One of the largest biotech placements in the Nordic countries this year will accelerate the development of a first-in-class drug for chronic inflammation conditions such as systemic sclerosis that lacks the cardiovascular risks of current medications such as aspirin.
Swedish biotech Gesynta Pharma raised €18.2M (SEK 190M) in a placement supported by returning investor Industrifonden as well as European life science fund manager Hadean Ventures. The funds will allow Gesynta to start phase IIa clinical trials with systemic sclerosis patients in the last quarter of the year.
Systemic sclerosis is an inflammatory condition where the skin and sometimes internal organs harden and form scar tissue. The cause of the disease is unclear, and it is generally treated with immunosuppressive drugs and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and ibuprofen. However, NSAIDs can have side effects such as increasing the risk for strokes and heart attacks.
Gesynta’s small molecule drug inhibits the functions of a proinflammatory enzyme called microsomal prostaglandin E synthase-1 (mPGES-1), which is incidentally one of the many targets affected by NSAIDs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. By targeting this specific enzyme, Gesynta aims to get around the side effects caused by NSAIDs, which block other signaling enzymes such as thromboxane and prostacyclin that are important for the functioning of the cardiovascular system, CEO Patric Stenberg told me.
“This provides a wide range of therapeutic opportunities not possible with NSAIDs … [including] microvascular dysfunction seen in patients suffering from systemic inflammation, such as digital ulcers in systemic sclerosis,” Stenberg said.
The company concluded a successful phase 1 trial with healthy volunteers of its treatment candidate in May.
In addition to chronic inflammation, mPGES-1 has been linked to the growth of several different types of cancer, raising hopes that Gesynta’s chronic inflammation therapy can one day be used in the treatment of cancerous tumors as well. Several recent studies, moreover, have suggested that the enzyme may play an important part in how SARS–CoV–2 — the virus which has infected more than 11 million and killed at least half a million people across the globe in recent months — damages the body.
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