IU-Affiliated Biotechnology Startup will use Seed Funding Toward Mission of Developing New Treatments for HPV-Related Cancer

With the support of IU Ventures and the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office, Kovina Therapeutics, a preclinical biotechnology startup seeking to develop first-in-class antiviral therapies for Human Papillomavirus (HPV) related cancers and pre-cancerous malignancies, recently closed a $2 million seed round of financing.

INDIANAPOLIS — With the support of IU Ventures and the IU Innovation and Commercialization Office, Kovina Therapeutics, a preclinical biotechnology startup seeking to develop new treatments for Human Papillomavirus-related infections and cancers, recently closed a $2 million seed round of financing. IU Ventures contributed to the financing round, through the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund. The IU fund aims to bridge the gap in startup funding by making equity investments in high-potential early-stage companies with IU affiliations.

Kovina was founded in 2020 by Elliot Androphy, M.D., professor and chair of the department of dermatology at the IU School of Medicine; Samy Meroueh, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine, and Zhijian Lu, Ph.D., a medicinal chemist and experienced pharmaceutical professional. The founders, who began collaborating in 2017, have produced compounds that selectively target and kill HPV-infected cells. Kovina has licensed the intellectual property from IU.

HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease in the world, affects millions of people and causes nearly all cervical cancers and most oropharyngeal cancers. The HPV vaccine prevents new infections but does not treat the millions of existing infections that may progress to cancer.

Current treatment options for HPV-related cancers are limited and have significant side effects. For patients living with HPV, Kovina’s developing therapy provides hope for a non-surgical option to treat cancers and pre-cancerous malignancies caused by HPV.

“We’re grateful to be part of the seed round supporting this experienced and dedicated Kovina team,” said IU Ventures Managing Director Teri Willey, who joined Kovina’s board of directors concurrent with the seed investment round (in June 2021). The board is chaired by IU Kelley School of Business alumnus and experienced biotechnology and medical device industry executive Fritz French.

Kovina will use the seed funding it received to complete the necessary preclinical testing to optimize its existing compounds and advance into human trials.

“Our primary focus is on getting new therapeutics to patients who don’t currently have many treatment options,” said Kovina CEO Kristin Sherman. “We’re looking to stop HPV infections early and to treat HPV-related cancers with an improved side effect profile compared to existing therapies.

Sherman is currently leading the effort to build Kovina’s development team and pursue additional investment funds to further advance the company’s mission. She said the startup continues to benefit from Indiana’s “extremely supportive biotech community,” IU technology transfer and passionate investors, such as IU Ventures, who believe in the company’s potential to transform lives.

“Drug development is inherently risky,” she said. “You need a team and investors who understand the risks and who are willing to tolerate the highs and lows of the process. Nothing ever goes according to plan.

“At the end of the day, we’re all working together to solve a problem. To this end, the work happening in the lab is extremely exciting, and the support exists for Kovina’s new therapies to have a major impact — here in Indiana and across the U.S. and globally, especially in less developed areas of the world that lack good healthcare.”

About Kovina Therapeutics:

Kovina Therapeutics is a preclinical stage biotechnology company developing first-in-class antiviral therapies specifically designed to treat cancers and pre-cancerous malignancies associated with Human Papillomavirus. Kovina has assembled a team of scientists and industry leaders with expertise in HPV and small molecule drug development to generate a pipeline of drug candidates. Kovina is committed to providing patients infected with HPV novel treatment options not available in the market today. To learn more about Kovina Therapeutics, visit www.Kovina.com.

About IU Ventures:

IU Ventures invests in and supports early-stage companies through three programs: the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, IU Angel Network, and IU Founders and Funders network. Each program takes unique approaches to accelerate and support the positive impacts that entrepreneurs affiliated with IU already achieve across the world. In Indiana alone, IU Ventures made new and follow-on investments in 19 companies during 2020-21, was recognized as one of the top three most active funds in the state and received the MIRA Venture Fund of the Year award. More than 50 percent of the companies in which IU Ventures has invested since 2018 have had women or minority founders, CEOs or other C-suite members.