Trans-Pacific bispecific player caps 'very challenging' pandemic year with $120M to gain a foothold among the giants
It’s a narrative that we’ve seen over and over again this past year: Covid-19 threw a monkey wrench into clinical trial plans of drugs in other disease areas, forcing companies to improvise.
But for EpimAb, the troubles were compounded: The US-China biotech had carefully selected one clinical center in Guangdong that lung cancer patients used to visit from all over China, but early travel restrictions vastly cut down the number they could recruit into their Phase I/II trial. Meanwhile, in the US, clinical trial sites essentially went into hibernation mode, CEO Chengbin Wu said in an interview with local media last July, quashing their hopes of gathering Phase I/II data for the lead bispecific by the end of 2020 — not to mention steering a second program into the clinic.
“It has been very challenging for us, just like for other companies,” Wu told Endpoints News.
Just like other biotech entrepreneurs, though, he had no trouble going back to the well for a refuel. The Abbott vet has now raised $120 million for a Series C, designed to let CMO (and Novartis vet) Bin Peng complete the first trial and steer two more through the clinic, while working on a slate of preclinical therapies created on his bispecific tech platform.
China Merchants Bank International and Mirae Asset Financial Group co-led the round, flanked by Hony Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Yanchuang Capital, Octagon Capital, Hong Kong mogul Adrian Cheng and ShangBay Capital. Existing investors also returned for more, including Decheng Capital, SDIC Fund, Sherpa Healthcare Partners and Hidragon Capital.
Despite the slowdown, EpimAb did manage to hit some of the other goals it set back in June 2019 following a $74 million Series B raise, Wu said.
The construction at their Suzhou chemistry, manufacturing and controls facility is now complete, weaning them off contract manufacturers and developers in pushing preclinical projects; EMB-02, the PD-1/LAG-3 bispecific, has been cleared by the FDA to be tested in the US; while EMB-06, a T cell engaging bispecific that targets CD3 and BCMA, has received the trial green light in Australia.
For the lead EMB-01 program targeting EGFR and c-MET, a site at Dana-Farber has recently been added to the trial roster, hopefully accelerating the Phase II portion that’s expected to start this year.
Like the bigwigs they’re going up against — such as J&J and Regeneron, which have each delivered “strong clinical data” supporting their thesis — EpimAb believes that simultaneously targeting two cancer antigens would both address cancer resistance and reach a broader group of patients to begin with. By utilizing the FIT-Ig platform, which Wu co-invented, the company believes it has made the bispecific generation process simpler and faster.
“We are the only format that has no linkers, no mutations, no single chain Fv, also no non-Ig components,” Stephan Lensky, the COO and CBO, previously told Endpoints. “It basically has the fundamental elements of an antibody in it, and because of the symmetric nature of the molecule it’s also very straight forward to manufacture.”
With 140 employees spread between the US and China, EpimAb also isn’t letting the pandemic stop its motion toward a public exchange, whether it be Nasdaq or HKEX.
“We’re actively evaluating our path to IPO right now,” Wu said. “While we’re looking at a range of scenarios, our base case is to do a pre-IPO round this year and then IPO at some point in 2022. We’re keeping all our options open in terms of geography right now.”