Fungal infections might not immediately come to mind as rare diseases, but growing resistance to older drugs means that patients who develop these infections have limited treatment options. Biotech company F2G aims to give these patients another choice. As the startup looks ahead to late-stage testing of its lead drug candidate, it has raised $60.8 million.
The financing announced Wednesday was led by Cowen Healthcare Investments.
Antifungal drugs work by interfering with the components or processes that keep fungal cells alive. F2G, which splits its operations between Manchester, UK, and Vienna, Austria, has discovered a new class of antifungals called orotomides. These small molecules target dihydroorotate dehydrogenase, an enzyme needed to make a compound key to cellular development. It’s a different approach than the ones taken by antifungal drugs that are currently available. Early research about these new compounds was published in 2016 in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
F2G’s lead antifungal candidate, olorofim, is currently in an open-label Phase 2b study that is testing the drug against rare and life-threatening fungal infections that have become resistant to treatment. These infections include aspergillosis, scedosporiosis, lomentosporiosis, fusariosis, scopulariopsis, and coccidioidomycosis (better known as Valley fever).
Speaking in 2019 at the Biotech Showcase (an event that Xconomy parent company Informa runs in San Francisco during the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference), F2G CEO Ian Nicholson said that his company aims to offer a new option for the rare, life-threatening infections faced by immunocompromised patients, such as those undergoing cancer treatment or transplant procedures. Those patients aren’t well served by currently available drugs, to which fungi have grown resistant. Azoles, which belong to a class of antifungals frequently used to treat infections, face growing drug-resistance pressure in part because they are also widely used in agriculture, Nicholson said. That’s where F2G’s new approach gives it an edge.
“We’re coming in with a completely novel mechanism, which has no cross-resistance, and therefore, maybe in many, many, many years time, resistance will develop,” Nicholson said. ”But at the moment, we think, it’s going to be not a problem for us.”
There are other companies developing new antifungals intended to address the problem of drug resistance. San Diego-based Ampylx Pharmaceuticals has reached mid-stage testing with a drug that targets a fungal enzyme called Gwt1. Mycovia Pharmaceuticals, a Durham, NC-based biotech formerly known as Viamet Pharmaceuticals, is developing drugs that target a fungal enzyme called CYP51.
F2G last raised money in 2016, a $60 million round. The new financing included earlier investors Novo Holdings, Morningside Ventures, Brace Pharma Capital, and Advent Life Sciences. F2G says the capital will pay for late-stage clinical development of olorofim. The company also plans to scale up its operations in anticipation of commercializing the antifungal.
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