AstraZeneca funds 'robotic pill' company Rani Therapeutics in pursuit of oral biologics

"Robotic pill"--Courtesy of Rani Therapeutics

San Jose, CA's Rani Therapeutics, developer of a "robotic pill" to convert injectable drugs into oral pills, announced that it has closed its latest funding round, putting the company's VC haul above $70 million as it seeks to expand the team, add new facilities and scale up manufacturing.

The round also brings AstraZeneca ($AZN) into the fold, along with Virtus Inspire Ventures and Ping An Ventures. Prominent existing investors include Novartis ($NVS) and Google ($GOOG) Ventures.

The list of biologics in the company's sights as it pursues the so-called "holy grail of drug delivery" includes TNFα inhibitors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn's disease, cancer-fighting somatostatin, and a combination of basal insulin plus GLP-1 analog therapy against diabetes.

Rani is testing the feasibility of its robotic pill on Novartis' ($NVS) proprietary biologics. Once the drug delivery tech passes through the stomach, the slightly acidic fluids of the small intestine dissolve the pill's casing, as well as a nanoscale valve, causing previously separated citric acid and sodium bicarbonate to mix and form carbon dioxide, which in turn inflates a small balloon tipped with needlelike structures made of sugar, according to prior FierceDrugDelivery coverage of Rani.

The needles rise on the edge of the balloon and embed themselves in the small intestine. No pain is felt because the organ doesn't have any pain receptors. Next, the needles detach from the robotic pill and release drugs into the proximate blood vessels while dissolving in the body. Meanwhile, the remainder of the pill passes through the body.

In January, Rani revealed a collaboration with AstraZeneca's MedImmune, focused on testing its platform on metabolic diseased candidates, setting the stage for the latest funding round, which the bigwig participated in.

According to SEC filings, Rani sold about $23 million of equity in June and had about $44 million left on offer at the time.

Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Janssen also seeks to make the transition from injectable to oral biologics and has granted been granted exclusive, worldwide license to an early-stage oral candidate for treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases developed by startup Applied Molecular Transport.

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