Are radiopharmaceuticals ready for the mainstream? Novartis, Bristol Myers Squibb bet yes on MPM's platform take
Brian Goodman, Patrick Baeuerle and Todd Foley weren’t exactly looking to start a radiopharmaceuticals company.
Rather, the team at MPM Capital — which had been known for its willingness to seed and incubate new ideas for battling cancer — was searching for technologies that could confer “CAR-T like efficacy” in solid tumors. They went through antibody-drug conjugates, cell therapies and T cell engagers but very quickly got hooked on something else: alpha emitting particles.
It was 2019, and interest in the space was bubbling as Novartis claimed a lead with the acquisition of both Advanced Accelerator Applications and Endocyte while smaller players like Fusion Pharma and Clovis were angling for entry. Specifically, the MPM VCs had their eyes on alpha emitting particles: a payload that’s 1,000 times as potent as the beta emitters used in currently approved radiotherapies.
The time seemed ripe for radiopharmaceuticals to become more mainstream, they decided, with money being poured into all steps of the value chain, including suppliers of radioisotopes and contract manufacturers. But there is a need for a new kind of pharmacology — finding the right molecules that would take the radioisotopes where they need to be and keep them there. And that’s precisely their goal with Aktis Oncology, which was formalized in 2020 and is now taking the wraps off a $72 million launch round.
“We’re not alone,” said Matthew Roden, CEO of Aktis and executive partner at MPM. “There’s an ecosystem being built at the moment that’s going to enable the success of this field going forward.”
Like RayzeBio — the Versant- and venBio-backed startup that’s similarly promising a new breed of radiopharmaceuticals — Aktis (the Greek root for actinium, the element they’d be turning to for the alpha-emitting particles) is keen about becoming a platform play. Roden, an alumnus of Bristol Myers Squibb’s strategy unit who took up the post at the biotech soon after joining MPM last summer, is careful not to spill too many beans. But he is more ready to divulge what drew him to the project among other portfolio companies he could’ve chosen from.
“There’s really no good resistance mechanism to alpha emissions,” he told Endpoints News. “Alpha particles are basically a helium atom that is discharged that creates double strand breaks in DNA.”
Combined with the potency, that means radiotherapies can work with fewer constraints and potentially address targets that escape other modalities: You don’t need a threshold of antigen expression, or internalization, or immune cell activity.
Plus, since you can theoretically swap out imaging isotopes with therapeutic isotopes with ease, Aktis envisions a straightforward path to the clinic once they can show — with the help of those imaging agents — dense accumulation of the drug around the tumor but nowhere else.
Having looked at “countless classes of molecules,” Roden noted that Aktis’ internal crew of 10 has worked with collaborators, advisors and consultants (we’re going to have to wait to find out who they are) to build a couple of screening platforms in parallel to identify compounds to hit their selected targets. The company is headquartered in Cambridge, MA with labs in Research Triangle Park, NC.
Novartis and Bristol Myers Squibb are both backing the hunt, joining EcoR1 Capital, Vida Ventures, Octagon Capital and TCG Crossover on the Series A syndicate.
Paul Feldman, a GlaxoSmithKline vet who previously co-founded a peptide-focused company, is coming on board as CSO while Goodman from MPM is doubling as head of operations and corporate development.