The UK-US venture capitalist Epidarex Capital has led an €11M (£9M) funding round raised by the Edinburgh-based Kynos Therapeutics, which aims to develop anti-inflammatory treatments by blocking an emerging metabolic target.
Much of the UK’s biotech innovation is concentrated in the so-called Golden Triangle, encompassing the hubs of Cambridge, Oxford, and London. In 2020, Epidarex Capital raised €112M to tap into unexplored life sciences expertise away from these typical hotspots. Kynos Therapeutics is the venture capital firm’s latest find, nestled in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh.
“We feel the whole of the UK is under-ventured when it comes to access to early-stage company-building venture capital,” said Elizabeth Roper, Partner at Epidarex. In Epidarex’s regions of focus, including Scotland and the north of England, this scarcity is even more pronounced.
“There are many leading universities, generating world-class medical research but lacking access to local sources of scalable risk capital, as well as the company-building capabilities to transform the innovation into globally leading companies,” added Roper.
Kynos exited stealth mode this week with the announcement of a €11M funding round led by Epidarex. Prior to the firm’s founding in 2020, Kynos’ academic founders had worked with the big pharma company GSK to co-develop anti-inflammatory drugs that block a metabolic enzyme called kynurenine 3-monooxygenase (KMO).
KMO assists in the breakdown of the amino acid tryptophan into chemicals that damage cells. The protein has therefore attracted attention as a drug target for conditions ranging from inflammatory diseases to neurodegenerative conditions including Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
“KMO sits at a critical point in the kynurenine pathway, and the therapeutic blockade profoundly alters levels of several pathway metabolites,” said Damian Mole, Kynos’ CEO. “This is important for regulating immune cell activity, but it also prevents metabolic injury to cells and tissues.”
In 2019, GSK chose to prioritize other drug programs and returned the rights and intellectual property from the project to the University of Edinburgh. The institution in turn licensed the rights to Kynos, which is deploying the technology to develop anti-inflammatory drugs for indications including critical illness after major surgery, inflammatory conditions, and cancers that hide from the immune system.
According to Mole, the team was lucky to get the rights back from GSK at such an advanced stage of development; the lead anti-inflammatory candidate is ready for phase I testing. Of the total €11M raised by Kynos this week, Innovate UK contributed €3M (£2.5M) as a grant to fund a phase I trial. The rest of the money — equity investments from Epidarex, IP Group, and Scottish Enterprise — will be used to hire staff and develop Kynos’ pipeline in the preclinical stage.
Part of what makes KMO stand out as an anti-inflammatory drug target is its central role in cell metabolism, which could lead to drugs that treat inflammatory conditions on multiple fronts.
Few other life sciences companies are actively pursuing KMO as a drug target at present. One example is the German heavyweight Evotec, which is working with the non-profit organization CDHI to co-develop a preclinical-stage KMO-blocking drug for Huntington’s disease. And in 2018, Lundback offloaded its own preclinical-stage anti-KMO Huntington’s drug to the US firm MindImmune.
Nonetheless, Kynos is adding new potential indications to the emerging anti-KMO space. Therefore, the small Scottish startup has big potential to establish itself as an anti-inflammatory leader in the coming years.
“The momentum that is building around KMO is potentially huge,” explained Mole. “No other biotechs are at our stage of development; we are ahead of the pack at the moment.”
Cover image via Elena Resko