Born out of Omega push for pandemic treatments, Aerium Therapeutics enters long Covid R&D
Endpoints News | August 4, 2023
By Kyle LaHucik
Aerium Therapeutics, which Omega Funds seeded in 2021 and unveiled in spring 2022 to take on Covid-19 with new monoclonal antibodies, will attempt to treat long Covid with a Phase II trial set to start later this month.
The move comes as the National Institutes of Health kicks off a slate of studies testing potential treatments and medical devices for long Covid, a lingering condition of the pandemic that most biopharmas have avoided. It also comes as Axcella Therapeutics said Thursday it continues searching for alternatives to take forward its long Covid treatment candidate, which failed a Phase II last year but got clearance from FDA for additional testing in a Phase IIb/III trial.
The Boston and Swiss-based Aerium had tested two monoclonal antibodies as a prophylactic for SARS-CoV-2 in a Phase I trial last August in the Netherlands, but the pandemic’s variants sidelined their effectiveness, CEO Rajeev Venkayya told Endpoints News of the previously undisclosed study.
Now, while the antibodies aren’t potent against currently circulating variants, researchers at the University of California San Francisco will test one of them, dubbed AER-002, as a potential treatment for long Covid in individuals still exhibiting long-term symptoms from previous variants of Covid-19. Venkayya had previously compared the antibody’s potential to Eli Lilly’s bebtelovimab, which had received emergency use authorization from the FDA but saw that clearance revoked last November due to new variants.
Venkayya said there are emerging data suggesting that persistent viral replication is a reason for a portion of the population that experiences long Covid, which is thought to affect millions of people in the US. The thought, then, is that an antiviral, including a mAb like Aerium’s, could help mitigate the illness, the CEO said. The biotech’s long-acting antibody would be taken once and potentially not re-dosed for at least another six months, he added.
The goal is to generate benefit in either a subset or the full population of the small trial so Aerium has proof of concept for a larger study. If benefit is seen, the next trial would test newer antibodies that work against current strains, Venkayya said. Aerium has in-licensed more antibodies, which appear to work against the current strains, from three different labs since unveiling last spring, the CEO added.
If its antibody shows potential, Venkayya hopes it will spur other drug developers to test mAbs for long Covid.
“Other companies likely will have antibodies that could help here and that would be a really, really important contribution to public health,” he said.
Aerium also hopes to test a combination of two of the three new in-licensed antibodies for immunocompromised individuals, Venkayya said. “This is a population that is no better off today than they were three years ago,” he said.
The company has raised $66 million, a figure it previously kept under wraps when launching last year, but like many other biotechs has faced a difficult funding environment. Its investors, Omega and F-Prime Capital, have continued to support Aerium, Venkayya said, noting he’s “optimistic that we will be able to fully support the program.”
Further down the pipeline, at the discovery stage, Aerium is exploring a small molecule nucleotide analog for SARS-CoV-2 and potentially other viruses.
“Paxlovid has been widely available and very effective but it is difficult to use in some people because of drug interactions and there are side effects of the medication that can be problematic for some people,” Venkayya said, “and we think there’s an opportunity for other anti-virals that don’t have the same side effect profile and are more tolerable.”