ANA Therapeutics, aided by its first funding round, is now one of the first companies to have its COVID-19 treatment go into human clinical trials.
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The new capital infusion of more than $5 million included individuals Sam Altman, Jack Abraham, Paul Buchheit, Matt Rogers, Swati Mylavarapu and Neal Khosla, as well as firms, On Air Investments, Refactor Capital, SV Tech Ventures, SV Angel and SOSV.
Co-founder and CEO Akash Bakshi told Crunchbase News that Foster City, California-based ANA Therapeutics was founded earlier this year when he and co-founders Nadja Mannowetz and Andrew Bartynski, discovered a connection between the drug niclosamide and its potential to treat COVID-19.
While attending Y Combinator, the team was working on developing a contraceptive gel product and found that niclosamide had anti-viral properties to prevent the spread of certain sexually transmitted diseases, as well as its anti-inflammatory properties. They received a grant to cover the cost of testing the gel, and quickly pivoted their efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic founding ANA Therapeutics.
“While looking for other grants, we came across a study from the early 2000s where niclosamide was studied as a promising treatment for SARS and MERS, two illnesses that are similar to COVID-19,” Bakshi said. “That’s how we started the new company.”
Niclosamide was used for more than 50 years to safely treat tapeworm infections. Today, it is being tested as a promising candidate—more so than remdesivir and chloroquine—to stop the virus that causes COVID-19 from replicating, as well as reduce symptoms in patients, Bakshi said.
The new funding will go toward the niclosamide clinical trials. On Tuesday, the company also announced that its drug candidate was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to move ahead with clinical trials and began seeking an initial 400 patients for the study, according to the company.
Altman, OpenAI CEO and former Y Combinator president, said in a written statement that he was “thrilled” to invest in a company aimed at developing a treatment for COVID-19.
“As a start-up and unlike large life science companies, ANA Therapeutics has already moved at lightning speed to get niclosamide into clinical trials,” he said.
Meanwhile, the company has identified 10 sites that want to run the clinical trials. If successful, ANA Therapeutics will also look into the drug as a prophylactic as well as an option for post exposure, Bakshi said.
Illustration: Dom Guzman