Tim Knotnerus (file photo)

AgomAb Ther­a­peu­tics looks to take its 'true MET ag­o­nist' for broad use in­to the clin­ic with $74M round

Years ago, ar­genx reached out to Pao­lo Michieli, an Ital­ian pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tori­no. They want­ed an ex­pert’s help find­ing MET an­tag­o­nists, and Michieli — who has spent more than two decades re­search­ing the bi­ol­o­gy of he­pa­to­cyte growth fac­tor — was their guy.

What they dis­cov­ered along the way was a se­ries of ag­o­nists, which formed the ba­sis for AgomAb Ther­a­peu­tics’ launch in 2017. And on Wednes­day, the team un­veiled a $74 mil­lion Se­ries B round to fund proof-of-con­cept stud­ies for their lead can­di­date.

HGF — a pro­tein se­cret­ed by mes­enchy­mal cells —  is the key growth fac­tor be­hind or­gan re­gen­er­a­tion, CEO Tim Knot­nerus told End­points News. But har­ness­ing the pro­tein isn’t so easy, due to its poor drug-like prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing sta­bil­i­ty and half life, as well as man­u­fac­tur­ing is­sues. Us­ing ar­genx’s plat­form, AgomAb is copy­ing HGF’s bi­o­log­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty, but in­stead us­ing an an­ti­body.

“What we do is we copy the na­ture, but we do so in a drug modal­i­ty that has been proven and test­ed many times,” Knot­nerus said.

The com­pa­ny’s lead can­di­date, AGMB-101, is an HGF-mimet­ic ag­o­nist of the MET re­cep­tor. The HGF/MET path­way is a crit­i­cal mod­u­la­tor of cell pro­lif­er­a­tion, sur­vival, motil­i­ty and dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, which AgomAb says has shown pre­clin­i­cal promise in a range of au­toim­mune, in­flam­ma­to­ry and fi­brot­ic dis­or­ders.

HGF is part of the re­cep­tor ty­ro­sine ki­nase fam­i­ly, which plays up­stream reg­u­la­to­ry roles in sig­nal­ing path­ways, ac­cord­ing to a study pub­lished in Na­ture. Met–HGF in­ter­ac­tion reg­u­lates var­i­ous path­ways in­volv­ing down­stream ki­nas­es. MET ac­ti­va­tion is in­volved in the heal­ing of tis­sues, through re­spons­es trig­gered by that cas­cade, the study states.

“The very fact that we have now cre­at­ed a true MET ag­o­nist, I think that’s what re­al­ly dif­fer­en­ti­ates us,” Knot­nerus said.

While AgomAb has yet to re­lease which in­di­ca­tion they’re go­ing af­ter first, Knot­nerus says it will fall with­in that broad range of dis­or­ders. The Se­ries B will fund proof-of-con­cept stud­ies for AGMB-101, which is cur­rent­ly in IND-en­abling stud­ies. The strat­e­gy, he says, is to cre­ate a “pipeline in a prod­uct.”

In ad­di­tion to the new fund­ing, Knot­nerus is wel­com­ing three new ex­ecs to the AgomAb C-suite. Philippe Wiesel is leav­ing the CMO spot at Genky­otex, where he served for 10 years, to take up the same role at AgomAb. Paul van der Horst, for­mer head of cor­po­rate de­vel­op­ment at Gala­pa­gos — and key ne­go­tia­tor in the com­pa­ny’s $5 bil­lion col­lab­o­ra­tion with Gilead Sci­ences — is join­ing as CBO. And Tol­ga Has­san, who served as CFO and COO of F-star Biotech­nol­o­gy for sev­en years, is tak­ing the role of CFO.

Red­mile Group led the Se­ries B, with help from Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, Ad­vent France Biotech­nol­o­gy, An­dera Part­ners, the Boehringer In­gel­heim Ven­ture Fund, Omnes Cap­i­tal, Pon­tif­ax and V Bio Ven­tures.

“For you, based in the US, it’s of course rather stan­dard to bring on board these, what they call, ‘crossover in­vestors,’” Knot­nerus told me. “But I think for a Eu­ro­pean com­pa­ny, that’s a re­al­ly im­por­tant strate­gic mile­stone.”

When asked about any plans to go pub­lic in the near fu­ture, the CEO re­spond­ed: “We will not dis­close spe­cif­ic fu­ture fi­nanc­ing plans. I think…  we are very well fi­nanced, and we will look at the fu­ture fund­ing needs as well as mar­ket con­di­tions to de­ter­mine what the next step will be there.”

A cor­rec­tion has been made to the spelling of ar­genx.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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Jay Bradner (Jeff Rumans for Endpoints News)

Div­ing deep­er in­to in­her­it­ed reti­nal dis­or­ders, No­var­tis gob­bles up an­oth­er bite-sized op­to­ge­net­ics biotech

Right about a year ago, a Novartis team led by Jay Bradner and Cynthia Grosskreutz at NIBR swooped in to scoop up a Cambridge, MA-based opthalmology gene therapy company called Vedere. Their focus was on a rather narrow market niche: inherited retinal dystrophies that include a wide range of genetic retinal disorders marked by the loss of photoreceptor cells and progressive vision loss.

But that was just the first deal that whet their appetite.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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