Fast-growing KSQ and David Meeker fuel up with a hefty $80M round on the way to first human studies

KSQ is all about fast, controlled speed. 

Over the past year — with a $76 million launch round to bank on — it’s roughly doubled the staff to 70 and brought in a big crew of CRO workers to assist in building a platform and a pipeline that’s been rapidly lining up preclinical drug candidates.

The crew, led by ex-Sanofi Genzyme chief David Meeker, has used CRISPR/Cas9 tech to screen for a lineup of disease-relevant genes. And it’s identified a lead preclinical candidate in a slate of new programs that Meeker and his team believes can hit a more effective target than PD-1 so they can make an adoptive T cell candidate for fighting PD-1 resistant cancer.

Their next step is to take it toward a proof-of-concept stage with some solid human data to act as a guide. And as of today they also have an extra $80 million B round to keep on running at an accelerated rate as they swiftly build up a pipeline.

There’s plenty that’s inadequate about the first-gen cell therapies, says Meeker. The cell populations infused back into patients can prove easily exhausted, or leave much to be desired in terms of more efficient manufacturing strategies. Looking at targets like BCMA and CD19, he can see spotlighting new drugs that can do much better than what’s in late-stage development.

“We’re also building a group for autoimmune targets,” says Meeker, with “one rare disease screening program.”

“This has legs and we’re continuing to work it,” he adds.

Meeker spent years on the big company side of the business, and he’s completely content with the notion that smaller, more nimble groups like his can make much more progress in less time than the big players.

“I do think some of the purer science is happening in these early startups,” says the CEO.

New investors Baillie Gifford, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Invus, and Lilly Asia Ventures got involved in this round, alongside founding investors Flagship Pioneering and Polaris Partners and existing investors ARCH Venture Partners and Alexandria Equities.

But the bigger sums that are being devoted to biotech now aren’t necessarily being squandered, says the CEO. And he’s happy to use KSQ as an example.

“We couldn’t do what we are doing now without this kind of funding,” he says. If it was $20 million, he adds, “there’s no way to make these achievements.”

“Time,” he says, “is much more valuable than money.”

Image: David Meeker. KSQ

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Skyhawk Therapeutics Waltham, MA
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