Exclusive: After Amgen exit, father-son duo gets Lightspeed backing to fund remaining Teneobio 'babies'
The father-son duo behind Teneobio is back with another biotech, comprising three bispecific antibodies that neither Amgen wanted when dishing out $900 million upfront last year, nor AbbVie wanted when acquiring a multiple myeloma asset in 2019.
Technically, Ancora Biotech is three shell companies, one for each of its antibodies or “Teneo babies,” CEO Roland Buelow told Endpoints News. The “unconventional” route is meant to give each asset optionality on its path to market, just like the path set by Teneobio, said CMO Ben Buelow, Roland’s son.
“We are in a position eventually to take these companies either public and get them funded for registrational trials and eventual approval, or we have the possibility to sell them off like we have done so far,” the CEO said.
The 10-person startup is getting $60 million in backing from Lightspeed Venture Partners — one of the original Teneobio investors — and SR One. Buelow fueled Ancora with $10 million when it first kicked into gear after last year’s Amgen exit, he said.
“When I tell people about the story of Teneobio, I always talk about the movie ‘The Blues Brothers,’ getting the band back together, because Roland pulled all of the best people he’d worked with over his 25-30 years of biotech experience into that company,” the younger Buelow said. Other Teneobio execs have gone on to launch biotechs, including Rondo Therapeutics.
The elder Buelow has a history of constructing biotechs and selling them off. Prior to Teneobio, he built up human antibody developer Open Monoclonal Technology, which sold to Ligand Pharmaceuticals for $178 million in 2015. It’s now going public via a SPAC spinoff at an $850 million valuation.
Back to Ancora: Two of the biotech’s “babies” are already in the clinic. A dose-escalation study is underway for CD19- and CD3-targeting TNB-486, which is anticipated to be a lymphoma treatment, the CEO said. Close to 30 patients have been enrolled and the first round of data will come out at ASH this year or the annual ASCO conference next year, the CMO said, noting the company is close to choosing the recommended Phase II dose.
Right now, TNB-486 is in the third-line-plus setting, but Ancora hopes to move into earlier lines by combining it with other therapies, the CMO noted. About 80 patients are expected to enroll in the early-stage study being conducted in the US and Korea, according to the clinical trials register.
Ancora’s second clinical-stage asset, TNB-738, is a CD38 enzyme inhibitor designed to tamp down inflammation in fibrosis and treating age-related diseases, the CEO said. Ben Buelow said the drug is in a Phase I healthy volunteer study. The Australia-based trial aims to enroll 64 patients and collect the last primary outcome data in December, according to the clinical trials database.
“It’s a really novel mechanism and oftentimes, when you have something like that, we believe in that molecule in a very substantial way and until other people see the light on that, we may have to take it for quite a ways ourselves,” the medical chief explained.
A “basket-like approach” is anticipated for the bispecific, the CMO said, as multiple Phase Ib/II studies will consider various “clinical indications of interest.”
At the bottom of the pipeline is a preclinical anti-HBsAg x CD3 antibody being considered for chronic hepatitis B infections. Expect a 2024 human trial entry, Lightspeed said.
With just 10 employees, half on the clinical development team, Ancora is steering the ship with a lean crew. It will stay that way.
“We are planning to continue to run these studies as much as possible remotely, virtually, to keep costs down,” the CMO said, “so currently there is no plan to increase our team size.”
Ancora derives its name from the Italian word for anchor and again. An anchor resembles the shape of an antibody, the CMO said, so the company “thought that was cute” when coming up with the brand.
The startup isn’t to be confused with Ancora Bio, the fifth biotech to come out of ex-Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez’s Aditum incubator, which is testing a failed Taisho depression drug.