IPO bound? Five years in, Art Krieg and the Checkmate crew collect $85M to back up their 1-drug pipeline
Five years after Art Krieg picked up a drug to make a bid in the feverish immuno-oncology space with a startup called Checkmate Pharmaceuticals, he and the team are still locked in to their single pathway approach. And they just scored $85 million and a couple of new marquee investments to make some important mid-stage moves on the R&D board.
The drug is CMP-001, which contains a CpG-A oligonucleotide that activates the TLR9 pathway to kick up an innate immune response to cancer — one of the most popular research strategies in the oncology handbook these days. And Checkmate says they are still the only player in biotech to go after this particular pathway.
That’s not necessarily a validation of the approach. Hot cancer targets like TIGIT attract swarms of competitors, but it would leave Checkmate well ahead of any rival that might appear.
Krieg, an oligo expert who moved from CEO to the CSO spot as the biotech moved into the clinic, has passionately believed the therapy can be doubled up with a PD-1 to amp up the impact for cancer patients. And they tied up with Keytruda and Opdivo, the gold standard in PD-1 checkpoints, to prove the point.
The goal here is to make a pipeline out of a product.
A key catalyst for the private player arrived last fall at SITC, when the biotech posted data indicating a 25% overall response rate for their Keytruda-combo melanoma patients who had already proven to be resistant to anti-PD-(L)1 drugs. And that evidently inspired Longitude Capital and Novo Holdings to lead the new round — almost doubling the amount raised so far.
Other new investors include Medixci (which puts a high premium on focus), Omega Funds, Clough Capital Partners, Sectoral Asset Management and BrightEdge, the venture investment fund of the American Cancer Society. Checkmate’s existing investors Sofinnova Investments, venBio Partners, F-Prime Capital and Decheng Capital also stepped in.
These days, that kind of raise for a biotech in the clinic begs the question of whether Checkmate plans to pitch an IPO soon.