Avila Therapeutics Gets $30M to Push Ahead With Covalent Drugs

Xconomy Boston — 

Avila Therapeutics, the Waltham, MA-based developer of drugs that create stronger bonds with protein targets on cells, said today it has raised $30 million in a Series B round of venture capital to drive its treatments into human clinical trials.

The Novartis Option Fund, a new investor, led the financing, and was followed by Avila’s existing backers: Abingworth, Advent Venture Partners, Atlas Venture, and Polaris Venture Partners. In a separate statement, Avila said Novartis Option Fund reached an agreement to co-develop Avila’s drugs for as much as $200 million in upfront and future milestone payments.

The startup, which Xconomy first profiled back in December, says its niche in is developing drugs that form covalent bonds with molecular targets on cells, instead of the usual ionic or van der Waal bonds. Those types of bonds are dynamic, meaning the drug can bounce on and off the target. Covalent bonds, on the other hand, provide a tighter, more stable connection between the drug and the target on cells, so they completely inhibit the biological function the drug is supposed to stop, Avila has said. The company hopes this technology, which it calls “Avilomics,” can be applied to many different drugs.

Avila says it has generated some proof for its concept in animal models. One of its experimental drugs is designed to block an enzyme used by the hepatitis C virus, and the other is made to block a protein called Btk, which scientists say is involved with autoimmune diseases and cancers. The new financing will be used to move Avila’s first program into clinical trials, while also advancing the Avilomics drug discovery approach, the company said.

Harry Skinner of the Novartis Option Fund is joining the Avila board in connection with the deal, Avila said in a statement. “Avila’s innovations and proprietary know-how make it possible to intelligently pursue covalent drugs, a broad product class that has been underutilized to date,” Skinner said in a statement.