Drug Development

Funded for PhII, biotech entrepreneurs achieve a 15-year-old R&D dream

Niels Riedemann and Renfeng Guo followed entirely different paths, but 15 years ago both wound up working together in the lab of Peter Ward at the University of Michigan, a prominent investigator known for his landmark research on the C5 pathway. That early teamwork created a bond over their insights into a particular avenue of the pathway that they hope will lead to a first-in-class anti-inflammatory drug. And they have now raised their first big chunk of cash — $34 million — to put it to its first big Phase II proof-of-concept challenge.

The biotech they co-founded is InflaRx and their drug is IFX-1. It’s an antibody designed specifically to tackle C5a while leaving the membrane attack complex (C5b-9) alone. And by doing that, they’ve gathered some early-stage clinical evidence that they can block an inflammatory pathway that can cause havoc.

InflaRx may be small — there’s a staff of 13 now which is expected to grow to 20 or 25 people — but it has a global structure.

The biotech is based in Jena, Germany, where Riedemann is vice director of intensive care medicine at the University of Jena. Renfeng Guo still spends part of the year in Ann Arbor, when he’s not in Germany or China, where his connections among immunology researchers has provided some of the important foundation work done on their pipeline drugs.

Riedemann tells me those Asian connections also put the company in touch with new, untraditional investors, which in turn led Staidson Hongkong Investment Company (STS) to jump into the syndicate.

“It’s a very tricky target,” says the CEO, without much direct competition in the clinic. But if the drug works the way they believe it does, they expect to interrupt a process in which white blood cells get activated, attracting neutrophils and spurring the release of granular enzymes that damage tissue.

Just a few weeks ago, the biotech launched a Phase II for patients undergoing complex cardiac surgery. Pulmonary abdominal infections is one focus, and there’s some additional work being done on orphan indications as InflaRx brings along two more preclinical drugs in the pipeline.

Generally, when you hear about a C5 drug, your attention immediately goes to Alexion’s Soliris, the most expensive drug in the U.S. A variety of biotechs — Like Ra Pharmaceuticals and Akari — have tackled followup programs that look to go deeper along the pathway in search of better rivals to Soliris, which is used to treat rare cases of PNH. But InflaRx is steering clear of that field.

Alexion, though, is banking on its own expertise in the field to push along ALXN1007, an antibody now in Phase II for graft-versus-host disease.

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