A couple of veteran drug developers are guiding a stealthy startup dubbed Akrevia Therapeutics out into the open today after a pair of high-profile biotech investors blessed the operation with a $30 million launch round.
Akrevia is headed by scientist Tim Clackson, whose last role was running the R&D shop at Ariad until Takeda came in and bought it, and executive chairman Nessan Bermingham, whose last gig was CEO of the gene editing company Intellia.
The technology they’re using was in-licensed from Thomas Jefferson University and City of Hope, where John Williams, a professor of molecular medicine, has been playing with the atomic structures of molecules. That is being built into the platform.
The big idea at little Akrevia — a 13-person shop with plans to quickly bring that number up to 20 — is that their founding scientists’ work on drug structures gave them the insights they needed to take a set of antibodies, cytokines and chemokines that are either too dangerous to be used or plagued with toxicity issues and redesign them so they can be made into best-in-class drugs.
“We have been in full working mode for just a few months after having built the seeded version of the company,” Clackson tells me.
One of their first projects will be on CTLA-4, the original immuno-oncology drug that has a well understood efficacy profile and a big problem with side effects. They won’t be the only player in this field, though, as CytomX has also been at work with Bristol-Myers Squibb on remaking Yervoy into a much safer drug without losing its potency.
“There are some interesting echoes of Ariad here,” says Clackson. His former employer also liked “validated, high value targets.” And immno-oncology makes a lot of sense if you consider the handful of pioneers that have made it to the market despite being hampered with some severe safety issues.
The team’s main goal now is to start prepping for the clinical work ahead, while building a pipeline of preclinical therapies and continuing the hunt for partners who want to come in and join Akrevia on its quest.
Says Clackson: “Given the breadth and number of targets, we do see ourselves engaging with one or more partners who would share that vision.”
Atlas and F-Prime have bought in, providing the launch money while leading the round.
Merck vet Ronan O’Hagan is SVP of Discovery while Margaret Karow — with stints at Amgen and Regeneron — is SVP of Preclinical Development. Thomas Beck and Ben Auspitz of F-Prime Capital will serve on the board alongside David Grayzel and Michael Gladstone of Atlas Venture.
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