Verve Snags $60M in Lilly Support for Cardio Gene Editing
Pictured: An elderly man with his hand over his heart/iStock, Rawpixel
Verve Therapeutics secured a $60 million investment from Eli Lilly for its “one-and-done” cardiovascular gene editing program, which aims to revolutionize the treatment of heart disease. The collaboration comes at a time when other major players in the industry, including Amgen and Novartis, are making progress with their respective cardiovascular therapies, with several of them entering Phase III clinical trials.
Verve’s treatment targets a cardiovascular risk factor known as lipoprotein(a) or Lp(a), which is produced by the liver. Elevated Lp(a) levels have been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, stroke and blood clots. However, unlike with other cardiovascular risk factors such as LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, no treatments exist to specifically reduce Lp(a) levels, which are largely determined by a person’s genetics.
Verve, based in Cambridge, Mass., plans to use a custom CRISPR-Cas9 gene editor to tamp down Lp(a). Rather than regular shots to keep Lp(a) levels under control, Verve instead seeks a one-time treatment that could result in permanent lowering, similar to what the company is hoping to show for another experimental therapy designed to keep LDL cholesterol in check for many years. That product has demonstrated the ability to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol levels in animal models, the company reported, and the first human patients were dosed last summer.
Under the partnership, Lilly will pay Verve $60 million in cash and equity. Verve will be responsible for advancing the Lp(a)-targeting therapy into and through a Phase 1 trial, after which Lilly would take over.
Verve CEO Sek Kathiresan described the liver-produced protein particle as a third “pillar” of artery-clogging risk alongside LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in speaking with BioPharma Dive. Lilly was interested in Verve’s plans to apply gene editing to widely prevalent diseases like heart disease and approached the company about a year ago, Kathiresan said.
Last year, Verve also inked a partnership with Vertex Pharmaceuticals to apply its technology to liver disease. The Lilly deal is similar in scope to the one with Vertex, providing Verve with the same amount upfront but running one year longer.
The additional $60 million will give Kathiresan’s company enough cash to fund its operations into 2026, a two-and-a-half-year “budget envelope” that the CEO said could allow it to obtain clinical data for three different programs.
Meanwhile, other pharma giants are making progress in their cardiovascular therapies.
Amgen and Novartis, in particular, are advancing their respective injectable treatments for heart conditions, with both companies recently completing Phase III trials. The progress in this space underscores the growing interest and investment in developing therapies for cardiovascular diseases.