IDO on the rebound? Danish outfit IO Biotech hopes so with oversubscribed Series B one month after BTD in melanoma
Less than a month after achieving breakthrough therapy designation in melanoma, IO Biotech has secured an oversubscribed Series B that will help them get their immune-modulating IDO and PD-L1 cancer vaccines through a late-stage trial.
The Copenhagen-based company netted €127 million ($154.5 million) in the round, it revealed Wednesday morning, raising the stakes for its T cell activating therapies. It’s the biggest fundraise for the biotech since its founding in conjunction with Novo Seeds in 2014, when it pulled in an amount more than 11 times higher than its Series A about four years ago.
Novo Seeds managing partner Søren Møller acknowledged the company’s quick rise, noting an “inflection point” after IO launched a Phase II study in non-small cell lung cancer in May 2019 and last month’s BTD. Møller does not sit on IO’s board.
In unresectable or metastatic melanoma, where IO received the BTD, the biotech combines two of its programs along with Merck’s Opdivo. IO’s candidates, IO102 and IO103, work to direct T cells against IDO and PD-L1, respectively, and are specific toward their targets.
IDO and PD-1 combination approaches have proved a troubling ground in the past, as Incyte’s effort to match its epacadostat candidate with Keytruda in melanoma fell flat in April 2018. A few weeks later, NewLink Genetics scrapped a Phase III trial for its own IDO program and ended up reverse-merging with Lumos in October 2019 after shares cratered to $1.59 after hovering over $50.
But IO Biotech is taking a slightly different approach, deriving peptides from IDO and PD-L1 in their experimental drugs. Møller notes the ultimate goal is to activate the body’s immune response into eliminating the tumor microenvironments.
The data that triggered December’s BTD in melanoma came last September and engineered much of the excitement surrounding Wednesday’s raise. In an open-label Phase II trial with 30 patients, IO’s combo of IO102, IO103 and Opdivo showed an overall response rate of 79% with 45% of patients achieving a complete response in the first-line setting. IO has yet to reach an overall survival point for the study, Møller said.
Patients were treated with Opdivo every other week for as long as there was a clinical benefit or no side effects. IO102 and IO103 were given from the start of Opdivo administration and every other week for the first six treatments. After that, the vaccines were given every fourth week up for up to a year.
With the data, BTD and funding now in hand, the next step is launching the Phase III trial in melanoma. Møller expects that to begin later this year or in early 2022, with data readouts coming roughly two-and-a-half to three years afterward. IO’s NSCLC program, which combines IO102 with Keytruda, should have data sometime in the first half of this year.
Wednesday’s round was led by HBM Healthcare Investments, and other new investors joining the round included Vivo Capital, Kurma Partners, Avoro Capital, RA Capital Management, Samsara Biocapital, Idinvest Partners, PFM Health Sciences, Soleus Capital, Eir Ventures and Serrado Capital. In addition to Novo Seeds, existing investors Lundbeckfonden Emerge and Sunstone Life Science Ventures also participated.