In another sign that the money backing upstart biotechs — and the value attached to new drugs — continues to swell, Redwood City, CA-based Atreca today is pulling back the covers from a $125 million mega-round designed to get through the initial preclinical phase of development.
The work at Atreca centers on a platform tech that takes tissue samples from cancer patients to explore for ideal antibodies, using B cells as their sounding board. If that seems familiar, that’s because it’s the same basic tech approach that Seattle-based OncoResponse is using, as I reported earlier in the week with their $40 million round.
“These antibodies form in the context of the patients’ response, but the antigens they’re targeting are not unique to the patient,” Atreca CEO John Orwin tells me. Instead, they’re after a broad patient population that can benefit. And they’re sleuthing samples in ways that should deliver experimental therapies that can be used to target a variety of cancer types — another common strategy in the field.
The CEO notes that the B cells they interrogate “are extremely information-rich cells” that researchers can use to “capture the sequence information used in bioinformatics to turn into reagents with an eye to developing antibodies.”
“It’s the way we generate the data and the way we use the data to select what we take into preclinical testing and the way we do preclinical testing that we think gives us significant competitive advantages,” he adds.
By ramping up an industrial approach to the platform, Orwin — who helmed Relypsa until its $1.53 billion buyout — and his crew of 65 at Atreca are also assembling a pipeline of therapies that should include plenty of candidates for new bispecifics and antibody-drug conjugates as well.
Their first Phase I should get underway next year, says the CEO. The $125 million should last into 2020, giving Atreca some breathing room in 2019 to consider the right time for an IPO.
Currently on its third round, Atreca’s lead investor is staying quiet for now. That’s a bit unusual at this stage of the game for a round this size. But there were plenty of investors in the syndicate who were ready to flag their participation. They include Wellington Management Company and Cormorant Asset Management, based in Boston. New investors Aisling Capital, Boxer Capital of the Tavistock Group, EcoR1 Capital, Redmile Group, Samsara BioCapital, and funds managed by Tekla Capital Management also pitched in.
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