A Canadian startup refuels to take on a rare cardiac condition that many patients don't realize they have
A year and a half ago, a small biotech launched out of Laval, Quebec to one-up beta blockers for the treatment of a rare heart condition that often goes undiagnosed. Now, a slate of investors is reaching deeper into the pockets to drive the company’s push toward the clinic.
LQT Therapeutics unveiled a $19 million Series A round on Tuesday to bring its lead compound for Long QT syndrome (LQTS) through Phase I. LQTS is a genetic disorder that causes an elongation between the Q and T waves during a heartbeat, which can lead to rapid, chaotic heartbeats or arrhythmias. Patients with the condition suffer fainting spells, seizures, cardiac arrest or sudden death.
Because people with LQTS show few signs or symptoms, many don’t even become aware of their condition until they experience heart failure, or get an ECG for another reason. The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute estimates that one out of every 7,000 people are living with LQTS, and 3,000 to 4,000 children and young adults die of it each year.
“The consequences of undiagnosed or poorly treated Long QT Syndrome can be debilitating and life threatening,” LQT’s scientific founders Anthony Rosenzweig, David Milan and Saumya Das said last year, upon reeling in about $1.4 million in seed funding.
Current treatment options for LQTS are limited to beta-blockers (which come with a risk of side effects like fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath), and lifestyle changes such as eating right and limiting activities that can trigger the abnormal heartbeats. If beta blockers fail, patients may need surgery for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which restores the heart’s natural rhythm via electrical shocks.
But LQT thinks it has a different approach. The company has reason to believe that an enzyme called Serum/Glucocorticoid Regulated Kinase 1 (SGK1) plays a key role in inappropriate sodium regulation in various arrhythmias. The idea stemmed from research by Milan from the Leducq Foundation, Rosenzweig and Das from Massachusetts General Hospital, and support from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
“Our research has uncovered a unique and novel therapeutic approach to modulate electrical properties of certain sodium channels which are potentially important in the treatment of Long QT Syndrome,” Rosenzweig said in a statement.
LQT has licensed a slate of compounds from Sanofi to inhibit the kinase, the most advanced of which has shown promise in the stem cells of patients with LQT syndrome, CEO Paul Truex says. The Series A funds will be used to push that candidate into Phase I. And Philip Sager, a Gilead and AstraZeneca vet and internationally recognized cardiologist, has been tapped to lead the effort as CMO.
Amplitude Ventures led the round, with a hand from Lumira Ventures, Amzak Health, Alexandria Venture Investments, founding investor Fonds de solidarité FTQ, founding scientists and members of the management team.