Celsius aims to cool down inflammation with new investors and more pharma deals
Broad Institute spinout Celsius Therapeutics is turning up the heat on the financing front as it looks to ice the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
The Cambridge, MA biotech has added $83 million in new financing — a mixture of a Series A extension and Series B funds — to chase its vision of precision therapies across autoimmune diseases and cancer. The Third Rock- and GV-backed startup, founded in 2018, brought in new investors like Amgen Ventures, Amplitude Ventures and Fast Track Initiative.
Keep an eye on Fast Track, the Tokyo VC firm that’s “very plugged into Japanese pharma companies and the Japanese business environment,” Celsius CEO Tariq Kassum told Endpoints News. Prior to his roles at Celsius and Obsidian Therapeutics, Kassum held multiple director and senior director positions at Takeda and its Millennium unit from 2009 to 2016.
“Certainly from my experience at Takeda, I have a lot of respect for” pharmas and academic institutions in Japan, Kassum said. Celsius is “talking to all kinds of pharma companies” about partnerships, including ones in Japan, the CEO added.
Celsius will deploy the new funds on bringing its first treatment into the clinic in early 2023. The first stop? IBD. Only 20% to 30% of patients experience sustained remission from approved drugs in the IBD space, Kassum said.
In steps Celsius’ anti-TREM-1 antibody, named CEL383. After an initial healthy volunteer study, Celsius wants to enable “patient selection and patient stratification,” as part of its precision therapeutics mission for the drug, Kassum said. He noted the precision medicine thesis of Casdin Capital, the Series B lead investor.
“The future of treatment of autoimmune disease is being able to identify subsets of patients who can respond to your therapy,” the CEO said.
Celsius chose TREM-1 based on the biotech’s single-cell analysis on hundreds of clinical samples, which is the result of collaborations with the University of Oxford, Cleveland Clinic, LMU University Hospital Munich and other academic institutions. The myeloid target plays a role in IBD by boosting inflammation “at the intersection of the microbiome and the immune system,” the company said.
TREM-1 is the basis of French startup Inotrem, which is studying nangibotide, an inhibitor of the pathway, in multiple mid-stage studies in patients with septic shock and Covid-19. Inotrem is expanding its anti-TREM-1 work with a monoclonal antibody, yet to be tested in humans. Also in the TREM-1 space is Pionyr, half-owned by Gilead, which is testing a mAb in patients with advanced solid tumors in a Phase Ia/Ib study.
On the partnership side, Celsius said Thursday that it’s made progress on its $700 million colorectal cancer collaboration with Servier. The French pharma has selected the first target candidate in the three-program deal, a step that provides “great validation” for Celsius’ platform, Kassum said.
Celsius also has a partnership with J&J’s Janssen, but the biotech is more tight-lipped about this tie-up. Kassum said Celsius is performing analyses on certain Janssen clinical trials, declining to disclose which ones. The companies said in July 2019 that Celsius would use single-cell genomics and machine learning to “identify predictive biomarkers of response” in Janssen’s Phase IIa VEGA study.
That trial showed a combo therapy of Tremfya and Simponi ARIA led to better clinical response at week 12 versus either as a solo treatment in patients with ulcerative colitis, Janssen said last month.