- Mediar Therapeutics, a biotechnology startup developing treatments for fibrosis, has drawn the attention of four of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, which joined several venture firms in investing $85 million into the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company.
- Novartis’ venture fund and Sofinnova Partners co-led a Series A round that Mediar announced Wednesday. The financing also involved Pfizer, Eli Lilly and Bristol Myers Squibb, suggesting drugmakers’ continued interest in fibrosis drug research.
- Launched in 2019, Mediar aims to “reframe the biology” of fibrosis, a broad term referring to tissue scarring in a range of diseases. The startup is developing three antibody drug candidates targeting fibrosis of the liver, lungs and kidney, and aims to begin clinical testing in 2024.
Fibrosis is, in a sense, wound healing gone wrong. The replacement of normal tissue with fibrotic, or scar, tissue can lead to disease in many organs including the heart, liver and lungs. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis or IPF, for instance, involves the progressive thickening of lung tissue, while chronic inflammation of the liver, such as with hepatitis, can lead to fibrosis.
While fibrosis treatments exist, they are few and limited in their ability to delay, or reverse, disease progression. Mediar hopes it can find success with a somewhat different approach.
“Where a lot of companies and approaches have been looking at the initiation of fibrosis, and stopping the snowball effect of scarring, this company reframes the science to look at the progressors of fibrosis,” said Rahul Ballal, Mediar’s chief executive officer.
Ballal was most recently head of sickle cell disease drug developer Imara, which endured a difficult year in 2022 and ultimately agreed last October to a reverse merger with Enliven Therapeutics. He is joined by chief scientific officer Paul Yaworsky, a Pfizer veteran who spent more than a decade researching inflammation for the pharmaceutical giant.
Built on research from Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals, Mediar’s science focuses on the myofibroblast, a type of cell that controls how wounds heal, rather than on immune pathways that have been the subject of other fibrosis research.
Mediar’s drug candidates are aimed at targets that can be measured in blood plasma and, it claims, are correlated with disease severity. Its lead program focuses on a protein called WISP-1 that’s thought to be associated with fibrosis.
“The scientific innovation that's been coming along is starting to translate into some positive signs in the clinic and that optimism has been palpable,” Yaworsky said.
The company launched with $20 million in seed financing from Mass General Brigham Ventures, Pfizer Ventures and Ono Venture Partners. Mediar’s Series A round extends the company’s runway into 2025, Ballal said.
Pharmaceutical companies have taken an interest in developing fibrosis treatments, pouring money into biotech startups through their venture arms as well as advancing their own research programs. Last year, Japanese drugmaker Astellas invested in a cystic fibrosis gene therapy startup. Others, such as AbbVie and Roche, are acquiring small companies in hopes of unearthing a promising new fibrosis medicine.