Pharma

Venture firms bet $41M more on P&G spinout developing oral anemia drug

Akebia Therapeutics might be a bit behind in the race to develop a safer, oral drug for anemia, but it’s just gotten a big vote of confidence from investors in the form of a $41 million Series C. Novartis Venture Fund, Kearny Venture Partners, Venture Investors LLC, Athenian Venture Partners, Triathlon Medical Ventures, AgeChem Venture […]

Akebia Therapeutics might be a bit behind in the race to develop a safer, oral drug for anemia, but it’s just gotten a big vote of confidence from investors in the form of a $41 million Series C.

Novartis Venture Fund, Kearny Venture Partners, Venture Investors LLC, Athenian Venture Partners, Triathlon Medical Ventures, AgeChem Venture Fund and Sigvion Capital Fund joined in on the round, which was led by Satter Investment Management LLC and Novo A/S.

Akebia will use the funding to advance its lead candidate, AKB-6548, through a Phase 2b study in patients with anemia associated with chronic kidney disease.

“Besides driving the company toward Phase 3 readiness, this financing also gives the company an opportunity to validate the drug’s utility in a broader range of patients,” said Dr. Daniel Kosoy, a partner at Athenian Venture Partners.

Diseased kidneys often don’t make enough of a hormone called erythropoietin, or EPO, which stimulates bone marrow to produce the right amount of red blood cells to deliver oxygen to other organs. So these patients often take injections of genetically engineered EPO a few times a week. But the FDA has warned that these medications can be dangerous to the heart for some patients.

So the race is on to develop a safer oral drug for anemia. Astellas and FibroGen are recruiting patients for a Phase 3 study, and GSK has a Phase 2 candidate in development.

Akebia’s Phase 2 pill promotes levels of EPO by stimulating the body’s natural response to anemia, rather than binding directly to and saturating the EPO receptor for prolonged periods of time, like engineered EPO does. The Cincinnati-based company says its drug has the potential to be safer, less expensive and more efficacious. The drug met its clinical endpoints in a 42-day Phase 2a trial last year.

“The asset is wholly owned by Akebia, which is attractive for acquirers interested in a dominant position in the anemia market, and also gives the company flexibility in its approach to potential M&A and/or licensing opportunities,” Kosoy said.

Akebia was spun out of Procter & Gamble’s pharmaceutical business in 2007 and last raised a $22 million Series B in 2011. It also has a spinout of its own in Aerpio Therapeutics, which is developing drugs for diabetic macular edema and inflammatory bowel disease.