Emerging from stealth mode, Aardvark rounds up enough cash to put its lead drug through Prader-Willi PhII
When Aardvark Therapeutics CEO Tien Lee started his work on the biotech’s lead candidate, appetite suppression was the goal for the small molecule. Soon after, his team started to see added benefits with lower blood glucose levels and anti-inflammatory activity. On the tail end of that, the company has emerged from stealth mode and announced today that they’ve raised enough cash in the B round to cover mid-stage development work.
San Diego-based Aardvark has secured $29 million in Series B financing. The money will be used to complete three Phase II trials of its lead compound ARD-101, a small molecule bitter taste receptor pan-agonist. The funds will also be used to advance additional formulations for the candidate.
The fundraising was led by Sorrento Therapeutics and featured participation from Vickers Venture Partners, Premier Partners, BNH Investment, and Korea Omega. The Foundation for Prader-Willi Research participated as well, which is key because a Phase II trial in patients with Prader-Willi Syndrome is set to kick off later this year. PWS is a genetic disorder that leads patients to become constantly hungry. That can often lead to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
“I think we’re really on to something,” Lee said in a call with Endpoints News Wednesday. “There are a few companies that have looked into this space before but no one has really delved in and tried to exploit this gut-brain pathway using bitter taste receptors.”
ARD-101 has shown positive effects against obesity, hyperphagia, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and inflammation in animal models so far.
The drug utilizes bitter taste receptors, which Lee says are not only in the mouth, but all over the body, and act as nature’s way of protecting you against toxins. Over 99% of the drug is retained in the gut, which normally could be a bad thing for small molecules, but in this case, it activates enteroendocrine cells in the gut. When given through an IV, the candidate doesn’t work the same, Lee said.
Aardvark raised $10 million during its Series A fundraising two years ago, and that money was used to bring the candidate to in-human trials. While the $29 million will more than cover the completion of three Phase II trial, there is a lot more opportunity on the horizon, Lee said. The intent is to develop beyond PWS in the long term, but for now it’s focused on taking a shot at an accelerated approval for the genetic disease — a goal that has eluded others.
“The main quality of life impairment for Prader-Willi Syndrome is an unabated appetite, says the CEO. “These kids, if given unrestricted food access, they eat to the point of stomach rupture sometimes. We have a lot of diabetes and obesity related complications in young adulthood, and the fact that we’re hitting a variety of hormones, we think we’re able to shut down appetite in a very unique way. We’ll see. Biology is hard and we’re not making any promises, but we’re definitely very hopeful that we can see a difference for these kids.”