Looking to run with Big Pharma, a radiopharma startup with backing from Atlas, RA thinks it has the chops to compete
Amid a renaissance in the field of radiopharmaceuticals, a growing chorus of biopharma players is rushing the stage to capitalize on tech breakthroughs. Biotech blue-chippers RA Capital and Atlas Venture, sensing an opportunity, are now setting up their own startup to challenge the big boys.
Curie Therapeutics uncloaked from stealth Wednesday with $75 million in Series A funding from Atlas, RA and Access Biotechnology, with the goal of leveraging a seasoned team of experts to get the jump on the growing class of cancer therapeutics, the biotech said.
In an unusual arrangement, Curie was incubated by all three of its founding funders, running for about 18 months in stealth mode before making its debut. According to CEO Simon Read, formerly chief scientific officer at Ra Pharma before its acquisition by UCB in early 2020, the Curie team in that time built a leadership team of 15 specializing in all aspects of radiopharmaceuticals, which link radioactive isotopes to a small molecule to target tumors.
While pipeline details are slim, Curie’s mission is broad — and that’s not an accident. The team sees radiopharmaceuticals as a potentially expansive class of therapeutics and has spent its year and a half behind the scenes diving deep not only into radiochemistry and biology but also CMC, supply and clinical translation. The class has historically suffered from both supply chain issues — it’s hard to continuously source the radioactive material used in these drugs — as well as at the bedside, with earlier-generation radiopharmaceuticals doing a poor job of targeting specific tissues.
“Solid tumors are really poorly treated by existing targeted technologies, and although there are some advantages, there are still challenges with technologies like CAR-T, BiTEs, ADCs in solid tumors,” Read said. “So we began to sit up and take notice, I think, of some of the data that was coming from breakthrough therapies … (that) galvanized the enthusiasm to begin thinking about radiopharmaceuticals.”
Where Curie hopes to set itself apart is in its holistic strategy for radiopharmaceutical development, looking at the drug’s PD and PK properties as a whole rather than optimizing each modular element of a drug’s composition before considering its potential efficacy in humans. Meanwhile, the company is focusing on both peptide and non-peptide ligands to identify the best possible solutions for deep tissue penetration, hopefully limiting off-target side effects in organs like the kidney.
Read admits the class — which has seen some big breakthroughs in recent years from the likes of Novartis’ Lutathera and Lu-PSMA-617, a radiopharmaceutical targeting a prostate cancer receptor with a radioactive form of lutetium — has grown increasingly congested in recent years. But Curie’s expert scientific team could help it get a head start on the growing field.
“We believed that if we could get leaders from all of those spaces under one roof, we would be able to truly build best-in-class type medicines,” he said. “Curie began with that basic concept of building the company in the space and focusing on not can you do it, but how do you do it the best.”
So far, Curie’s pipeline remains a mystery with Read staying mum on exactly which targets are in the gunsights first and the company’s release on the matter referencing only “high unmet need solid tumors.” However, a pipeline had begun to round into form during Curie’s stealth mode, and Read expects that more would be on the way on that front in the coming year.
Read hinted that the biotech would utilize both alpha-emitting radioisotopes for its therapies — the modality du jour in the space — but also focus on beta emitters, like lutetium, which he said could still have a place in clinical practice in tackling larger tumors.
Meanwhile, the team of 15 is expected to increase to 45 by this time next year, Read said, as the company approaches human trials.