HONG KONG – South Korea’s Avixgen Inc., which recently secured ₩10.6 billion (US$9 million) in pre-IPO investment and has raised total funding of ₩27 billion since its series A in 2015, plans to use funds to further develop drug platform technologies and therapeutics for virus-causing diseases such as HIV-1/AIDS, using inhibitors based on small molecules and cancer drugs based on peptides.

The Seoul-based company, founded in 2000, also plans to launch an IPO next year based on the technology exception policy, which allows unprofitable but promising ventures with cutting-edge technologies to go public.

“We will begin the listing process this year and launch our IPO on KOSDAQ in the first half of 2020,” Jeonghee Han, chief financial officer at Avixgen, told BioWorld Asia. “We are preparing for the technology evaluation, which is the core standard for the IPO.”

Avixgen’s Avi-Core is an HIV drug screening technique applying a basis of high-throughput screening (HTS) technology. By inhibiting nucleocapsid (NC) protein and RNA packaging, it facilitates early screening and development of drugs for various anti-RNA virus therapies.

The company also develops in-house cell-penetrating peptide (CPP) molecules and techniques for potential first-in-class new drugs. Its own CPP, called ACP (advanced cell-penetrating peptide), is under clinical studies in combination with about 30 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs).  

Avixgen is developing 10 treatment candidates, four of which are in clinical trials. The lead candidate, AVI-CO-004, an anti-HIV/AIDS inhibitor, targets NC. It is designed to alter the HIV-1 NC structure to effectively suppress NC and viral RNA combination, dimerization and packaging. The altered HIV-1 cannot place its normal guide RNA (gRNA) in the targeted cell and loses infectibility. 

Using Avi-Core platform technology, the drug is in phase IIa testing in Korea and Vietnam. The company plans to conduct a clinical trial in the U.S. next year and complete phase II development and then license the drug out by 2021. 

In retinal disease, Avixgen has AVI-3207, which targets age-related macular degeneration by inhibiting VEGFR-2 to interrupt multiple signaling pathways involved in angiogenesis. AVI-3207 aims to selectively inhibit VEGFR-2, reducing the side effects seen with many existing retinal disease therapies such as hypertonia. The drug, delivered via an injection, is in a phase I trial in Korea and Australia. The peptide-based treatment has a potential to be developed as collyrium because of the peptides’ small sizes, Han said.   

Avixgen commenced phase I trials of AVI-4015, a xerophthalmia treatment, and AVI-3307, an atopic dermatitis therapy, in Korea earlier this year.

In addition to those candidates, Avixgen is developing six treatments based on ACP, targeting various diseases, including severe combined immunodeficiency, diabetes, brain diseases, hair loss and psoriasis. 

Renaissance Asset Management Co. Ltd., one of the investors in Avixgen, said the biopharma has long-term potential in ACP development as well as the clinical-stage therapeutic candidates. 

“Avixgen has a well-balanced portfolio consisting of four drugs under clinical trials and other pipelines under preclinical studies,” Kyubong Jung, CEO, told BioWorld Asia. “We believe that based on ACP’s unique potential that this will accelerate the company’s R&D onto the global stage.

“Many of Korean bio ventures develop a single pipeline, and this is highly risky when a company fails in a clinical trial. Unlike these companies, Avixgen can develop various pipelines using its own platform technology and has a robust growth potential,” Jung added.

In driving its global R&D capacity, Avixgen partners with other pharmaceutical companies to develop lead candidates and technology. In January at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, the Korean company signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the U.S. firm Pharmain Corp. for new drug R&D. Followed by both companies’ material transfer agreement last year, the MOU includes developing their long-term partnership and ACP in-licensing.  

The U.S. company is focused on drug discovery and development specializing in peptides to promote vascular health and platform technologies for the improved delivery of peptide-based APIs. The company develops an excipient alternative of pegylation for extending half-life. Also, it enhances peptide engineering technologies that improves safety, selective potency and patentability of peptides for proven targets.

Using its core slow release drug delivery system, Pharmain is developing pharmacokinetics for an anti-angiogenesis peptide with Avixgen. The R&D has a possibility of developing cancer treatments with minimal side effects, Han said. 

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