With the scourge of hepatitis C under control thanks to a slate of largely curative treatments approved over the last decade, drug developers have sharpened their focus on hep B, which is now considered the most common serious liver infection in the world. Antios Therapeutics has joined the plethora of others in the virology space looking to make headway in the fight against the preventable disease, scoring $25 million in an oversubscribed Series A round of funding, led by life sciences venture capital firms Lumira Ventures and Domain Associates.
Founded by former executives from hep C pioneer Pharmasset, which was acquired by Gilead Sciences $GILD, and Idenix, which was swallowed by Merck $MRK, Antios is hoping its lead oral drug candidate will form the backbone for a curative regimen for chronic HBV. The preclinical drug is also being considered as a potential treatment for hep D, which needs the hep B virus for replication.
Hep B is a leading cause of chronic hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, and is caused by the eponymous virus that is transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids.
The virus is 100 times more infectious than HIV, but can be prevented with a vaccine that has been available since 1982. Roughly two billion people (or 1 in 3) have been infected by hep B, and over 290 million are living with a chronic infection. Each year, up to 1 million die, estimates the Hepatitis B Foundation.
Existing treatments do not completely cure the infection, but tend to suppress viral replication, forcing patients to continue taking them for life. The infection is considered a “silent epidemic” because a majority of those that have been infected do not display symptoms and unbeknownst contribute to the spread the virus. Despite the paucity of symptoms, their livers are still being silently damaged, which can culminate in cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Antios is set to a join a host of drug developers that are targeting a cure for the infection using various mechanisms of action, including investigating the potential of RNA interference and gene-editing.
Other investors participating in the Series A include CAM Capital, Delos Capital, Quantum Vista Capital, Fonds de solidarité FTQ and Georgia Research Alliance Venture Fund.
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