Armed with Pfizer's ADC platform, Pyxis scores $152M round to shoot for the clinic while taking its time on I/O programs
Lara Sullivan knows how empowering it can be for a biotech to bring in experimental drugs from Pfizer’s shelves. An alum of the pharma giant’s early stage R&D portfolio operations and strategy team, she helped spin out four orphan disease meds into SpringWorks Therapeutics, which earned some significant backing from Bain before vaulting to a $186 million IPO within two years.
So when some of her old colleagues got in touch about an antibody-drug conjugate program that they were shuttering — just as she was settling into her new role as CEO of Pyxis Oncology — Sullivan jumped at the opportunity.
It proved prudent. Less than two years after launching with a modest $22 million Series A, Pyxis has now collected $152 million in new funding to push a trio of ADCs into the clinic while advancing an in-house immuno-oncology pipeline.
Pfizer Ventures chimed in alongside Perceptive Advisors, RA Capital Management, BVF Partners, Janus, Cormorant Asset Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Tekla Capital Management LLC, Acuta Capital Partners, Ridgeback Capital Investments, Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company), Laurion Capital Management, Logos Capital and LifeSci Venture Partners.
Arix Bioscience and RTW Investments co-led the Series B.
Soon after Sullivan arrived in late 2019, she and CSO Ronald Herbst, who had joined just several months ago from MedImmune, began brainstorming ways to grow Pyxis’ pipeline. The biotech had started out with novel I/O targets identified by prominent University of Chicago researcher Thomas Gajewski. But those required a bit more work before they could nominate drug candidates. Herbst and the team he had built were itching to get going on something closer to the clinic.
Given Herbst’s experience in ADCs, the modality came up high on the list. This was where the Pfizer discussions came in, which ended up granting Pyxis not just two drug candidates but the whole technology platform.
“I actually watched this tool kit get built,” Sullivan said. “I know the scientists who recruited into it, and I know the caliber of time and investment that went into it.”
In particular, they were intrigued to find ADCs that had local immuno-modulatory effects in addition to direct tumor killing activity.
Of the two Pfizer ADCs, PYX-201 targets a solid tumor antigen while PYX-203 links an antibody to a DNA-damaging agent to hit hematologic malignancies. PYX-202, which Pyxis licensed from Korea’s LegoChem, is also aimed at solid tumors.
“The immune therapy targets that we have organically grown, that is our I/O pipeline, really are focused around the immune environment of the tumor,” Herbst added. “The ADC targets address other aspects” of the tumor cells.
Now in chemistry, manufacturing and control stage, the three ADCs will ride the new funding into Phase I trials while Pyxis makes final decisions about the I/O biologics.
“For us this is more about growth and taking advantage of the fact that we have a CSO who’s built a team with a breadth of modality expertise and sort of being able to leverage that to support cancer patients,” Sullivan said.