Rare Daily Staff
Swiss biotech Versantis closed a $16.1 million series B financing round to advance development of VS-01, its experimental therapy for late-stage liver disease, including the rare disorder acute-on-chronic liver failure (ACLF) that results in multi-organ failure and death.
Globally about 850 million people live with a liver disease and 2 million die every year. In addition, there has been a rising prevalence of fatty liver diseases, which today affect one out of four people in the United States and Europe and are becoming the dominant drivers of decompensated cirrhosis and liver transplantations.
Most cirrhotic patients eventually decompensate—lose organ function—requiring hospitalization due to complications, such as hepatic encephalopathy or acute-on-chronic liver failure, and eventually liver transplantation. Currently there are no drugs approved to support such cases that are associated with high mortality if not medically managed early. VS-01 aims to fill this medical gap by reversing hepatic encephalopathy and the multi-organ failure cascade of ACLF ahead of this crisis.
“The series B closing coincides with the regulatory clearance and initiation of Versantis’ first in human study, one of the most important milestones the company has achieved so far, in order to assess the safety of VS-01 in cirrhotic patients with ascites and mild hepatic encephalopathy,” said Meriam Kabbaj, chief operating office and co-founder of Versantis. “This funding is pivotal to support clinical development towards proof of efficacy in two indications of high unmet medical need. It highlights our commitment to soon transform the lives of patients with liver disease and their families.”
VS-01 is a liposomal-based intra-peritoneal detoxification fluid that acts as a clearance enhancer for a large spectrum of toxic metabolites accumulated in the body during decompensated liver cirrhosis. More specifically, VS-01 clears ammonia from the body, which is the main neurotoxic metabolite leading to hepatic encephalopathy. VS-01 uses a disruptive route of treatment, and according to Versantis, it is the first drug in development to support the liver, the brain, and the kidneys, three organs of major prognostic importance in patients with acute liver diseases, representing a new hope for patients. VS-01 was granted orphan drug designations in acute liver failure by the European Medicines Agency and in ACLF by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Versantis has already started a first-in-human clinical trial with VS-01. Proceeds from the new financing will be used mainly to assess the safety of VS-01 after multiple doses and establish its clinical proof of concept in the decompensated liver cirrhosis indication as well as in the rare ACLF patient population. Outcomes are expected in mid-2020.
Swisscanto Invest by Zürcher Kantonalbank led the financing and was joined by Esperante Ventures and investiere, as well as new private investors. Existing investors Redalpine HealthEquity, and Zürcher Kantonalbank Start-up Finance also participated in this round.
Photo: Meriam Kabbaj, chief operating office and co-founder of Versantis