A Celltrion-backed biotech is developing 'tunable' conjugates to crack solid tumors — and it has eyes on the clinic
The next generation of antibody-drug conjugates has become a big area of focus in oncology venture capital, with a slate of biotechs arguing they have the best linkers and payloads to get the job done. Now, an outfit backed by Korean giant Celltrion is ready to test its own mix in the clinic.
Newcastle, UK-based Iksuda Therapeutics has closed a $47 million financing round, which the biotech will use to walk its pipeline of antibody-drug conjugates into the clinic, the company said Sunday. The round was led by Korea’s Mirae Capital with participation from Celltrion.
Iksuda’s lead pre-clinical candidate is IKS03, a CD19-targeted ADC for B-cell cancers, the company said. The new round of funding will allow Iksuda to put that candidate into Phase I human trials as well as steer two other candidates — IKS04 and IKS012 — toward IND filing.
The biotech is taking aim specifically at patients with hard-to-treat tumors or those at high risk of relapse, Iksuda said. To get there, Iksuda will rely on its proprietary linker — a big point of contest among the major ADC players — as well as its tumor-activated, prodrug “payloads” which came over as part of a licensing deal with the University of Göttingen signed in October.
Those payloads are protein alkylating and “tunable,” offering a novel path to targeting tumors with a greater ability to beat out resistance, Iksuda said. For Celltrion, that focus on going after the hardest-to-hit tumor types was a big draw.
“By pursuing tumours that are resistant to current treatment approaches, Iksuda is extending the boundaries of ADC technology, and consequently the treatment options for patients,” Celltrion CEO Woosung Kee said in a statement. “This ideally complements Celltrion’s drive to pioneer uncharted areas of innovative therapies, incorporating unique and successful next-generational approaches that promote health and welfare globally. ”
In the short term, Iksuda will focus on getting IKS03 into game shape for the clinic. The ADC targets CD19 and delivers a prodrug dubbed pyrrolobenzodiazepine, which the biotech licensed from LegoChem Biosciences. The company is plotting an IND in Q4 with an initial readout by Q3 2022.
So-called “third-gen” ADCs have become a hot area of investment as biopharma looks for more options to crack the solid tumor puzzle. A wave of investment has followed some major successes, including the approval of AstraZeneca’s HER2-targeted ADC Enhertu.
“The funding not only reflects the potential of our technologies, but also the unmatched expertise of the Iksuda team,” CEO Dave Simpson said in a statement. “We are grateful for the support of this group of investors and delighted to welcome them to the team.”