German biotech startup HepaRegeniX raised €9 million ($9.5 million) in a Series A round of financing led by Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF) and Novo Seeds. HepaRegeniX is developing drugs for treating acute and chronic liver diseases that effectively restore the regenerative capacity of hepatocytes. The therapeutic concept is founded on research by Professor Lars Zender’s group at the University Hospital Tübingen, which identified mitogen-activated protein (MAP) kinase kinase 4 (MKK4) as a key regulator of liver regeneration. Work by Professor Zender’s team showed that using small RNA molecules to suppress MKK4 gene expression restored the regenerative capacity of hepatocytes, even in severely diseased livers. Founded in 2015, HepaRegeniX is developing small-molecule MKK4 inhibitors to treat liver disorders, potentially including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

HepaRegeniX has acquired exclusive worldwide rights to relevant MKK4 IP and, in collaboration with the Zender group and the medicinal chemistry group headed by Professors Stefan Laufer and Antti Poso at the Eberhard-Karls University of Tübingen, has identified the first small-molecule inhibitors of MKK4. “In a nutshell, HepaRegeniX is developing an ‘EPO’ for the liver,” commented Detlev Mennerich, Ph.D., investment director at BIVF. “The pioneering discovery of Profesor Lars Zender, that the inhibition of MKK4 leads to an overall increased capacity of liver cell regeneration, has attracted a very interdisciplinary team of experienced drug discovery seniors into HepaRegeniX.”

The Series A financing will support ongoing medicinal chemistry discovery programs and preclinical development of candidates through to IND Filing. HepaRegeniX anticipates that it could start the first clinical study of a candidate for the treatment of acute liver failure during 2019.

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