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.