Neon Ther­a­peu­tics bags a $70M round for ear­ly-stage neoanti­gen re­search

Hugh O’Dowd

Neoanti­gens emerged as one of the hot new trends in biotech R&D a lit­tle more than a year ago. Af­ter a slate of can­cer vac­cines had strug­gled and failed in the clin­ic, the idea that you could fash­ion a vac­cine di­rect­ly tar­get­ing an in­di­vid­ual pa­tient’s tu­mors be­came fash­ion­able in cer­tain seg­ments of the ven­ture com­mu­ni­ty. And a group of in­vestors has joined hands to fund the next stage of clin­i­cal de­vel­op­ment at Neon Ther­a­peu­tics with a hefty $70 mil­lion B round.

The Cam­bridge, MA-based Neon was launched by Third Rock back in late 2015. And it’s al­ready in a Phase Ib study with its lead pro­gram NEO-PV-01. That study launched in No­vem­ber, look­ing to re­cruit 90 pa­tients in 3 co­horts cov­er­ing melanoma, blad­der can­cer and non-small cell lung can­cer. Pa­tients are get­ting a cus­tom-built vac­cine along with Op­di­vo, one of the top check­point in­hibitors.

“This is first be­spoke (made to suit) vac­cine,” says CEO Hugh O’Dowd, a No­var­tis vet who made the jump to biotech. “When I was look­ing at a va­ri­ety of op­por­tu­ni­ties ear­li­er, I frankly looked down on the vac­cine op­por­tu­ni­ties of the past.” Tu­mor-as­so­ci­at­ed anti­gens were the fo­cus, but it took tu­mor spe­cif­ic anti­gens, these neoanti­gens, to get his at­ten­tion.

“I don’t think any­one could spell neoanti­gens 5 years ago,” he adds. “And we’re learn­ing every day. One of the most re­cent pa­tients with non-small cell lung can­cer, had 2,400 unique mu­ta­tions in their tu­mor. If you take a num­ber of lung can­cer pa­tients, there’s no sim­i­lar­i­ty in mu­ta­tions from pa­tient to pa­tient. We call them non-small cell lung can­cer, but mu­ta­tions are dri­ving their dis­ease.”

And you’re go­ing to need a be­spoke, per­son­al­ized, on time can­cer vac­cine to stop it. That means work­ing on a pro­duc­tion and de­liv­ery mod­el that can tai­lor each pa­tient’s vac­cine in a time­ly and ef­fi­cient man­ner.

Says O’Dowd: “We are think­ing cost of goods and one that is scal­able for a mod­el that can work around the world.”

Neon is al­so build­ing out its pipeline. Build­ing on a foun­da­tion of re­search from the Broad In­sti­tute and Dana-Far­ber Can­cer In­sti­tute, the biotech is work­ing on NEO-PTC-01, a pre­clin­i­cal per­son­al­ized adop­tive T cell pro­gram, as well as a “Shared Neoanti­gen Pro­gram.”

The first round of da­ta from their work should be avail­able lat­er in the year.

Neon is ob­vi­ous­ly not alone. UK in­vestors launched Achilles Ther­a­peu­tics last fall, a year af­ter Grit­stone land­ed $102 mil­lion for its work. Mod­er­na and Mer­ck — keen­ly fo­cused on ex­pand­ing its Keytru­da fran­chise — are part­nered on a per­son­al­ized can­cer vac­cine. Sean Park­er’s new in­sti­tute has been cre­at­ing a neoanti­gen col­lab­o­ra­tive. And biotech bil­lion­aire Patrick Soon-Sh­iong has shown in­ter­est as well.

Part­ner Fund Man­age­ment stepped in to lead the lat­est round. They were joined by Third Rock Ven­tures and Ac­cess In­dus­tries, with ad­di­tion­al new in­vestors that in­clud­ed Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment & Re­search Com­pa­ny, Welling­ton Man­age­ment Com­pa­ny, In­bio Ven­tures and Nex­tech In­vest.

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IGM Biosciences’ upsized IPO haul, coming after SpringWorks’ sizable public debut, has revved up some momentum for the last rush of biotech IPOs in 2019.

With 39 new listings on the books and roughly two more months to go before winding down, Nasdaq’s head of healthcare listings Jordan Saxe sees the exchange marking 50 to 60 biopharma IPOs for the year.

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The need to limit drug prices is a rare point of agreement between President Trump and Democrats, although the president has yet to comment on the proposal and will likely face pressure to back a more conservative option or no bill at all. Republican Senator Chuck Grassley is reportedly lobbying his fellow party members on a more modest proposal he negotiated with Democratic Senator Ron Wyden in July.