Can the antibody-drug conjugate model work for NK cells? Acepodia loads up with another $109M to find out
Acepodia chairman and co-founder Patrick Yang called cancer “the longest war America (has) ever fought.” So when he met Sonny Hsiao in 2016 and saw his “clever, very simple, elegant” approach to battling tumor cells, he was all in.
Four years and some very early positive results later, Yang and Hsiao have racked up another $109 million from investors to see their “antibody-cell conjugates” through the clinic. And while Yang says this isn’t a crossover round, he admitted that the company is “watching the capital climate” and could possibly file for an IPO next year.
But for now, he says, the team at Acepodia is laser-focused on their pipeline.
The Alameda, CA-based biotech’s platform traces back to Hsiao’s research at UC-Berkeley, where he discovered a way to conjugate antibodies with NK cells in a similar fashion to antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs). Hsiao — now CEO — calls this approach “antibody-cell conjugation,” or ACC for short.
While most NK cell therapies are already administered in conjunction with antibodies, they’re usually given separately, making for less potency, Acepodia believes. By conjugating the two, the cancer-targeting antibodies are less likely to diffuse throughout the body, Hsiao told Endpoints News earlier this year.
“It’s totally different from the CAR-T scientific community,” Yang said on Tuesday. “Some of the immune cells like NK cells, they’re just patrolling in the body with no specific objective, no targets. If we arm it with a GPS guided to the destination, we could radically improve the treatment outcome.”
While autologous CAR-T therapies have shown great promise, they’re expensive to make and they take too long, Yang said. That’s why his company is going for an off-the-shelf approach that doesn’t require genetic engineering.
“Our mission statement is to bring a more powerful cancer treatment that can be accessible to all patients, not just a small population of patients who can afford it,” Hsiao said.
The team brought some positive topline data for their lead candidate, ACE1702, to this year’s ESMO, showing the drug was well-tolerated in eight patients with advanced HER2 tumors who received lower doses. One patient even achieved a confirmed partial response — not earth-shattering, but a positive sign. Hsiao expects to read out the full Phase I data sometime in Q2 or Q3 2022. Then they’ll extend the trial before jumping into a pivotal Phase II study.
“(At) Acepodia, every day is Wednesday,” Yang joked. “We kind of work around the clock.”
The early results were also a positive sign for JW Therapeutics, which plunked down an undisclosed amount last summer to develop and commercialize the candidate in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.
In addition to seeing ACE1702 through Phase I, the company is on track to submit an IND for its second lead program this month — a gamma delta (γδ) T cell therapy targeting CD20.
The Series C round — led by Digital Mobile Venture with a hand from other undisclosed investors — will also help Hsiao expand the team from 45 to 70 by the end of next year. Yang also hinted at potential partnerships coming in the next year or so.
“The technology that we have is a platform technology, and it takes a lot of hard work to translate the science into a product and get it commercialized,” Yang said. “And we could see that we have a roadmap to get there.”
Correction: The topline ESMO data was based on eight patients, not seven.