Kezar Life Sciences announced that it is planning to move ahead with clinical testing of KZR-616, a potential treatment for multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases and inflammatory disorders. The company recently concluded a Phase 1 safety study of the treatment, and raised $50 million in investment funding to support its development.
KZR-616 is a first-in-class selective immunoproteasome inhibitor, meaning it works by blocking abnormal protein degradation.
Cells eliminate proteins by sending them to a specialized cell compartment known as the proteasome. In immune cells, the proteasome is called immunoproteasome, and it regulates several selective inhibitors and participates in the regulation of the immune response associated with inflammatory diseases such as MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and lupus.
“We are pleased with the results of our healthy volunteer study, and grateful for the support of such an excellent group of investors to finance our upcoming clinical trials,” John Fowler, Kezar Life Sciences’ CEO, said in a news release. “The strong demand for this financing reflects growing excitement for the potential of immunoproteasome inhibition in treating autoimmune disorders and recognizes the clear leadership position enjoyed by Kezar.”
The Phase 1 trial enrolled 82 healthy subjects, who were assigned to receive either KZR-616 or placebo. In total, 61 volunteers were given KZR-616 as single or multiple doses at varying dose levels to identify the optimal dose for both tolerability and proteasome inhibition.
Results will be presented at the American College of Rheumatology’s Annual Meeting to be held in San Diego in November.
“These initial clinical trial results demonstrate that KZR-616 is achieving the desired levels of immunoproteasome inhibition that correlate with anti-inflammatory activity seen in laboratory models,” said Christopher Kirk, PhD, company president and CSO. “By selectively targeting the immunoproteasome, we believe we can avoid the toxicities associated with dual proteasome inhibitors like Velcade and Kyprolis.”
The Series B financing round was led by Cormorant Asset Management and Morningside Venture and raised $50 million to support the development of KZR-616. Kezar announced it has the support of new investors, including Cowen Healthcare Investments, Pappas Ventures, Qiming Venture Partners, and Bay City Capital.
“Cormorant is pleased to support Kezar as it enters an exciting series of patient studies, the first ever with a selective immunoproteasome inhibitor,” said Bihua Chen, founder of Cormorant Asset Management. “While much work remains, I believe KZR-616 has the potential to be a transformative treatment in autoimmunity.”