A new clutch of biotech blue-chippers joins Obsidian's quest to craft next-gen drugs with an 'on' switch
The brainchild of serial biotech entrepreneur Michael Gilman, Obsidian is hoping to bring something new to the party with “on-switch” technology for a range of potential drug applications. Obsidian now has a new treasure chest to play with — and an IPO feels only a fingertip away.
Obsidian closed a $115 million Series B with a new group of biotech blue-blood investors joining the Cambridge, MA biotech’s already stacked syndicate of backers, the company said Thursday.
New investors include round leader The Column Group Crossover Fund with participation from Peter Kolchinsky’s RA Capital, Survey Capital, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Deep Track Capital, Logos Capital, Pivotal BioVenture Partners, Samsara BioCapital and Soleus Capital. That murderer’s row joins existing investors Atlas Venture, Vertex Ventures HC, Amgen Ventures, and Bristol Myers Squibb on board once again.
Vertex, who recently signed a deal with Obsidian to fold the biotech’s technology into regulated gene editing drugs, also joined in on the round.
On top of partnerships with Vertex and Bristol Myers, Obsidian is advancing a lead tumor infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) drug that has its eyes set on first-in-human trials in metastatic melanoma after an IND scheduled for mid-2022. The drug, dubbed cytoTIL15, is engineered to contain a membrane-bound IL-15 cytokine, mitigating the need for concurrent systemic IL-2 therapy, and what the biotech calls a drug-responsive domain (DRD) that regulates its activity.
The DRD acts as an effective “on switch” for the drug, with scientists able to modulate activity with FDA-approved small molecules acting as the finger on the switch. It’s a technology that CEO Paul Wotton said can cut the risk of toxic side effects while offering physicians a degree of personalized control over a patient’s care.
That tech is promising enough that both Bristol Myers and Vertex have taken flyers on the biotech’s pipeline, hoping to add an on-switch for their cell and gene therapies. In September 2020, Bristol Myers opted in on one of Obsidian’s candidate, an anti-CD40L cell therapy, that is currently in preclinical studies — “right behind” cytoTIL15, Wotton told Endpoints News. The partners’ collaboration dates back to January 2019.
For Vertex, the cystic fibrosis giant inked a deal with Obsidian in April for $75 million upfront and research milestones and $1.3 billion in biobucks to partner up on controlled CRISPR gene editing drugs, part of Vertex’s mission to expand its flagship franchise into next-gen meds.
The drug cytoTIL15 is a product of Obsidian’s relatively new collaboration with the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. The partners teamed up in November to develop that candidate and less than a year later the drug is approaching its moment in the sun. While metastatic melanoma is the first target, Wotton sees promise for cytoTIL15 in other solid tumors, including head and neck and cervical cancers to name a couple.
“We elected to go after metastatic melanoma first because it’s well characterized, but I think the opportunity set for us a company goes well beyond that,” he said.
It’s a busy slate for Obsidian as it advances its own internal candidate while meeting the expectations of its big-name partners, but Wotton said the company is ready to keep its foot on the gas pedal with a serious crossover syndicate backing up its efforts. And on that syndicate, by the way, Wotton isn’t shy: Obsidian will spend the next year — likely much shorter — scouting an IPO and clearly intends the company’s current backers to be big players in that offering.
“We wanted to focus specifically on investors who wanted to participate in a crossover,” Wotton said. “All of the funds that are in this transaction were able to fund this as well as participate heavily in an IPO process.”
As the clock ticks there, Obsidian’s team expects to expand from its current workforce of 70 to more than 100 by the end of 2022. The company will also grow out of its current manufacturing site — a 60,000 square-foot facility in Houston — that will produce early clinical material into a facility in Bedford, MA, that will act as Obsidian’s TIL home base through Phase II and beyond.
That site will be up and running in Q4 and will have 15 to 25 employees, Wotton said.