Pephexia Therapeutics is a biotechnology company working to discover and develop innovative peptide-based pharmacotherapies for the effective and convenient treatment of cachexia and related diseases. Cachexia is defined as unintended weight loss of at least 5% in 12 months or less plus at least three other criteria such as anorexia, decreased muscle strength, and abnormal biochemistry. A range of underlying conditions can cause cachexia, most commonly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, cognitive heart failure, chronic kidney disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The company recently entered into BioInnovation Institute’s Creation House program, and we had a chat with CEO Keld Fosgerau to hear more about the company’s mission and vision.
What is the idea behind the company?
Our team has a strong background from Novo Nordisk, Zealand Pharma, and Gubra working with peptides for obesity. We have observed the difficulties of reaching a breakthrough in finding an efficient treatment for obesity with no side effects. However, it seems that using combinations of specific appetite-lowering peptide hormones is now paving the way for finding a treatment for obesity. We believe that a similar approach could be pursued for the treatment of cachexia, which is also a space lacking efficient drugs. Our idea is to discover an efficient combination of peptide hormones that can strengthen the appetite in patients with cachexia.
What does the market look like in this field?
There are estimated to be around ten million patients in the western world suffering from cachexia, and a relatively high number of those patients die from their disease. Currently, there is only one drug for stimulating the appetite that has been approved in Japan, but they did not receive FDA/EMA approval due since they did not meet the primary endpoint in the Phase III studies. We know that Pfizer is very interested in cachexia, and other large companies such as Merck and Helsinn Therapeutics have also shown interest. I would imagine that Novo Nordisk, Boehringer Ingelheim, or Eli Lilly with presence in obesity would also enter the cachexia space at some point. Nevertheless, at this moment, it is not a market with a crowded pipeline of competitors.
It seems like you are up against the pharma giants! How does Pephexia stand a chance in that game?
One could hope that those pharma giants think Pephexia has something interesting to offer. Then you could outsource the technology or enter into a beneficial collaboration agreement for both parties. Even though Pfizer should become the first company to launch a drug in the cachexia space, this would not necessarily be bad since it would open the market. You could compare with the obesity field again since Novo Nordisk has also opened that market space for others to enter.
How do you expect to benefit from being part of BII’s community?
The financial part is essential, and then it is also a seal of approval to become a part of BII. BII has quite fast established itself as a strong player in the life science ecosystem, and by entering the program, more people will recognize you. Furthermore, there is a great environment where you work alongside other entrepreneurs working with life science. Since we are a relatively small organization, we can benefit immensely from getting advice from others on the same journey. Lastly, it is also nice to have a good office space, laboratory space and access to good meeting rooms. It increases professionalism and is a big step forward for us.
What are you focusing on in the Creation House program, and what would be the optimal outcome after 18 months?
We have already shown excellent efficiency in increasing the appetite in mouse studies by combining two peptide hormones. Now, the goal is to select and characterize a lead candidate that can enter safety and toxicity studies. Before entering clinical trials, we would need additional funding, and hopefully, the lead candidate can help us attracting investors. We are already exploring investment options and securing additional financing will be crucial in the program period.
How can you take advantage of having solid industrial experience?
Firstly, we have tried several times to deliver successful INDs that have gone into the clinical and even on the market, so we have a good sense of what makes a successful research project. Secondly, I believe we have a broad and relevant network, and we are for example used to work with CRO’s (Contract Research Organizations) and know how we can use them in the best way. Thirdly, we have past experience in initiating partnerships with pharma companies and therefore have a good sense of what those companies are looking for.
What is the main obstacle to becoming a success?
To get the right investors on board at the right time. Looking at our data and the feasibility of our project I do think that our situation is very promising. Still, we need to raise either a significant seed investment or a Series A investment to accelerate our project and perhaps build a portfolio of projects. The task of raising capital already started, and the investment climate is positive and more are willing to invest than previously seen.
Hervør Lykke Olsen, Creation House Lead at BioInnovation Institute, comments on Pephexia Therapeutics:
“Pephexia has a clear ambition to cure patients with cachexia. The science is strong, they have impressive in vivo data and a solid team, which fits perfectly into BII’s three pillars: science, business and team.”