Aer Therapeutics raises $36m for breakthrough COPD drug

$36m Series A raised by joint UCD and University of California San Francisco spin-out Aer Therapeutics to treat COPD and other lung diseases.

Aer Therapeutics, a business engaged in the development of an innovative drug for the treatment of lung diseases, in particular COPD, has raised $36m in a Series A round from a syndicate of leading life science industry investors.

The syndicate includes Canaan, OrbiMed, and Hatteras Venture Partners.

“Our scientific founders led the pioneering research that uncovered mucus plugs as a key mechanism of disease in COPD, and their laboratories worked together to discover AER-01 as a novel mucolytic treatment”

Proceeds from the financing will be used to advance the development of AER-01, the company’s novel inhaled small molecule mucolytic drug designed to liquefy mucus plugs in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Aer Therapeutics plans to initiate a first-in-human Phase 1 clinical trial of AER-01 in mid-2023.

Trans-Atlantic drug development

Aer Therapeutics, headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina, was co-founded by Professor John Fahy, UCSF, who is originally from Dublin, and Professor Stefan Oscarson, UCD School of Chemistry.

Professor Fahy’s laboratory at UCSF developed AER-01 with Professor Oscarson’s glycochemistry laboratory at UCD in collaboration with Professor Anne Marie Healy’s pharmaceutical technology laboratory at Trinity College Dublin. The combined expertise of these laboratories in mucus biology, glycochemistry, inhaled drug formulation, drug delivery, and lung imaging, supported by a development grant from the National Institutes of Health, underlies the novel AER-01 technology.

“We are excited to introduce Aer Therapeutics as a company dedicated to delivering a therapeutic solution to patients with COPD who have severe airway obstruction caused by mucus plugs,” said ” said Jim Shaffer, President and CEO, Aer Therapeutics.

“Our scientific founders led the pioneering research that uncovered mucus plugs as a key mechanism of disease in COPD, and their laboratories worked together to discover AER-01 as a novel mucolytic treatment. Aer will continue to leverage this expertise in the development of AER-01 and other therapeutic candidates for the treatment of muco-obstructive lung diseases,

It is estimated that approximately 5m COPD patients in the United States have a mucus plug-high disease subtype. Conventional COPD treatments such as bronchodilators and supplemental oxygen do not treat the airway obstruction caused by mucus plugs.

Recent advances in the understanding of mucus plug biology and novel methods of quantifying mucus plugs using computed tomography (CT) have created opportunities to advance drug development intended to eliminate mucus plugs. Aer Therapeutics is seizing upon these new opportunities to advance AER-01 for COPD.

“Studies using CT lung scans confirm that mucus plugs are highly prevalent in COPD patients and those with a high mucus plug burden have lower lung function, increased frequency of exacerbations, diminished quality of life, and increased risk of all-cause mortality,” said John Fahy, M.D., M.Sc., Professor of Medicine at UCSF and founder of Aer Therapeutics.

“These findings provide a basis to specifically treat and remove mucus plugs as a strategy to improve lung health for COPD patients.

“COPD is a complex disease and one-size-fits-all treatment approaches are not likely to work. The use of CT imaging in the clinical development for AER-01 will help ensure that treatment is targeted to those patients most likely to benefit from an effective mucolytic.”

Professor Stefan Oscarson, UCD School of Chemistry and co-founder, Aer Therapeutics said: “Today’s announcement is a hugely significant milestone for the AER Therapeutics team. It is exciting times for me, when after decades of academic research involving drug and vaccine development with colleagues at UCD, UCSF and TCD, to see a lead drug candidate moving into human clinical trials. The AER-01 mucolytic drug has the potential to meet a wide range of clinical need and to make a difference to many lives.”

As part of the Series A financing, the company has expanded its board of directors to include new appointees: Tim Shannon, M.D., general partner at Canaan; Rishi Gupta, J.D., partner at OrbiMed; Christy Shaffer, Ph.D., general partner at Hatteras Venture Partners; and, Thomas Mathers, CEO at Allievex. They join current board members, Jim Shaffer and Dr Fahy.

Main image at top (from left): Dr John Fahy, Jim Shaffer and Professor Stefan Oscarson

John Kennedy
Award-winning editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.