Armed with $120M, HI-Bio joins race to develop better autoimmune disease drugs – BioPharma Dive

Autoimmune diseases are common, affecting as many as 1 in 5 Americans. For many of these conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis and plaque psoriasis, there are a range of treatments available.
Yet the available drugs still have limitations. Typically, they’re relatively blunt tools that suppress overactive immune responses and, in the process, can leave patients vulnerable to infection. Some of the 100-plus known autoimmune disorders have no effective treatment, either.
In recent years, a number of startup companies have launched to develop more precisely targeted autoimmune disease drugs. For example, Alumis emerged last year with plans to use curated genetics, clinical and health records data to build targeted treatments. Biotechs like Rheos Medicines, Athos Therapeutics and Nucleome Therapeutics, among others, have also raised money in recent years to pursue a similar goal.
HI-Bio joins the group, armed with two drugs from Morphosys and its own drug discovery technology. Autoimmune drug development is an area where there’s “opportunity for multiple parties to innovate,” said CEO Travis Murdoch, a former SoftBank investment adviser. The company’s platform is meant to combine genetic information, computing tools and other technologies to more quickly translate early research into future drug candidates.
A gastroenterologist, Murdoch said he witnessed the effects conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease had on patients, as well as the flaws of existing treatments. That convinced him more precise medicines are still needed.
“We’re really applying a biology-grounded approach with genetic and immunologic insights into the way that we develop drugs,” he said in an interview with BioPharma Dive.
HI-Bio’s lead drug candidate, felzartamab, is currently in testing for membranous nephropathy and IgA nephropathy, rare diseases that can lead to kidney failure. The experimental treatment targets CD38, a protein on the surface of plasma cells that is thought to contribute to a harmful immune response when dysfunctional.
HI-Bio’s other program, HIB210, targets a receptor on a protein called C5a that also plays a role in inflammation. Behind those two candidates are additional preclinical research programs involving immune cells known as mast cells.
Under its agreement with MorphoSys, HI-Bio has commercial rights to both drugs, except in China and, for HIB210, South Korea. MorphoSys could receive up to $1 billion in future payments if certain development and commercial conditions are met. HI-Bio also paid $15 million upfront for the latter drug from MorphoSys.
Murdoch says the company expects clinical trial results in the coming year.
HI-Bio is the first U.S. investment for one of its largest investors, Paris-based Jeito Capital.
“Jeito’s strategy to invest behind strong teams founded on great science and positioned for growth driven by making a difference for patients fits hand-in-hand with HI-Bio,” Rachel Mears, a Jeito Capital partner, said in a statement.
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