French up­start Step Phar­ma rais­es €8.6M, tak­ing im­muno­sup­pres­sive drugs to the clin­ic

Paris start­up Step Phar­ma has scored €8.6 mil­lion in a deal led by a new in­vestor to help bring its small-mol­e­cule im­muno­sup­pres­sive drugs in­to clin­i­cal tri­als for au­toim­mune dis­ease.

The new cash comes in part from Pon­tif­ax Ven­ture Cap­i­tal, and is added to Step’s first tranche of €5.9 mil­lion led by Ku­ma Part­ners last year, bring­ing the start­up’s to­tal Se­ries A raise to €14.5 mil­lion.

The mon­ey will be used to bring Step’s nov­el class of oral im­munomod­u­laters in­to the clin­ic.

Ge­of­froy de Rib­ains

The com­pa­ny, found­ed in 2014, is pur­su­ing a nov­el tar­get called the cy­ti­dine triphos­phate syn­thase 1 (CTPS1), which was dis­cov­ered at the Imag­ine In­sti­tute in Paris in pa­tients with rare ge­net­ic dis­eases who had a de­fi­cien­cy in this en­zyme in­volved in CTP nu­cleotide pro­duc­tion.

“There is a long, es­tab­lished his­to­ry of us­ing nu­cleotide syn­the­sis in­hibitors to treat au­toim­mune dis­eases, such as rheuma­toid arthri­tis, mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis or pso­ri­a­sis, but their clin­i­cal use is lim­it­ed due to lack of tis­sue se­lec­tiv­i­ty,” said Ge­of­froy de Rib­ains, CEO and co-founder of Step Phar­ma, in a state­ment. “Tar­get­ing CTPS1 should al­low se­lec­tive mod­u­la­tion of spe­cif­ic im­mune cell pop­u­la­tions, such as T and B cells, with­out af­fect­ing oth­er tis­sues, which should trans­late to bet­ter ef­fi­ca­cy and an im­proved ther­a­peu­tic in­dex.”

Vanes­sa Malier

Step Phar­ma is a spin-off of the Imag­ine In­sti­tute, stem­ming from Alain Fis­ch­er’s re­search on ge­net­ic im­mun­od­e­fi­cien­cies. The com­pa­ny is a joint ven­ture be­tween Imag­ine and Syg­na­ture Dis­cov­ery, a com­pa­ny that does in­te­grat­ed drug dis­cov­ery, and Kur­ma Part­ners, a biotech in­vestor in Eu­rope.

Step has come pret­ty far with a rel­a­tive­ly small amount of cap­i­tal. The com­pa­ny has built a pro­pri­etary as­say plat­form, dis­cov­ered its first se­ries of CTPS1 com­pounds, and showed ini­tial proof of con­cept in vi­vo.

“Step Phar­ma is ex­plor­ing a com­plete­ly new par­a­digm for the treat­ment of au­toim­mune dis­eases,” said Vanes­sa Malier of Kur­ma Part­ners in a state­ment. “The rare com­bi­na­tion of a clin­i­cal­ly val­i­dat­ed tar­get, a nov­el mech­a­nism of ac­tion, and a sig­nif­i­cant un­met med­ical need led us to cre­ate the com­pa­ny with the Imag­ine In­sti­tute and Syg­na­ture Dis­cov­ery, and we are ex­cit­ed to see the pro­gram progress. The abil­i­ty of Step Phar­ma to at­tract Pon­tif­ax con­firms the po­ten­tial of this ap­proach.”

John Hood [file photo]

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On June 18, 2019, we initiated a confidential arbitration proceeding against Dr. Asa Abeliovich, our former consulting co-founder, related to alleged breaches of his consulting agreement and the improper use of our confidential information that he learned during the course of rendering services to us as our consulting Chief Scientific Officer/Chief Innovation Officer. We are in the early stage of this arbitration proceeding and are unable to assess or provide any assurances regarding its possible outcome.

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