Novartis AG-Backed Startup Merganser Biotech Reels in $28 Million

Published: Feb 19, 2015

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February 19, 2015
By Krystle Vermes, Breaking News Staff

In a Series A financing round led by Novartis Venture Fund, Merganser Biotech Inc. has raised approximately $28 million, according to announcement from the company today. The money is expected to go toward the development of hepcidin mimetic peptides as therapeutics for the treatment of hematological and iron overload diseases.

Frazier Healthcare, Sutter Hills Ventures and Osage University joined Novartis Venture Fund in this financing round. BioAdvance and Stateside Developments also participated.

"We are delighted to receive support from a strong syndicate of investors to develop hepcidin mimetics," said Brian MacDonald, CEO of Merganser Biotech. "The proceeds from this financing will enable us to generate clinical proof of concept in one or more of the many therapeutic applications of this versatile technology.”

Hepcidin mimetic peptides have been shown to be capable of replicating the biological effects of hepcidin. They have also been effective in controlling iron overload in animal studies.

“Our investment to support the development of hepcidin mimetic peptides at Merganser is based on outstanding scientific research, including compelling efficacy data in multiple preclinical models, combined with an experienced and capable drug development team,” said Markus Goebel of the Novartis Venture Fund. “We look forward to working with the company to translate the impressive body of research on hepcidin biology from Merganser’s academic founders into important new medicines."

A Closer Look at Hepcidin Mimetic Peptides
Tomas Ganz and Elizabeth Nemeth originally discovered hepcidin mimetic peptides at the University of California Los Angeles. They have been shown to produce therapeutic iron restriction that improves anemia, and they can also control the accelerated erythropoiesis caused by mutated Jak2.

Some of the target indications for hepcidin mimetic peptides include beta thalassemia, polycythemia vera, and hemochromatosis.

Merganser announced the signing of a license to develop a novel class of hepcidin mimetic peptides from Ganz and Nemeth’s models back in December 2011.

“Hepcidin mimetics may have significant advantages over conventional chelation therapy for a group of rare and serious diseases that are associated with excess accumulation of iron in the body,” MacDonald said at the time. “With our significant experience in the formulation and development of peptide therapeutics we believe we are strongly positioned to move these compounds into the clinic.”

At the time of the agreement, Merganser also announced that it had received funding from BioAdvance, the Biotechnology Greenhouse of Southeastern Pennsylvania, and other investors.

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