Surrozen reloads with $50M for final dash to the clinic, shines some light on lead Wnt-modulating candidates
Two rounds totalling $83 million have propelled Surrozen through preclinical proof-of-concept, culminating in two antibody candidates modulating the Wnt pathway for tissue regeneration. Now, the South San Francisco biotech is topping up $50 million to complete the sprint to the clinic.
One of the two IND candidates targets liver disease while the other will be initially positioned for inflammatory bowel disease. With the cash infusion, Surrozen can also pursue more discovery projects in different tissues and areas.
“Our goal is to file IND applications in 2021 and 2022,” CEO Craig Parker said in a statement, 5 and 6 years after the company first set out to catch and push a second wave of regenerative medicine.
Christopher Garcia and Roeland Nusse, two Stanford professors, provided some of the scientific legs for the company. Aside from its role in cancer, Wnt — a portmanteau integrating Wingless and Int-1 — signaling is also key to the control of cell development and regeneration, but the instability means they are hard to manufacture. As Nusse elucidated crucial aspects of Wnt biology, Garcia inspired the idea to activate or enhance response to endogenous Wnts, through either bispecific or antibody-based molecules.
“While it has long been known that the Wnt signaling pathway plays a crucial role in the maintenance and self-renewal of stem cells in a variety of tissues, scientists had been unable to overcome the technical challenges inherent in developing a therapeutic based on Wnt signaling,” Nusse, the Virginia and Daniel K. Ludwig Professor of Cancer Research and Professor of Developmental Biology, said. “I am hopeful that Surrozen’s approach to modulating the Wnt pathway, with the flexibility to address insufficient endogenous Wnt or insufficient receptors, may someday lead to therapeutics that have the potential to repair damaged tissue.”
Claudia Janda, a postdoc at Garcia’s lab who’s since moved on to the Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology, remains a scientific advisor alongside Princess Máxima director Hans Clevers and Stanford’s Calvin Kuo.
Both tech platforms were represented in the lead nominated candidates.
SZN-043 was designed on SWEETS, or Surrozen Wnt signal enhancers engineered for tissue specificity. Through stabilizing the Frizzled receptors that Wnt proteins signal through, the compound was shown to stimulate hepatocyte proliferation in the liver and reduce fibrosis — something that should be helpful in conditions like severe acute alcoholic hepatitis or even cirrhosis.
The possibilities are almost endless, with Surrozen spelling out potential applications in NASH and decompensated liver disease.
SZN-1326, meanwhile, was born out of SWAP (Surrozen Wnt signal activating proteins). The molecule binds to Frizzled receptors directly and should stimulate regeneration of intestinal epithelial cells. Researchers also noted anti-inflammatory effects in animal models.
It is still a ways from human data. But old investors are returning to take that leap with Surrozen, including The Column Group, Hartford Healthcare Trust and Horizons Ventures. Euclidian Capital and three other new believers are jumping on board.