Novira Therapeutics raises $23M for hepatitis B treatment that attacks DNA of virus
A biotechnology company with a novel drug treatment for hepatitis B and HIV patients could change the way drugs combat viruses. The drug, under development, which targets the outer shell, or capsids, of the viruses, has secured $23 million in a series A financing round led by new investors.
Early stage venture capital firm 5AM Ventures andCanaan Partner were joined by WuXi PharmaTech as well as existing investors BioAdvance, Mid-Atlantic Angel Group, Robin Hood Ventures and Delaware Crossing Investment Group, according to a company statement. It had raised over $3 million to date in seed and grant funding.
One of the things about hepatitis B that makes it so tough to eliminate from the human body is the virus’ covalently closed circular DNA (cccDNA), which acts as the transcriptional template for HBV RNA production and occupies the nucleus of infected cells. Although several medications currently on the market from the likes of Gilead and GSK, among others, reduce the amount of the virus in the system, they are rarely able to eradicate it.
Osvaldo (Lalo) Flores, the president and chief scientific officer of Novira Therapeutics in Radnor, Pennsylvania, told MedCity News in a phone interview that the biotechnology company’s capsid-targeting antivirals entering preclinical development are potentially more effective than what is currently available.
“We believe our drug either alone or in combination with others has the potential to lead to better cure rates,” Flores said. “It will lead to better efficacy because it is expected to lead to faster and greater reduction of cccDNA compared to currently available drugs, which will improve outcomes,” said Flores, adding that the company expects to enter clinical trials with its lead hepatitis B program in early 2014.
About 2 billion people have been infected with the hepatitis B virus and more than 240 million have longterm liver infections from the disease, according to the World Health Organization’s website. Many of the people with the disease are based in China and other parts of Asia. About 600,000 people die every year from the disease.
Prior to Novira, Flores had previously worked at Merck, where he held multiple leadership roles including director of antiviral research as well as senior director and department head of molecular endocrinology. George D. Hartman, the co-founder and vice president of chemistry and preclinical development, previously worked at Merck for 35 years.
“There’s a strong interest for this drug in China and in other Asian countries, and reflects the interest and eagerness for participation by WuXi and other investors to address this need beyond the U.S. and European markets,” Flores said.