Perelló, Ph.D., is modest about his biotech’s accomplishments, preferring to point out the independent successes of other companies and VCs.
“As any other company, we’ve had our ups and downs, but it’s true that when we first started out, there was no real biotech environment in Spain," Perelló said. "So, there were no life sciences really here. For Caixa Capital Risc, Sanifit was one of their first investments in life sciences.”
Perelló says calciphylaxis is a rare, poorly understood disease, but that doesn’t make it any less important than other diseases. “Many of these patients have the same pain levels and mortality as cancer patients,” he explained. The disease has been long neglected in terms of treatments, but Sanifit sees calcification as the answer, and more are now starting to sit up and take notice.
“When we started, no one else was using our approach," Perelló said. "You have to keep the faith it works, but now more and more in academia and elsewhere are following the same path. So, creating this field of research that others are now following is I think very important.”
Sanifit's using its venture cash to take SNF472 through a mid-to-late-stage program that linked the calcification inhibitor to improvements in healing and pain. The candidate has already generated phase 2 data showing it can support wound healing and help manage the pain associated with calciphylaxis. Now, after conversations with regulators on both sides of the Atlantic, Sanifit is working on a phase 3 trial that uses the same wound and pain endpoints.
The phase 3 trial will enroll up to 70 patients in the U.S. and certain European countries, including Spain and the U.K. Sanifit plans to start the trial by the end of the year.
In parallel, the Spanish company is working to wrap up a phase 2b dose-finding trial that's assessing the effect of SNF472 on cardiovascular calcification in hemodialysis patients. Sanifit expects to have data from the 274-patient study at the end of the year, and that evidence could tee Sanifit up to target indications beyond calciphylaxis.
These are expensive times for a biotech, but Perelló said that his company's fully funded for its phase 3 trial, so an IPO is currently not in the cards. And, like so many Fierce 15s in the past few years, Sanifit's aiming not to sell but to stay independent.
Investors: Caixa Capital Risc, Columbus Venture Partners, Alta Life Sciences, Ysios Capital and HealthEquity, as well as Lundbeckfonden Ventures, Forbion Capital Partners, Gilde Healthcare and Andera Partners