British billionaire Mike Platt hops on board a London startup looking at drug discovery from a different angle
Back in 2016, upon graduating with his PhD from University College London, Giuseppe Mazza and his professor Massimo Pinzani spun out Engitix to understand disease from a slightly different angle. Now they’re ready to build out a pipeline — and they’ve piqued the interest of British billionaire hedge fund manager Mike Platt.
Engitix unveiled a $54 million Series A round early Wednesday morning, on top of a new collaboration deal with Italian biopharma company Dompé. The focus is on the human extracellular matrix (ECM) — the networks of proteins and carbohydrates that pass between cells, communicating and assuring the whole system functions.
If cells are like the bricks of a building, the ECM is the scaffolding that supports them, Mazza explained. The Engitix CEO believes understanding the ECM is important to figuring out how diseases progress — and new ways of tackling them. To do so, they’ve built ECM models by taking resected tissues, “decellularizing” them (removing the cells) and then later growing cell lines in what’s left over. They source the human tissue from an established network of biobanks.
“If you think that we live in a 3D environment, cells, in order to grow and develop tissue and develop organs, they need a framework, they need the infrastructure,” Mazza told Endpoints News.
Engitix has several in-house programs in the works, for primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and liver metastasis, and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), as well as partnered discovery programs in fibrosis and solid tumors. Back in 2020, Takeda plumped down an upfront plus up to $500 million in biobucks for a discovery and development pact in fibrotic liver diseases, including non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
“We started as a platform business. We have an excellent partnership with Takeda and of course, this is obviously a top priority in the business to expand obviously other potential partnerships, but the priority is to move the internal pipeline from validated targets to pre-IND stage,” Mazza said.
That’s where the Series A funding comes in. The latest round was co-led by Netherton Investments, a fund investing on behalf of Platt, who’s joining the team’s board of directors. It’ll be used to push toward the clinic and expand the team from 38 to 80 by year’s end. If all goes well, they’ll be in the clinic in 2025, Massa said.
“I am prepared to take a risk and invest in innovative technology early, backing highly passionate teams with strong leadership,” Platt said in a statement. “Having invested from the start, Engitix’s progress and achievements within less than two years from its seed financing have been impressive.”
Under the new deal with Dompé, Engitix will get direct access to the Italian biopharma’s facilities and resources, including its structure-based drug design platform that leverages the Italian supercomputer center CINECA. Engitix will retain full control over its programs — and though the companies aren’t sharing the financial terms of the deal, Dompé will be eligible for certain milestones and royalties.
“I think that strategically we need to address unmet medical needs. At the end of the day, biotech is really challenging, so at least you need to try to address big challenges. That’s my approach,” Mazza said, adding that the team has discussed going after other conditions like lung fibrosis, certain neurodegenerative disorders, or colorectal cancer.