Upstart Akero continues its swoosh into NASH space with $70M windfall round

Akero Therapeutics first swooshed onto the NASH stage with a drug in-licensed from Amgen, recruiting Gilead’s Andrew Cheng as CEO several months later and making a cross-country move to San Francisco. Now, it’s capping an eventful year with $70 million more to bankroll its Phase II work and scale the operations considerably.

Andrew Cheng

Led by Janus Henderson Investors, the Series B comes just six months after Akero launched with $65 million in Series A cash, suggesting that an IPO could be in sight.

The company is now on track to begin Phase II studies of AKR-001 in mid-2019, with plans to build up commercial-scale manufacturing and expand its pipeline.

AKR-001 is a long-acting analog of FGF21, a metabolic hormone that CSO Tim Rolph has been working with for the past 8 years, when he was still leading research for Pfizer.

Tim Rolph

“It’s a mechanism that uses the whole body to get to a better place,” Rolph previous told Endpoints News. “It plays an essential role restoring cells under stress — that’s what drove my interest.”

The company explains the expected effect this way:

With specific potency at receptors FGFR1c, 2c and 3c but not FGFR4, AKR-001 is expected to reduce liver fat, cellular stress, inflammation and fibrosis in patients with NASH and to improve risk factors of cardiovascular disease, reducing triglycerides and non-HDL cholesterol.

New investors Redmile Group, Boxer Capital of Tavistock Group, Cormorant Asset Management, BVF Partners, Rock Springs Capital and LifeSci Venture Partners joined existing investors for the round. They include Apple Tree Partners — which seeded the project and provided the initial CEO, Jonathan Young — Atlas Venture, venBio Partners and Versant Ventures.

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