Investors give Orum Therapeutics' unique take on protein degraders another nudge toward the clinic
While protein degraders have seen an influx of cash in recent years, small molecule drugs can run into toxicity problems, due to their difficulty differentiating healthy cells from cancerous ones, Sung Joo Lee said. His company Orum Therapeutics thinks it has a solution — and the idea has investors reaching a little deeper into their pockets.
Orum closed its Series B round for the second time on Wednesday morning, raking in an extra $54 million. The team had initially raised $30 million back in 2019, and the successive round came as the result of ongoing “organic discussion” with existing investors, according to CFO Jae Won Kim.
The company is looking to conjugate protein degraders to an antibody, creating first-in-class ADCs, or as Orum calls them, AnDCs: antibody neodegrader conjugates. The concept is similar to traditional ADCs, which consist of a cancer-killing toxin attached to a specific antibody using a biodegradable linker. Except in this case, the payload is a protein degrader.
With protein degraders, the idea is to make entire proteins disappear using the body’s natural garbage disposal system. Orum’s protein degraders deploy ubiquitin tags, which signal the proteasome to pick up the target protein, unfold it and degrade it into small fragments. What’s different here is that the antibody component of the AnDC directs the protein degrader right to the cytosol — the aqueous component of the cytoplasm — of target cells, which Lee thinks could make the drugs safer and more effective than other candidates.
“We are bringing a very unique payload,” the CEO said. “What we’re doing is we’re conjugating to an antibody that is internalized specifically to a tumor cell so ideally … with a lower dose of the drug, we could achieve a higher efficacy and lower risk of toxicity.”
The company has two lead candidates in the works — ORM-5029 for solid tumors and ORM-6151 for hematological cancers — which are expected to hit the clinic in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Orum will use the new round — led by IMM Investment with KDB Investment, Atinum, Intervest, KB Investment, and others chiming in — to advance those two candidates toward the clinic.
A steady stream of funding flowed into protein degradation last year. Back in March, Nurix and Kymera scooped up a total of $222 million in consecutive days. And a month later, Amphista launched with a $7.5 million Series A and help from field expert Alessio Ciulli. C4 Therapeutics made the jump to Nasdaq in October.
Before launching Orum with an $8 million Series A back in 2017, Lee worked at Sanofi, where he was head of research in the Asia Pacific R&D unit.
“I felt that some innovative novel platforms, they have a more vivid or vibrant life in a small biotech, so I decided to leave Sanofi and start a new company,” he said. “So far it’s been very focused, very quick, and we’ve made a lot of progress so I’m quite happy I made that move.”
The lede has been updated to clarify that Lee was referring to toxicity related to small molecule drugs in general.