Millions of people take blood thinners in order to prevent deaths from blood clots. “A simple and effective solution”, says Pieter Reitsma, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Experimental Medicine at the Leiden University Medical Center (LUMC) and co-founder of LUMC spinoff VarmX. “However, it is also a solution which has a very high price: severe, life-threatening bleeding. Every day, around thirty patients here have to deal with it.”
This means that for a large group of patients, the drug is at least as bad as the disease. Reitsma spent a long time researching possible solutions to this and discovered five years ago that it might well be found in the venom of the Australian brown snake, one of the deadliest snakes on earth. This animal kills its prey by inducing large blood clots. Because the protein in the snake poison which does this appears to be different from that of humans, the researchers have identified the variant part of the snake’s coagulation protein and applied it to the human version. This led to a new medicine from VarmX: PseudoXa, also known by the less sexy name VMX-C001.
How about the finances?
Development of medicines is not just a long story, it is also an expensive one. After a seed investment in 2017, VarmX raised €12, 5 million in funding last year: €7, 5 million from Innovation Quarter Capital and BioGeneration Ventures (BGV), the rest from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO). With the help of this funding, development of the drug towards running clinical trials has been accelerated considerably, says Reitsma. “But it’s not enough, our work is really something for the long haul. The drug was discovered in 2014, but we will not be able to carry out clinical trials until 2021. By then, real money will be needed once more. Development of new medicines calls for substantial investment, but in return, substantial profits can also be tied to them.”
What else can we expect?
The emphasis is now on purification and formulation and on the pharmacodynamics of the active substance within the development. Aside from that, all of this should lead to expansion into a fully-fledged biotechnology company with a range of products.
“Our innovation is an important solution to a comprehensive medical need whereby we are making a difference for patients,” said Reitsma when announcing the investment. “The progressive development of our therapy also means that we will be expanding our team.”
Reitsma expects PseudoXa to be ready for the market by 2024.
Founder: Pieter Reitsma.
Year of foundation: 2017.
Funding: €12,5 million from a series A investment.
Number of employees: 5.
Need inspiration? Find stories from our start-up of the day series here.