ExeVir Bio announces today a first closing of a EUR23 million Series A financing led by Fund+, with the participation of VIB, UCB Ventures, the Belgian Federal Government via SFPI-FPIM, V-Bio Ventures and several Belgian family offices. ExeVir Bio has been established by Belgian partners combining world class science, antibody engineering, manufacturing, blue-chip venture capital investment and Flemish Government financing, which have joined forces in a unique collaboration to boost the development of new therapies to combat Covid-19.
ExeVir Bio, a spin out of VIB, the world-leading Belgium-based life sciences research institute, is harnessing its Llama-derived antibody (VHH) technology platform to generate robust antiviral therapies providing broad protection against coronaviruses. After early pre-financing by the Flemish Government, UCB, a multinational biopharmaceutical company, assisted in the generation of the lead candidate and is producing the GMP batches for clinical trials. Fund+, a leading Life Sciences-focused investment firm in Belgium, led the financing and was instrumental in setting up ExeVir Bio.
ExeVir Bio is using a highly innovative and clinically validated VHH technology to develop treatments for viral infections that may pose a significant global threat. Lead asset VHH72-Fc binds to a unique epitope that is conserved in SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 viruses and this binding prevents these viruses from entering the cell. The importance of this approach is that it could be used both as a therapeutic and prophylactic. Therapeutic use could help slow viral replication in the lungs, reduce inflammation, and give patients valuable time to raise their own productive immune response. Prophylactic use could support the ringfencing of an outbreak, protect healthcare workers, and support those at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19.
Torsten Mummenbrauer, CEO of ExeVir Bio, said: “We are committed to the international effort against Covid-19 to support healthcare systems and to offer global access to our new treatment. With this Series A financing we can rapidly advance the development of our lead compound into clinical studies by the end of the year. We are confident our Llama-derived antibodies hold a key to saving the lives of patients who can become seriously ill with coronavirus.”
The technology platform was developed by VIB-UGent scientists, Professors Xavier Saelens and Nico Callewaert with the help of VIB’s drug discovery team at VIB Discovery Sciences, and national and international scientific collaborators. The team has shown that Llama-derived single-domain antibodies can neutralize SARS-CoV-2 in preclinical studies and SARS-CoV-1 in in vitro assays. As Llama antibodies are smaller than human antibodies, they can attach to parts of the coronavirus that would otherwise be inaccessible. The antibodies were derived from a Llama called ‘Winter’. A paper on the platform was published on 28 May 2020 in the journal Cell, on ‘Structural Basis for Potent Neutralization of Betacoronaviruses by Single-Domain Camelid Antibodies’ by Wrapp et al.
Philippe Monteyne, Partner at Fund+, said: “Our mission is to contribute to Belgium’s leadership position in the Life Sciences sector and to generate a tangible, beneficial impact on society. ExeVir Bio fits both of these goals; it has been founded on world class science, with an excellent management team, a global pharmaceutical partner to develop the clinical trial material, and financing to accelerate the development of this promising therapeutic approach to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. The ExeVir Bio team will focus on ultra-fast implementation of this promising research to develop novel treatments with broad protection against coronaviruses. We are confident that they will be the leader in antibody-derived therapies against a broad range of viral infections.”
Jérôme Van Biervliet, Managing Director, VIB, said: “VIB-UGent scientists, Xavier Saelens and Nico Callewaert and their team members, and our early drug discovery capability at VIB Discovery Sciences, have been leading a massive effort to identify safe and effective new treatments in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic and beyond. This is a great example of how the top science and entrepreneurial approach at VIB makes a significant societal contribution in partnership with companies and dedicated investors.”
Dhaval Patel, Chief Science Officer, UCB said: “UCB is focused on the discovery and development of innovative medicines and solutions. We are proud to be part of this great example of science, industry and finance collaborating at a very fast pace to develop a novel treatment for Covid-19.”
Minister Crevits, Deputy Prime Minister of the Flemish Government and Flemish Minister for Science and Innovation, said: “Belgium is at the fore-front of cutting edge research, innovation and science, with a highly developed life sciences industry and a deep pool of capital that is available to develop promising, potentially life-saving treatments. At the early stage of this crisis, we quickly decided to support VIB in its search for a treatment for Covid-19. As a result, an important first step has now been taken to develop this treatment on a worldwide scale. We are very proud to support VIB and our researchers in their efforts against Covid-19.”
Koenraad van Loo, Managing Director of FPIM, said: “The Federal Holding and Investment Company is excited to participate in this unique antibody concept for potential treatment and prevention of Covid-19. As public investor, we very much care about the health, well-being and job security of our citizens. Therefore, together with our Life Sciences funds, Fund+ and V-Bio, we are committed to play an active role in managing the current health care crisis. FPIM is convinced that ExeVir’s powerful platform technology based on camelid antibodies deserves a special place among the numerous initiatives taken and can lay the foundations for a successful therapy to combat future pandemics.”
Torsten Mummenbrauer, CEO of ExeVir Bio, Philippe Monteyne, Partner at Fund+, Erica Whittaker, Head of UCB Ventures, Jérôme Van Biervliet, Managing Director, VIB and Katja Rosenkranz, Partner at V-Bio (observer) will join the Board of ExeVir Bio. Further board appointments will be announced in the future.