Former Takeda vaccine chief to lead new COVID antiviral venture Aerium
By Julie Steenhuysen
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Aerium Therapeutics, a venture-backed startup, on Tuesday announced industry veteran Rajeev Venkayya will lead the company and released data that showed its two experimental monoclonal antibodies neutralized coronavirus variants, including Omicron and its fast-spreading subvariant BA.2, in lab studies.
Venkayya brings instant credibility to the new venture. He left Tokyo-based Takeda Pharmaceutical Co last month after serving as president of its global vaccine business.
Takeda has vaccines against dengue and Zika in the works, and has been making and distributing COVID-19 shots for Moderna and Novavax in Japan during the pandemic.
Aerium, which raised an undisclosed sum in Series A financing through Omega Funds and F-Prime Capital, will be based in Boston with research and development operations in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In an interview, Venkayya said he stayed at Takeda for 10 years - longer than he expected - adding that with the dengue vaccine expected to launch sometime this year, the time for a move was right.
The company plans to develop its two monoclonal antibodies for use in combination to prevent coronavirus infection in people who are immunocompromised and do not make a strong antibody response to vaccines.
"I think these antibodies can make a huge difference if they're successfully developed for that population," Venkayya said. Beyond COVID, he said the company's antibody platform could have uses for other viral diseases as well.
The antibodies P2G3/P5C3 were tested in the laboratory and in animal studies against forms of the virus that have been shown to escape vaccine immunity including Delta and Omicron variants BA.1, BA.1.1 and BA.2.
The research was published on Tuesday on the preprint server BioRXiv and the company plans to submit the paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
"We think it will be very hard for the virus to mutate around this combination," Venkayya said.
He said the drugs, which are currently designed to be delivered via infusion, would eventually be modified to be given as an injection in a doctor's office every three-to-six months.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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