“These innovative companies often spend half their time trying to find the capital they need,” says Yu Zhang, head of the innovation finance unit at the European Investment Bank. “Rare diseases markets are not attractive for most investors, because they do not appear as profitable as other markets.”
“But we see the worth of these research projects,” he says, “and the impact they could have worldwide.”
That’s why the EIB loaned EUR 25 million to Apeiron Biologics, a private clinical stage biotech Austrian company, supporting their financial stability. Apeiron has been working in the field of immune-oncology and it is one of a number of innovative companies financed by the EIB to develop new cancer treatments. It’s vital work, because cancer cases are predicted to increase by 68% by 2030. “This will help us achieve the next level of our development,” says Peter Llewellyn-Davies, Apeiron’s chief financial officer.
Apeiron already achieved great success in bringing their new treatment for pediatric neuroblastoma to the European market in 2017.
“To develop the innovative projects we currently have in our pipeline, we need sufficient financing,” says Llewellyn-Davies.
Apeiron is currently pursuing two main approaches. First, an antibody-based approach. Therapeutic antibodies selectively bind to tumor cells which express a certain “signal”, a glycolipid GD2 on their surface. This way, the tumor cells can be destroyed by the patient’s immune system. Apeiron’s second approach is a unique, novel cellular therapy currently under clinical development. Patient’s own blood cells are “re-programmed” through inhibition of a negative regulator of the immune system (cbl-b protein). They are then reinfused into the patient and help to combat the tumor.
“We want to provide patients with effective treatments but less side effects,” says Llewellyn-Davies. “We do so by helping the immune system become reactivated and responsive to tumor cells present in the body, thus helping kill the tumor from within using our novel individual cellular immunotherapy.