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Sagimet Biosciences: Building a Firewall Against Liver Diseases and Cancers


If you can’t cure it - you can still treat it the best way possible.

This may as well be the unofficial motto or selling point of Sagimet Biosciences. But we can’t really be sure researchers at this growing biotech firm won’t invent a cure for their targeted diseases. Liver diseases like NAFLD affect nearly 25% of American adults and about 4% of adults suffer from NASH, a more malignant form of NAFLD.

The desire to help people coupled with a passion for studying the intricacies of molecular biology led founders Lucas Pelkmans and Urs Greber to establish Sagimet Biosciences.

Sagimet’s clinically tested FASN (fatty acid synthase) inhibitor TVB-2640 is a major breakthrough in treating and preventing liver fat synthesis, alongside treating patients with certain types of cancer.

Doctors Pelkmans and Greber’s research is instrumental in laying the foundations for Sagimet – one of the most auspicious biopharmaceutical companies to emerge in years. Here’s where the story of Sagimet came to be.

A Lifelong Calling

Every individual who’s passionate about a specific subject has a certain moment of epiphany that lets them know that they were born or destined to follow a certain path. For Dr. Pelkmans, it was on a seemingly random high school day in his home city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Even as a child, Pelkmans had shown interest in the natural sciences. Physics, math, and biology were the areas from which he drew inspiration, but the symbolic catalyst that prompted him to pursue a career in science was a University molecular biology professor, who one day substituted for Pelkmans’ high school biology teacher who was, at the time, on leave. The manner in which the university professor approached the subject left a permanent imprint on Pelkmans’ curious young mind. It was then that he knew he wanted to become a biologist. For Dr. Greber, studying how cells work has been a lifelong interest and profession. ‘Viruses are so interesting,’ it states in Dr. Greber’s bio on the University of Zurich’s website.

For the great majority of people, ‘interesting’ would probably not be the first adjective that comes to mind to describe a virus. Yet, there are those rare people - like Greber and Pelkmans - who are truly fascinated by things that make most people’s skin crawl.

Life and Career Dedicated to Science

Throughout their lives, Greber and Pelkmans had completed various stages of specialized education with an effortlessness befitting only great minds.

In less than a decade – from his late high school days in 1979 to 1988 – Greber had acquired his MSc and Ph.D. Over the next seven years, Greber will be engaged in medical research at the Scripps Research Institute in California and Yale University School of Medicine. In 1995, the University of Zurich recruited Greber as an assistant professor. A short while later, Greber would become a full-time professor and top researcher of molecular science at Switzerland’s largest and most prominent university.

In 2003, Greber was offered a position in molecular virology at the University of London, but he turned it down. This decision, while apparently insignificant, would play a key role in Greber and Pelkmans crossing paths and engendering the idea for Sagimet.

At about the same time Greber was offered to work in London, Pelkmans was finishing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the Department of Biology at ETH Zurich. By 2005, about a year before Sagimet was founded, Pelkmans had started working as an assistant professor at ETH Zurich’s Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, Department of Biology, ETH Zurich.

Viruses and how they interact with cells in living organisms is one common area of interest that links both Greber and Pelkmans. This intrigue of molecular-level interaction between viruses and cells, as well as overall metabolic processes in mammals (humans and animals alike), is what drove Greber and Pelkmans to found their own company.

Sagimet Biosciences is Launched

On March 1, 2007, Sagimet Biosciences was established.

Broadly speaking, Sagimet is a specialized clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company focusing on studying specific metabolic processes. The company’s main field of interest is centered on the study of oncology and NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis).

Increased NASH can frequently occur in patients with liver diseases. Studies have found one of the major causes of NASH is lipogenesis or increased fatty acid synthase (FASN) in the liver. The accumulation of surplus fat in the liver can cause inflammation and lead to permanent liver damage, and even cancer.

So far in its more than 15-year existence, Sagimet has made significant headway in studying and developing proprietary treatments for both NASH and certain cancer types.

Yet, competing pharmaceutical companies had been engaged in that type of research years before Sagimet was first established. For a brief time, Greber and Pelkmans faced the difficult question of whether Sagimet had what it took to succeed in a severely competitive industry. But Greber and Pelkmans, aside from being top molecular biologists, are also drawn by so-called ‘systems biology.’ This entails data-driven research, cutting-edge live-cell imaging technology, and complex mathematical and analytical models so as to better understand molecular processes in mammals.

Greber and Pelkmans had already used data-driven models while doing research at their respective universities. Cutting no corners, they decided to implement the same top-shelf analytics-based study methods into Sagimet.

Sagimet’s Funding Efforts and Clinical Trials

Building any company – let alone a biopharma research and manufacturing organization – from the ground up is taxing work. And finances are often the root cause of many problems facing startups.

Some data shows Sagimet has collected just over $230 million from equity investors since its establishment. But being in the process of development, Sagimet is yet to start making a profit from its research, with the majority of the equity investments going into research, development, and administrative expenses.

By December 2020, Sagimet Biosciences had raked nearly $70 million and had about two million in liabilities. Earlier, Sagimet filed for an initial public offering (IPO) with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for its Class A shares in a bid to raise at least $75 million. The IPO is spearheaded by an unknown healthcare investment fund that already includes over a dozen investors.

However, details about the IPO pricing and whether the company will achieve the $75 million threshold, are unlikely to be known until later this year when investors see Sagimet’s results of their latest TVB-2640 trials.

Currently, the company is in the process of analyzing results from its Phase 2b trial of its TVB-2640 FASN inhibitor that aim to treat diseases resulting from excessive metabolic production of the fatty acid palmitate.

What’s Next for Sagimet?

At the end of 2021, Sagimet was already on solid-enough ground to continue its groundbreaking research into diseases caused by palmitate. Presently, the company’s focus is wrapping up trials for their prime NASH inhibitor candidate, TVB-2640. Drawing from a wealth of knowledge, Drs. Greber and Pelkmans’ fusion of visionary entrepreneurial ideas and wealth of bimolecular knowledge exchanged have made Sagimet a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company.

But, as it is most often the case, the wheels of scientific research move slowly. And while Sagimet has been around for about 15 years, the bulk of investments into the firm have gone into more studies and NASH inhibitor development.

Currently, Sagimet is primed to wrap up work around their potent FASN inhibitor TVB-2640 candidate. The study into TVB-2640 involves pioneering use of digital pathology imaging and AI-driven analyses, conducted in cooperation with the Singaporean firm HistoIndex Sagimet’s work in biopharmaceutical development has gone beyond the limited traditional methods of studying the vagaries of molecular and cellular processes in living organisms.

AI-based, data-driven methods with complex mathematical structures are used to gain better insight into how to treat serious diseases like NASH and some tumors. All things considered, Sagiment Biosciences is a triumph of scientific development - and continues to enrich the industry with all-around solutions everyone can benefit from!