Drug development company mixes equity crowdfunding and venture capital to develop cystic fibrosis drug

Breathe Easy has launched on Snowball Effect after raising funds through VC and angel investors.

New Zealand drug development company Breathe Easy has joined forces with equity crowdfunding platform Snowball Effect to raise up to $700,000 for the next phase of its clinical trial for a new drug for cystic fibrosis patients.

It launched its offer late last week, after raising more than $1 million from the New Zealand angel community, life sciences investment company Pacific Channel and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

The company will use the money to start the phase 1 clinical trial for its drug Citramel, which it hopes will help suffers with mucus build-up and infections in their lungs.

Snowball Effect head of platform and investor growth Josh Daniell says the deal gives small investors the same terms as wholesale investors.

“They’re going in on the same round, so for [individual] investors there is some comfort that these [large] investors have done their homework and are putting in significant amounts of money. A lot of the thinking has been done and we are really keen to see how it’s perceived.”

Breathe Easy is offering shares for a minimum $1000 investment from individual public investors, with more information and pre-registration available on Snowball Effect’s website. The offer hit $100,000 within the first three days.

The company says the capital is for the development of Citramel, an inhaled drug treatment for the 75,000 people worldwide with cystic fibrosis, who represent a billion dollar plus market. Development of the drug is being led by Professor Robert Elliott, a foundation professor of Auckland University’s paediatrics department.

Cystic fibrosis is a life-threatening disease diagnosed at birth and primarily affecting the respiratory and digestive system. People with cystic fibrosis require lifelong treatment and rarely live beyond middle age. There is no cure.

Breathe Easy CEO Andrea Miller says the development of Citramel is an important milestone for medical innovation in New Zealand.

“It is exciting to be developing and manufacturing a new medicine from New Zealand. This is a wholly Kiwi enterprise, driven by people with first hand experience with cystic fibrosis. Now we can open up the opportunity to everyday Kiwis to invest in something that can make a big difference to tens of thousands of people globally.”

Brent Ogilvie, director of Breathe Easy, says the partnership with Snowball Effect gives people the opportunity to invest amounts appropriate for them.

“Breathe Easy offers high potential financial and social returns for those who want to make a difference.

“With this of course comes high risk, but the potential to join a New Zealand driven team committed to combating cystic fibrosis has real appeal. We already have the commitment of those who’ve invested privately, ourselves included, but this final stage of crowdfunding is important to progress our first and potentially other treatments.”

According to a release from the company, Citramel is in liquid form and delivered by nebuliser into the lungs of those with cystic fibrosis.

The company says early signs of the efficacy of the drug has been shown through a separate clinical trial where a patient has been on the drug for almost two years with no adverse side effects. The company says the patient experienced noticeably thinner mucus, along with a range of other benefits since being on the drug.

A statement from the patient says, “My symptoms including tiredness have decreased dramatically and I feel like I’ve been able to wind the clock back. I can see first hand the improvements it has made to my life.”

The company says trial candidate recruitment will begin as soon as funding is complete and will be conducted at the Christchurch Clinical Studies Trust under  principal investigator Dr Chris Wynne. This is the first New Zealand trial of its kind on adults with cystic fibrosis, he says.

“If Citramel proves to be effective, it could make a huge difference to the quality of life in many patients around the world.”

Brent Ogilvie says the future for Citramel is exciting not just for its potential impact on cystic fibrosis symptoms, but also for its potential to treat other respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which affects 320 million people worldwide.

To date, $4.2 million has been raised through equity crowdfunding in New Zealand and $3.6 million of this has been through Snowball Effect, according to the company.