Kezar Life Sciences raised $50 million in a financing round to support further clinical development of its lead drug candidate KZR-616 for the treatment of several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, including Crohn’s disease.
The announcement comes on the heels of the successful completion of Kezar’s Phase 1a trial in Australia (ACTRN12616001040459) in healthy volunteers to evaluate the safety and tolerability of KZR-616.
“We are pleased with the results of our healthy volunteer study, and grateful for the support of such an excellent group of investors to finance our upcoming clinical trials,” John Fowler, CEO of Kezar Life Sciences, said in a recent press release.
“The strong demand for this financing reflects growing excitement for the potential of immunoproteasome inhibition in treating autoimmune disorders and recognizes the clear leadership position enjoyed by Kezar,” he added.
KZR-616 is a small molecule that was designed to selectively inhibit the activity of the immunoproteasome, and by doing so modulate the activity of different immune T-cell subsets. KZR-616 can potentially block the activity of T-cells involved in autoimmunity, and at the same time restore the balance of regulatory T-cells in autoimmune and inflammatory disorders.
Preclinical studies have demonstrated that selective immunoproteasome inhibitors such as KZR-616 have low toxicity, are well tolerated, and are highly active in experimental animal models of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, and lupus.
“We believe that the immunoproteasome is a profoundly untapped area of translational medicine. Our scientific research has shown that selective inhibitors of the immunoproteasome have the potential to reset normal immune function in patients with complex and difficult-to-treat autoimmune diseases,” Christopher Kirk, PhD, president and chief scientific officer of Kezar, said in 2016.
KZR-616’s Phase 1a placebo-controlled trial was conducted in Australia and enrolled 82 participants. Single dose or multiple ascending doses of the inhibitor were tested and compared to a placebo-treated group.
The researchers could identify several doses that lead to meaningful inhibition levels of the immunoproteasome, while maintaining low toxicity profiles even after repeated administrations of the molecule.
Kezar expects to present detailed results of this Phase 1a trial at the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 2017 Annual Meeting Nov. 3-8 in San Diego, California.
“These initial clinical trial results demonstrate that KZR-616 is achieving the desired levels of immunoproteasome inhibition that correlate with anti-inflammatory activity seen in laboratory models,” Kirk said.
“By selectively targeting the immunoproteasome, we believe we can avoid the toxicities associated with dual proteasome inhibitors like Velcade [bortezomib] and Kyprolis [carfilzomib], as exhibited by the early safety findings from this study,” he added.
A number of private asset companies participated in this Series B round of financing led by Cormorant Asset Management and Morningside Venture. Investors such as Cowen Healthcare Investments, Pappas Ventures, Qiming Venture Partners, and Bay City Capital joined existing investors EcoR1 Capital, Omega Funds, and Aju IB Investment.
As part of the new financing agreements, Bihua Chen, founder of Cormorant Asset Management, will join the Board of Directors of Kezar.
“Cormorant is pleased to support Kezar as it enters an exciting series of patient studies, the first ever with a selective immunoproteasome inhibitor,” Chen said. “While much work remains, I believe KZR-616 has the potential to be a transformative treatment in autoimmunity.”