Boehringer, Novo-backed German biotech banks €11M in liver regeneration push
When the Greek god of forethought, Prometheus, ran into conflict with the king of gods, the mighty Zeus — his punishment was peculiar. Chained to a rock in the Caucasus mountains, Prometheus’ liver was offered to an eagle. Every day the bird would eat part of the organ, and every night it would regenerate — making his sentence eternal. This myth has enthralled artists and scientists — and within medicine, it is seen symbolically representative of the regenerative capacity of the liver.
The real world — exemplified by viral infection, trauma, carcinoma, alcohol misuse and innate metabolic dysfunction — can still result in life-threatening end-stage liver disease. The only recourse is a liver transplant — but donors are not easy to find and immunological incompatibility between the donor and recipient further limits its applicability. So a raft of drugmakers is looking at developing fresh approaches to regenerate liver cells that could either preclude transplants or enhance the transplantation process.
German biotech HepaRegeniX has its own such strategy. Its clutch of preclinical compounds is focused on inhibiting mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase 4, or MKK4, which is a key regulator of liver regeneration. On Tuesday, the Tübingen-based company unveiled it had raised €11 million in Series B funding, including the participation of its existing investors: Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Novo Holdings, the High-Tech Gruenderfonds, Coparion and Ascension.
The proceeds will be used to shepherd the company’s first MKK4 inhibitor, designed to treat acute and chronic liver disease, into the clinic this year. The company’s research suggests the suppression of MKK4 unlocks the regenerative capacity of hepatocytes even in severely diseased livers, and the approach can be harnessed to fight a broad range of liver diseases including NASH, HepaRegeniX said.
University Hospital Tübingen’s Lars Zender, who along with his team discovered MKK4’s impact on liver regeneration, sits on the company’s board.
Last October, Juvenescence-backed LyGenesis, a biotech startup focused on organ regeneration, closed a $4 million round to take its lead program in liver regeneration into the clinic.