A next-gen IL-2 challenger bags a megaround with RA Capital on board to accelerate 'modular' drug platform
Cracking the IL-2 puzzle box has been a point of contention in biotech for years as drug developers look to beat a slate of serious side effects. Another player in that effort has piqued the interest of investors and is now flush with cash to take the next step into human studies.
Asher Biotherapeutics closed a $108 million Series B led by Wellington Management Company with biotech blue-chipper RA Capital also on board to advance its lead “cis-targeted” IL-2 drug through the clinic with more from its “modular” platform geared up for trials, the biotech said Wednesday.
The round was also joined by new investors Janus Henderson Investors, Logos Capital, Marshall Wace and Alexandria Venture Investments along with existing investors Third Rock Ventures, Invus, Boxer Capital of Tavistock Group, Mission BioCapital, and other undisclosed institutional investors.
The funds will be used to advance Asher’s lead drug, dubbed AB248, an engineered IL-2 targeting CD8+ effector T cells, through a proof-of-concept human study while also advancing at least one other program through IND-enabling studies. Asher’s sales pitch is that its IL-2, engineered to exhibit fewer deleterious side effects while more effectively targeting surface tumor antigens, could prove a game changer in the race to develop a better cytokine.
Asher is relying on a “modular” design program for its follow-on pipeline, using common features from its engineered cytokines across multiple therapeutic areas, CEO Craig Gibbs told Endpoints News. Consider the next two drugs in Asher’s pipeline: One is a STAT3 cytokine engineered with the same CD8+ T cell receptor, while the second is an engineered IL-2 with a CAR-T receptor.
Proving proof of concept in AB248, Gibbs argued, should have some follow-through on the rest of the pipeline. But that human proof is still yet to come.
But Asher had enough data on hand to entice RA, a frequent investor in the space. Gibbs said Asher is now RA’s fifth next-gen IL-2 play — a sign in his team’s mind that the platform is good enough to be considered a frontrunner in the space.
“Our platform is quite unique and is different from what a lot of other people are doing,” Gibbs said. “We think those approaches are valid and can approve selectivity, but there’re likely incremental.”
Meanwhile, Asher’s team of 33 will look to expand as clinical expansion approaches, but Gibbs was mostly mum on what the hiring numbers would look like.
Either way, the company is laser focused on its lead programs and didn’t offer much in terms of whether a public offering was on the near horizon. Gibbs said Asher would keep its options open, considering non-dilutive funding options like venture debt, pharma partnerships or otherwise to spur growth, alongside the potential for an IPO.