€32M Series B to Fund Bleeding Medication Inspired by Snake Venom

varmx blood thinners clot eartern brown snake

The Dutch biotech VarmX will use the proceedings of a €32M Series B to take a blood clotting protein drug into clinical trials by 2021, as well as strengthening its manufacturing and R&D capabilities.

More than 10 million patients in the US and Europe at risk of blood clots and strokes receive blood thinners that target factor Xa, a blood clotting enzyme. However, these people are at risk of spontaneous bleeding, as well as of bleeding excessively in case of emergency surgery.

Doctors have limited tools to treat severe bleeding caused by blood thinners. “Physicians use prothrombin complex concentrate or the recently approved drug Ondexxya to handle such situations,” Alexander Vos, CEO of VarmX, told me. “For prothrombin complex concentrate, there is no robust clinical data.” While Ondexxya was granted conditional approval in 2019, it has the risk of causing blood clots in blood vessels.

A solution to severe bleeding may be hiding in the venom of the second most venomous snake in the world. In 2017, a group of Dutch scientists studied a form of factor Xa that is found in venom from the Australian eastern brown snake. They discovered that this enzyme is not inhibited by conventional blood thinners like human factor Xa is, so constructed an engineered human factor Xa with the same characteristics as a potential way to reverse the effect of blood thinners in emergency situations. 

VarmX was spun out of the Leiden University Medical Center to develop a treatment based on this enzyme to alleviate severe bleeding episodes. Current and experimental treatments for bleeding — such as Ondexxya by Portola Pharmaceuticals and ciraparantag by AMAG Pharmaceuticals — activate the whole blood clotting system. In contrast, VarmX’s product partially reinstates some of the body’s natural blood clotting function. “[Our candidate drug] restores the natural coagulation”, Vos explained. “As a result, we anticipate seeing both good clinical effects and a favorable safety profile.”

The Series B financing round attracted some major players in biotech investment. The round was co-led by Ysios Capital and INKEF Capital, and was joined by Lundbeckfonden Ventures, LSP, BioGeneration Ventures, and the regional economic development fund InnovationQuarter. 

The Series B will enable the company to complete the first-in-human trials and scale up the production platform for the late-stage clinical program,” Vos told me. “We anticipate [our drug] to reach the clinic in 2021.

Image from Shutterstock

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