A startup that’s hoping to offer psoriasis patients a pill to treat their condition (instead of the standard treatment of steroids or injections) has closed a $19 million round of funding to take two of its programs to the clinic.
The company, Escalier Biosciences BV, is working on two immunotherapy programs that might tweak the production of IL-17, a cytokine that’s linked to psoriasis. Escalier is targeting the nuclear hormone receptor RORγt, which it says is the “master regulator” of Th17 cell differentiation, and the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines like IL-17a and IL-17f. RORγt inhibitors have shown to reduce the production of IL-17 in immune cells.
Raju Mohan, the company’s CEO, tells me blocking these proteins will stop the manifestation of psoriasis and all of its hallmarks: the inflammation, the red skin, and the itchy and painful patches.
“The biology has been proven with injectables, so our goal is to come up with an oral pill that will also block this protein,” Mohan said. “If you can do that, you can treat a wider spectrum of the disease.”
That’s because injectables aren’t good options for mild to moderate cases of psoriasis, Mohan said, and not often a choice unless the patient’s case is severe.
“Injectables are immunosuppressive, and they open you up to infection and other things,” Mohan said.
Patients with mild or moderate cases are generally prescribed steroids – both topically and orally. But those aren’t beloved, either.
“We all know steroids are very effective, but they can’t be used on certain parts of the body, they have side effects systemically, and they’re not long-term treatments,” Mohan said.
Escalier, which splits its operations between San Diego and the Netherlands, has two immunotherapy programs to tackle these gaps in treatment: one topical and one oral. The latest round of funding will take both programs to proof-of-concept studies, Mohan said. If it performs well in humans, the company will look at developing drugs for other autoimmune disorders tied to IL-17 production, such as ulcerative colitis or IBD.
The Series B round was led by Forbion with existing investors New Science Ventures and BioGeneration Ventures joining in.
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