Verve Raises $94M in Series B, Aims to Disrupt Cardiology Market with ‘Once-and-Done’ Gene Editing Therapies
On January 19th, Verve Therapeutics announced it raised $94 million in investments as part of a Series B financing. The money will be used to advance the company’s gene-editing therapies, with their treatment of heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia and coronary heart disease, VERVE-101, at the helm.
Around 655,000 Americans die from heart disease each year, making it the leading cause of death in the US. One of the main risk factors linked to an increase in heart disease is high blood cholesterol. There are many medications such as Lipitor and Crestor that are used to reduce bad cholesterol; however, these need to be taken daily. Therapies that can reduce bad cholesterol while requiring less frequent dosing would be an improvement for the patients.
Based in Massachusetts, Verve Therapeutics aims to develop a “once-and-done” therapies to treat heart diseases. They use human genetics, as well as gene editing approaches to try to accomplish their goal. Their current lead therapy is VERVE-101, which consists of two parts, one mRNA molecule that codes for a gene-editing protein, and a gRNA molecule that guides the gene-editing protein to the gene of interest, both are delivered using a lipid nanoparticle.
Recently, during the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Verve announced that a single intravenous injection of VERVE-101 caused a sustained reduction in blood low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C), aka bad cholesterol. This was accomplished by a single base change to the PCSK9 gene in the liver of non-human primates. This change resulted in a sustained reduction of the PCSK9 protein in the blood (~89%) and an average reduction of 61% in LDL-C over six months after the treatment.
VERVE-101 will first be investigated as a treatment for heterozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (HeFH), a potentially fatal genetic heart disease. Verve aims to initiate development in patients with HeFH in 2022.
Verve was launched in 2019 after raising $58.5 million in a Series A financing led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). It has now raised $94 million in Series B and would use it to advance its pipeline.
The latest financing round was led by Wellington Management Company and Casdin Capital. Verve raised new funds from existing investors such as GV and Biomatics, as well as new investors that include Redmile Group, Janus Henderson Investors, Cormorant Asset Management, and others.
“Verve is an incredibly exciting company with the technology, insights, and capabilities to translate world-class research into an entirely new approach to addressing cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death worldwide,” said Eli Casdin, Chief Investment Officer and founder of Casdin Capital. “Investing in the people behind transformative life sciences companies like Verve is at the core of Casdin Capital, and we could not be prouder to further support the Verve team and help accelerate the next stage of the company’s growth.”
Entering a Crowded Market
When it was first approved, Lipitor, the LDL cholesterol-lowering drug, was a blockbuster for Pfizer. It went on to generate more than $1 billion in sales a year. However, over two decades after it was first approved, now it is one of many drugs that crowd the market for cholesterol drugs.
There are at least six other drugs of the same class as Lipitor, known as statins. On top of those, there are at least three other classes of drugs, each with multiple approved drugs to reduce cholesterol. It would be important for VERVE-101 to carve itself a niche and see if the novelty of once-and-done can make it more popular amongst consumers.
By Daniel Ojeda, Ph.D.
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