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Zenas BioPharma is preparing to take its lead drug candidate into a global Phase 3 trial, and already has 118 million dollars to finance clinical research.

Zenas’ drug, obexelimab, is being developed as a treatment for IgG4-RD, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs. First-line treatment includes steroids, but these drugs can have toxic effects and relapse is common.

Obexelimab is designed to suppress the activity of B cells, a type of immune cell. The drug is a bispecific antibody. One part of the drug binds to CD19, a protein on the surface of B cells. The other part of obexelimab binds to another immune cell target called FcYRIIB. According to the company, binding to both targets simultaneously mimics a natural antigen-antibody complex that down-regulates B cell activity. This approach has potential applications in many autoimmune diseases.

Zenas acquired global rights to obexelimab from Xencor last year, issuing equity to that company as an upfront payment. Under the terms of the deal, Xencor could receive up to $480 million in milestone payments depending on Zenas’ progress with the drug.

In addition to backing obexelimab, Zenas said the new capital, the Series B funding, will also go toward advancing other programs into clinical development through 2023. Enavate Sciences led the latest investment in Waltham, Mass.-based Zenas. Other new investors in the company include Longitude Capital, Vivo Capital, Rock Springs Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Agent Capital, Pivotal bioVenture Partners and Superstring Capital. Earlier investors Fairmount, Wellington Management, Tellus BioVentures, Quan Venture Fund and Xencor also participated in the financing

Zenas’ $118 million funding was the biggest biotech funding this week. Here’s a look at other companies that have raised money:

— Bringing computational techniques to the study of secreted proteins, Juvena Therapeutics is developing new drugs for chronic disorders and diseases of aging. Juvena’s lead program is in preclinical development for the muscle disorder myotonic dystrophy type 1 and the Redwood City, Calif., startup has raised $41 million to support that drug and others in the pipeline. Mubadala Capital and Horizons Ventures led Juvena’s Series A financing.

— Sensorium Therapeutics came up with $30 million in funding the development of psychoactive molecules to address mental disorders. Founded by scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Sensorium Research created a lead program, SENS-01, for anxiety and depression. The Boston-based biotech said it expects to begin preclinical research that could support an exploratory application of a new drug in 2023, laying the groundwork to reach clinical testing by early 2024. Santé Ventures led Sensorium’s Series A funding .

— New investors poured money into Lipidio Pharmaceuticals, expanding the Series A biotech round funding to over $20 million. San Diego-based Lipidio develops drugs for metabolic and skin disorders. Lead drug candidate GDD3898 is in development for the treatment of acne, sebaceous hyperplasia, obesity and Prader-Willi syndrome. The company said it expects to complete three early-stage studies of the drug by the end of this year, laying the groundwork for data analysis and Series B funding planned for the first quarter of 2023.

— Blood transfusion technology company Hemanext raised $18 million. The Lexington, Mass.-based company has CE Mark certification in Europe for a red blood cell processing and storage system and is working to expand its presence in additional European markets in 2023. Hemanext described the latest funding as the first close of its series round B. The company says it has raised a total of about $130 million to date.

— The neuroscience company NRG Therapeutics closed £16m in funding to continue the development of small molecule drugs that penetrate the brain to potentially slow or stop neurodegeneration. The Stevenage, England-based company’s drugs target mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. The Series A funding round was led by Omega Funds. NRG plans to use the capital to advance its molecules through the preclinical research needed to support an exploratory application of a new drug.

Photo: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images

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