New biotech startup targets genes to treat skin diseases

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A new biotech startup developing immuno-dermatology technologies for skin diseases has launched today with $100mn (€93mn) in seed funding.

Based in Boston and Geneva, Alys Pharmaceuticals is co-founded by Medicixi, a European healthcare-focused investment firm, and six university scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello.

The startup is a merger of six individual companies in the field (also backed by Medicixi), which in combination boast 14 active R&D programmes.

Alys is targeting chronic autoimmune skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis (eczema), alopecia areata (loss of hair), vitiligo (discoloration of the skin), and spontaneous urticaria (hives). For context, 1 in 10 individuals will develop eczema during their lifetime, while 1% of the population suffers from vitiligo.

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As these diseases are (currently) incurable, effective treatment plays a vital role both in the quality of life and psychology of the patients.

Beyond the above conditions, Alys’s pipeline also focuses on mastocytosis (abnormal accumulation of mast cells in the body), cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (a rare type of cancer), and the prevention of skin side effects of oncology therapies.

To further advance treatments, the startup is working on “breakthrough” technologies such as peptides (short chains of amino acids), sophisticated antibodies, and vectorised siRNA (short interference RNA), which aims to “silence” the genes responsible for unwanted behaviour.

According to Thibaud Portal, Aly’s COO, the company doesn’t target a share of existing markets. “New dermatology products will grow the market,” he told the Financial Times. “We can address the huge number of patients who are currently without treatment.”

Over the next three years, the startup aims to deliver proof-of-concept results for seven to ten skin treatments.


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