After Big Pharma sparked interest in the US, Ablaze looks to bring radiopharmaceuticals overseas
Thanks in part to interest from Big Pharma players like Bayer and Novartis over the last decade, there’s been no shortage in cash for new companies looking to slay tumor cells with targeted radioisotopes. Now a transpacific upstart has hooked $75 million to bring the increasingly popular drugs to China.
Ablaze Pharmaceuticals emerged from stealth on Monday with a Vivo Capital and AdvanTech Capital-led Series A round and a licensing pact with Versant-backed RayzeBio. The goal? Introduce targeted radiopharmaceutical therapies (TRTs) to the Chinese market.
“Targeted radiopharmaceutical therapies represent the next foundational modality to treat cancer,” Ken Song, RayzeBio CEO and chairman of the board at Ablaze, said in a statement. “In forming Ablaze, we realized to be successful, it was critical to have a company focused on the China market and focused on radiopharmaceuticals.”
Unlike radiation therapy, which is administered by an external beam of high-energy rays, radiopharmaceuticals deliver radioisotopes to tumors via the bloodstream. Song told Endpoints News back in June that the overall concept is similar to that of an antibody-drug conjugate. You start with a binder, a linker and a payload — except instead of an antibody, there are smaller peptides, and instead of a chemotherapeutic payload, there’s a radioactive particle which is “many orders of magnitude” more potent. By switching radioisotopes, scientists can also perform imaging diagnosis, Ablaze says.
Bayer was one of the early entrants in this space, with an Algeta-partnered radionuclide therapy that was shown to boost the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases. Bayer snapped up Algeta just before the drug, Xofigo, was approved by the FDA. Meanwhile, Novartis secured its place in the race through multibillion-dollar buyouts of Advanced Accelerator Applications and Endocyte, giving it FDA-approved Lutathera among other programs.
Then there are the smaller players, like San Diego-based RayzeBio, MPM-founded Aktis Oncology, and now Ablaze, which has locations in both Shanghai and San Diego. CEO Alex Qiao says Ablaze is already in the clinic, though he offered few details on the company’s programs. In addition to the RayzeBio programs, the company has one partnered program with an academic institution, he said.
The Series A — which also saw participation from RAYZ Investments, Nan Fung Life Sciences, Pivotal bioVenture Partners China, venBio Partners, Samsara BioCapital and Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners — will be used to establish a pipeline of TRTs for the treatment of solid tumors, expand the team, and build up infrastructure, according to Qiao.
It’s also exploring other partnerships, the CEO said. But for now, investors are confident the company will be able to break into the market overseas.
“TRT is an emerging field that has already demonstrated tremendous clinical efficacy in treating cancer worldwide,” Hongbo Lu, managing partner of Vivo Capital, said in a statement.