HepaRegeniX GmbH, a new Biotech company developing innovative treatments for liver diseases, announced today the completion of a €9 million Series A financing. The round was led by Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund GmbH (BIVF) and Novo Seeds, and complemented by the High-Tech Gruenderfonds and coparion.
HepaRegeniX develops a new and unique therapeutic concept for the treatment of liver diseases, discovered by Prof. Lars Zender and his research group at the University Hospital Tubingen, Germany. In the healthy liver, hepatocytes have a near endless capacity to regenerate. However, in liver diseases, this regenerative capacity is locked and excessive hepatocyte death cannot be compensated, ultimately leading to loss of liver function and often death.
The laboratory of Prof. Lars Zender identified Mitogen-Activated Protein (MAP) Kinase Kinase 4 (MKK4) as a key regulator of liver regeneration. The laboratory found that suppression of MKK4 gene expression by small RNA molecules unlocks the regenerative capacity of hepatocytes even in severely diseased livers. These findings paved the way for the unique and promising therapeutic concept to develop small molecule MKK4 inhibitors to treat acute and chronic liver diseases. In particular, following thorough characterization of the underlying molecular mechanism of action of drug candidates, there is potential for the development in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
MKK4 was already identified as novel therapeutic target during Prof. Zender`s time at
Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and Medical School Hanover (MHH), and protected by respective IP. Ascenion GmbH, technology transfer partner of both institutes, supported the project from the start and negotiated a respective license agreement with the start-up company.
HepaRegeniX has acquired worldwide and exclusive rights of the related IP portfolio and, in collaboration with the Zender group and the medicinal chemistry group of the Eberhard-Karls University of Tubingen (Profs. Stefan Laufer and Antti Poso), has already identified the first small molecule inhibitors of MKK4.
“In a nutshell, HepaRegeniX is developing an ‘EPO’ for the liver“, said Dr. Detlev Mennerich, Investment Director at BIVF. “The pioneering discovery of Prof. Lars Zender, that the inhibition of MKK4 leads to an overall increased capacity of liver cell regeneration, has attracted a very inter-disciplinary team of experienced drug discovery seniors into HepaRegeniX.”
Dr. Wolfgang Albrecht, CEO of HepaRegeniX added, “I am excited to work with the very experienced founder team and with the strong syndicate of international investors. HepaRegeniX is in an excellent position to bring this new treatment concept forward to liver disease patients.”
This Series A round provides funding for the ongoing medicinal chemistry discovery programs and preclinical development of drug candidates through IND filing. The first clinical study for the treatment of acute liver failure is planned for 2019.