Newly-launched Belgian startup ExeVir Bio will develop ‘nanobodies’ that bind very precisely to key areas of the Covid-19 virus and other coronaviruses after raking in €23M in Series A.

Based in Ghent, Belgium, ExeVir Bio is a spin-out of the research institute VIB established with the help of life sciences investor Fund+. Other investors include the Belgian government, UCB Ventures, V-Bio Ventures, and several Belgian family offices.

The Series A round will fund research and development of unique antibodies found in llamas and other camelids, which are smaller, more precise, and more stable than regular human antibodies. These nanobodies can be either injected or inhaled directly into the lungs.

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The company plans to start clinical trials by the end of 2020 and the treatment could be available to patients in 2021, a representative told me.

“The first lead candidate will be tested in patients with mild to moderate symptoms, with the goal of reducing progression to severe disease,” she said, noting that the funding will cover development up to phase II trials. 

“The company also plans to develop a prophylactic product to protect those at increased risk of severe illness from Covid-19.” 

While vaccines are meant to make our immune system generate its own antibodies against a particular threat, antibody treatments deliver them directly, helping the body neutralize invaders and buying time for it to mount its own response. 

The ‘nanobodies’ produced by camelids, which are about a quarter of the size of regular antibodies, are particularly suitable for this procedure. Their simple structure allows them to be manufactured easily. Even more importantly, they are able to bind to very small and specific antigens in the invading organism that are inaccessible to regular antibodies.

ExeVir Bio’s lead candidate targets a very stable area of the novel coronavirus that is shared with SARS and MERS — two deadly coronaviruses that are genetically similar to the one behind the ongoing pandemic. The nanobody binds to a region of the spike protein on the surface of the virus, which it uses to enter cells, that is less likely to mutate than other parts of the virus. 

This gives its creators the hope that the treatment will offer broad protection against other coronaviruses, too. The nanobody has been shown to neutralize another coronavirus found in bats, providing evidence that it can act across the coronavirus family without requiring a cocktail of drugs, according to the representative.

As the Covid-19 pandemic hit Europe, many other biotech companies in the region have quickly turned to leverage their technology in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Among them are immuno-oncology companies that are applying their technology to direct the immune system against the virus and gene therapy developers that are using their technology and manufacturing facilities to produce Covid-19 vaccines.

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