Startups, Venture

A biotech fledgling cross-bred in France and Switzerland launches to take on liver problems of global dimensions

Drug development is a global business, but when it comes to raising venture cash, startups in Europe and the US are often operating on completely different scales.

Consider Alentis Therapeutics, a biotech incubated in Basel, Switzerland that says it has found the “master switch” for a number of advanced liver diseases, from fibrosis due to NASH to hepatocellular carcinoma. The Series A grant total: $13.2 million (CHF 13.5 million).

Thomas Baumert

Founder Thomas Baumert was in Boston a few days before the announcement. With this kind of profile, he recalls people telling him, “we probably could easily get 50 million in the United States.”

But Baumert, whose decade-long research at the University of Strasbourg formed the foundation of Alentis, is happy where he is. Between his scientific base in the French city and Basel, his small team of 4 have “the best of both worlds,” with access to both cutting edge translational science and “fantastic infrastructure” for running a biotech business. Not to mention the caliber of the scientific advisers and service providers they regularly work with, many of whom are Novartis or Roche alums.

Markus Ewert

CEO Markus Ewert — ex-Novartis staffer and former CBO of Ablynx — adds that the current funds should last a couple of years, taking Alentis’s lead monoclonal antibody through CMC development and some tox studies.

After that, though, they will likely need $30 million to $35 million more in order to carry out solid clinical studies. Partners with deeper pockets are welcome to pick up the tab after proof-of-concept.

All the while, Alentis will continue optimizing some other compounds discovered on its platform — a special cell culture model that captures the cell circuits and gene expression of patients with late-stage liver disease in a way that others haven’t been able to, according to Baurmert — to beef up the pipeline. They are also in talks with bigger players who are interested in utilizing the platform tech on their own projects, Ewert says.

He plans to double the headcount at the company, but intends to keep the full-time team relatively small.

BioMedPartners and BB Pureos Bioventures — both Swiss VC funds — co-led the round and each sends a representative to the board. They were joined by BPI France (also joining the board), Schroder Adveq and the German High-Tech Gründerfonds.

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