BioAtla rakes in $72.5M Series D, advancing research for pH-detecting cancer treatments
A little over a year after agreeing to a worldwide collaboration with hefty Chinese biotech BeiGene worth up to $270 million, BioAtla is ready for another haul.
The San Diego-based biotech pulled in a $72.5 million haul for their Series D financing, which the company announced Wednesday. Funds will go toward their four main clinical programs developing cancer treatments, two of which are currently in Phase II, BioAtla president and former Celgene COO Scott Smith said.
“We were doing a [round of] financing that was originally supposed to close on the 31st of March, and because of the extreme volatility in the markets in February and March we never got that done,” Smith told Endpoints News. “Once we got into April we started up again, and we were able to exploit the limitations of everybody working at home on Zoom calls, and doing everything virtually we were able to pull together what I believe is an unbelievably strong syndicate.”
Smith said the company specializes in developing “conditionally active biologics,” or CABs for short, which are proteins that are designed to only activate in a particular cellular microenvironment. These proteins can also “turn off” should they move away from the areas they aren’t designed to treat by detecting pH levels.
The underlying goal is to figure out the same thing cancer drug developers have been focused on since the earliest medicines became available — reducing toxicity, or inventing a method that can attack and kill tumors without targeting healthy tissue. Because most tumors are more acidic than healthy tissue, Smith said, BioAtla’s CABs can distinguish between pH levels and prevent non-cancerous cells from being harmed.
“This is an observation that’s been around for 100 years because of the way the tumor metabolism is different than normal tissue,” Smith said. “We modify the antibodies that allow them to bind at, say, a lower pH than 7.4, but not bind at 7.4.”
Currently, BioAtla’s in-house programs are being developed to treat refractory sarcoma (by targeting AXL), melanoma (ROR2) and non-small cell lung cancer (AXL and ROR2). But the CABs can be applied to a wide array of cancers, Smith said, and BioAtla has received some interest in researching their efficacy to treat ovarian cancer.
Their clinical pipeline is “where we saw most promise from the initial Phase I, and that’s what we’re exploring first,” Smith said.
BioAtla’s deal with BeiGene in April 2019 is studying how their CABs work in combinations to provide potentially safer cancer treatments, rather than just the CABs by themselves. The two companies are currently researching how BeiGene’s tislelizumab, an anti-PD-1 antibody, and BioAtla’s BA3071, a CTLA-4 inhibitor created utilizing CAB technology, can work together.
Though CTLA-4 was the first checkpoint to hit the market, resulting in huge windfalls for Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Yervoy, the inhibitor has run into clinical troubles in recent years, failing key studies in lung cancer and melanoma. CTLA-4 can lead to significant toxicity levels, and industry-wide funding has poured into these types of combination studies and partnerships to try to lessen that burden.
But Smith hopes clinical trials for this combination, which will launch Phase I sometime in the third quarter of 2020, can overcome those hurdles.
“The potential we see here is the opportunity of our CTLA-4, because it eliminates healthy tissue binding or reduces it, that our antibody theoretically could be given more safely in combination with something like an Opdivo,” Smith said. “We need to do the trials obviously, and it’s our hope and our belief based on the preclinical data we should have reduced toxicity relative to Yervoy, that’s the experiment that we’re going to do here.”
Soleus Capital led the fundraising and Pfizer’s VC arm also chipped in again. New investors included co-lead HBM Healthcare Investments, Cormorant Asset Management, Farallon Capital, Pappas Capital, Boxer Capital and funds managed by Janus Henderson.