RARE Daily

Trio of Biotechs Raise Venture Funding to Advance Next Generation Therapeutics Development

January 4, 2024

Rare Daily Staff

Three biotechs, Moonwalk Biosciences, Claris Bio, and Hi-Bio, raised a combined $209 million in venture capital that will be used to advance investigational therapeutic candidates targeting rare diseases.

Moonwalk Biosciences, a genomic medicine company pioneering precision epigenetic medicines, launched with $57 million in seed and series A financing from Alpha Wave Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, Future Ventures, GV, Khosla Ventures and YK Bioventures. The financing will support continued advancement of Moonwalk’s epigenetic profiling and engineering technology platform and progress its pipeline of epigenetic therapeutics towards the clinic.

By targeting the epigenetic code – the software of the genome – Moonwalk aims to reprogram cells to their healthy state, fundamentally enabling a new approach to how therapies are discovered and developed. The company has developed a differentiated approach to mapping the epigenome of cellular states at the whole genome, single cell resolution level, as well as proprietary strategies for precise epigenetic engineering. The combination enables both a novel discovery platform and a path to developing therapeutics that include both epigenetic engineering and other traditional modalities.

“Epigenetics is the software of the genome. While changes to the genome are irreversible, edits to the epigenome can be reprogrammed in different ways. Epigenetic changes determine whether genes are turned on or off, and can potentially reverse disease, broadening the therapeutic landscape to find potential cures previously thought impossible,” said Alex Aravanis, CEO and co-founder, Moonwalk Biosciences. “This emerging new field can create safer and more effective treatments for a broad range of diseases without damaging or changing the underlying DNA sequence.”

Claris Bio, a late-clinical stage biotechnology company focusing on corneal disease therapies, unveiled the company and its lead program, with a total of $57 million invested from series A investors Novo Holdings A/S, RA Capital and Mass General Brigham Ventures and recent investor, Janus Henderson Investors.

Initially funded in 2020, Claris is developing recombinant human variant hepatocyte growth factor, dHGF, to accelerate and improve the quality of corneal healing in patients with corneal eye disease. Its lead program, CSB-001 Ophthalmic Solution 0.1% (oremepermin-α), brings a topical ocular biologic solution of dHGF, a molecule with the potential to restore structural and functional corneal integrity, to eyes with neurotrophic keratopathy (NK), a rare chronic degenerative disease caused by impairment of corneal sensory innervation. NK is characterized by decreased or absent corneal sensation (nerve damage), leading to epithelial breakdown, persistent wounds, scarring and ultimately the development of ulceration, melting, and perforation, and it is estimated that there more than 100,000 patients with NK in the U.S.

Oremepermin-α is epitheliotropic, neurotrophic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fibrotic, suggesting it could be an efficacious and safe option to treat many current unmet needs in diseases of the cornea. Claris expects to complete enrollment in its late-stage multi-center, randomized, double-masked, vehicle-controlled, parallel-group study, with a data readout expected in the first half of 2024.

“Our vision is to lead the way in corneal therapy by developing oremepermin-α into a pipeline that addresses the high unmet need in corneal disease. We are honored to have such a strong group of investors, as we approach a pivotal inflection point in our company’s growth,” said Claris Bio founding CEO Clarke Atwell. “Topical oremepermin-α therapy has the potential to significantly impact several significant conditions of the cornea, with the potential to improve patients’ lives.”

Finally, Human Immunology Biosciences (HI-Bio), a clinical-stage company developing targeted therapies for patients with severe immune-mediated diseases, closed a $95 million series B financing led by new investor Alpha Wave Global. Viking Global Investors and Arkin Bio Capital participated in the financing, as well as existing investors Jeito Capital and ARCH Venture Partners.

“These funds allow us to advance felzartamab, our clinically differentiated lead therapeutic candidate, through clinical readouts in multiple indications and preparation for registrational studies,” said Travis Murdoch, CEO of HI-Bio. “We are encouraged by promising clinical data to date for felzartamab and its anti-CD38 cell depletion approach, and we look forward to new data, including phase 2 results from an investigator-initiated trial for antibody-mediated rejection in kidney transplant patients.”

Since the company’s launch, HI-Bio has advanced felzartamab, a monoclonal antibody targeting CD38 and in-licensed from MorphoSys, across indications including antibody-mediated rejection (AMR), IgA nephropathy (IgAN), lupus nephritis (LN) and primary membranous nephropathy (PMN). Felzartamab has received Breakthrough Therapy and Orphan Drug designations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in PMN. HI-Bio has also initiated a clinical study of HIB210, an anti-C5aR1 candidate targeting neutrophil activation and chemotaxis.

Funding from the series B will be used to advance clinical development of felzartamab, to evaluate the clinical properties of HIB210 in healthy volunteers and to advance a discovery-stage program targeting mast cell dysfunction toward IND-enabling studies.

Photo: Alex Aravanis, CEO and co-founder, Moonwalk Biosciences

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