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Aelix Therapeutics, a spin-off of the private-public consortium HIVACAT to develop treatments for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), has received €11.5 millions in funding through a round led by Ysios Capital, through BioFund II Invierte, with additional involvement from Caixa Capital Risc and the venture capital division of pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, to develop an HIV treatment.

This capital increase will allow the company to clinically validate the HTI immunogen with the aim of developing the first therapeutic vaccine capable of controlling the infection, an unmet medical need and one of the biggest global health problems.

The HTI immunogen was developed by IrsiCaixa –one of the promoters of the project- from data on more than 1,000 patients infected with the virus around the world based on the immune response seen in people who are able to control HIV without the need for antiretroviral treatment. The immune system’s T-cells recognize the cells infected with the virus and eliminate them. In the same manner, cell immune-response targets were identified and a DNA sequence to cover those targets was designed and inserted into a DNA vector and a viral vector (MVA).

The heads of the project explain that the preclinical results show excellent response, so the candidate will begin to be tested in people not infected with the virus in late 2016. The aim is to finish the second clinical phase, in infected patients, by 2019.

The money raised will go to funding these tests and then deciding what the next step should be, which may include raising additional funds –probably with the continuation of the three funds that have already invested- and licensing the product to be marketed by a large pharmaceutical company. Co-founder of Aelix Therapeutics and Director of the Bosch i Gimpera Foundation Jordi Naval believes that the vaccine could hit the market in roughly eight years.

The vaccine Aelix is developing would be a huge leap forward because it would minimize the annual cost of treatment and eliminate the need for lifetime medication with antiretroviral drugs. In addition to leading to a certain relaxation in terms of prevention, which is why the number of new cases detected in Western Europe has stabilized, these drugs also have side effects and are toxic in the long term. Jordi Naval says there is also a chance the immunogen could be used as the basis of a preventative vaccine for the same infection.


A project of excellence

The spin-off Aelix, which was created in 2014 but only formally established as a company just one month ago, is an initiative of the IrsiCaixa Institute for AIDS Research and the Infectious Diseases and AIDS Area of Hospital Clinic Barcelona, which comprise the Catalan HIVACAT program in collaboration with Laboratoris Esteve and with support from the “la Caixa” Foundation, the Government of Catalonia Ministry of Health and Innovation and Ministry of University and Enterprise, ICREA and Fundació Clínic. The company was co-founded by Dr. Christian Brander, Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, Dr. Josep Maria Gatell and Dr. Jordi Naval, who have experience in developing biotechnology companies.

After this round of funding, Aelix will take on four new board members: Dr. Karen Wagner of Ysios Capital, José Antonio Mesa of Caixa Capital Risc, Jordi Naval as a co-founder and a representative from Johnson & Johnson Innovation.

The project was launched with characteristics that demonstrate the model of scientific excellence in Catalonia, because it has been set up as a team effort with different sectors involved: science (Can Ruti and Hospital Clínic), local industry (Esteve) and public, private and philanthropic capital. “It’s a good example of how very different interests can converge in one project to work towards a common goal,” says Jordi Naval. "It’s a pattern we’ve seen in a few other cases and hope will continue to grow in Catalonia,” he says.

Moreover, it has attracted international funds, which shows that Catalan biotechnology is attractive on a global level. The success of Aelix comes on the heels of that of Sanifit (which raised €36.6 millions in a round also led by Ysios Capital) and Minoryx (which raised €19.4 millions with the participation of Ysios and four international partners, among others).

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