CEO Fred Aslan (Artiva)

NK cell ther­a­py play­er Arti­va makes some more noise, pulling in $120M Se­ries B less than a month af­ter Mer­ck deal

Not even one month af­ter Big Phar­ma took no­tice of Arti­va when Mer­ck signed a col­lab­o­ra­tion worth near­ly $2 bil­lion in mile­stones, the off-the-shelf NK cell biotech al­ready has its next big fundraise.

Arti­va re­turns from the ven­ture well Fri­day with a $120 mil­lion Se­ries B round, mon­ey they will use to get their first pro­gram in­to the clin­ic and to file INDs for an­oth­er two can­di­dates. The raise marks the lat­est de­vel­op­ment in a rapid­ly ex­pand­ing foot­print for Arti­va, which, in ad­di­tion to the Mer­ck deal last month, has now raised al­most $200 mil­lion since its Se­ries A last June.

So what’s been dri­ving this quick as­cent? CEO Fred Aslan told End­points News it’s been the com­pa­ny’s fo­cus on the NK cell man­u­fac­tur­ing process, rather than try­ing to get ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta on their pro­grams as quick­ly as they can. Arti­va ex­clu­sive­ly teamed with South Ko­re­an NK cell mak­er Green Cross Lab­Cell, giv­ing Aslan ac­cess to more than 10 years of re­search in the field.

As a re­sult of that part­ner­ship, Arti­va can not on­ly de­vel­op NK cell ther­a­pies, but pre­serve, freeze and ship them with­out the loss of qual­i­ty. That scal­a­bil­i­ty is what at­tract­ed Mer­ck and oth­er Big Phar­mas in the first place — the com­pa­nies had been tak­ing a wait-and-see ap­proach un­til al­lo­gene­ic NK cell de­vel­op­ment re­sem­bled the bi­o­log­ics pro­duc­tion they were fa­mil­iar with, Aslan said.

But now that Arti­va has man­u­fac­tur­ing locked and loaded, they are ready to “press on the gas” on their own pipeline, he told End­points.

The lead pro­gram is an NK cell ther­a­py meant to work in com­bi­na­tion with mon­o­clon­al an­ti­bod­ies, en­hanc­ing pa­tients’ re­sponse to the drugs. Specif­i­cal­ly, Arti­va is look­ing to boost the process known as an­ti­body-de­pen­dent cell cy­to­tox­i­c­i­ty, or AD­CC. A pa­tient’s own NK cells are re­spon­si­ble for AD­CC, which is the mech­a­nism that al­lows an­ti­bod­ies to work against can­cer anti­gens.

But in some lat­er-line set­tings, an in­di­vid­ual’s NK cells may not be strong enough to mount this re­sponse on their own, or they sim­ply may not have enough NK cells cir­cu­lat­ing in their bod­ies af­ter go­ing through many dif­fer­ent ther­a­pies. Once the mech­a­nism is re­stored, Arti­va hopes it can make the an­ti­bod­ies more ef­fec­tive.

Aslan said Arti­va is go­ing af­ter non-Hodgkin’s lym­phoma as its first tar­get pop­u­la­tion, and the com­pa­ny has al­ready be­gun screen­ing pa­tients for en­roll­ment. The com­pa­ny plans to pair the can­di­date, dubbed AB-101, with rit­ux­imab.

Re­searchers will be con­duct­ing a dose-es­ca­lat­ing Phase I study with about a dozen pa­tients at first. Aslan de­clined to say how long the tri­al is ex­pect­ed to run, but said ini­tial safe­ty da­ta could be avail­able as ear­ly as the end of this year.

Arti­va’s ul­ti­mate goal is to make ther­a­pies that have a sim­i­lar im­pact as CAR-Ts ac­ces­si­ble in a com­mu­ni­ty set­ting. Fri­day’s round is a val­i­dat­ing step to­ward that mis­sion, Aslan said, and one that could take the com­pa­ny to­ward an IPO.

But Aslan played coy when asked about tak­ing Arti­va pub­lic, say­ing on­ly that while he’s had thoughts about jump­ing to Nas­daq, “every com­pa­ny at our stage thinks about an IPO.” No con­crete plans for such a leap have been an­nounced as of Fri­day, he added.

Fri­day’s round was led by Ven­rock Health­care Cap­i­tal Part­ners, and was joined by oth­er new in­vestors Acu­ta Cap­i­tal Part­ners, Cor­morant As­set Man­age­ment, EcoR1 Cap­i­tal, Franklin Tem­ple­ton, Janus Hen­der­son In­vestors, Lo­gos Cap­i­tal, RTW In­vest­ments, LP, Sur­vey­or Cap­i­tal (a Citadel Com­pa­ny), Welling­ton Man­age­ment Com­pa­ny, and an undis­closed lead­ing glob­al in­vest­ment firm.

Ex­ist­ing in­vestors such as 5AM Ven­tures, RA Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, and ven­Bio Part­ners, along with strate­gic part­ners GC Lab­Cell and GC al­so par­tic­i­pat­ed.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

Aduhelm OK 'bit­ter­sweet' for ALS ad­vo­cates; Con­trast­ing Covid-19 vac­cine read­outs; GSK joins TIG­IT bat­tle; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

With the busiest days of June now behind us, we’re starting to think seriously about the second half of the year. In August, we have scheduled a special report where Endpoints will compile a list of the 20 most influential R&D executives in biopharma. Know a luminary who should definitely be included? Nominate them now.

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Who are the lu­mi­nar­ies dri­ving the biggest ad­vances in bio­phar­ma R&D? End­points News is ask­ing for your nom­i­na­tions for a spe­cial re­port

In biopharma, driving a drug to market is the ultimate goal — but none of that happens without a strong research and development program. At the most successful companies, those R&D efforts are spearheaded by true innovators in the field who are always looking for that next novel mechanism of action or breakthrough safety profile.

Now, Endpoints News is asking you to tell us who those guiding lights are.

Leen Kawas, Athira CEO

Biotech founder placed on leave as $400M Alzheimer's start­up idea comes un­der scruti­ny

Athira Pharma, the Alzheimer’s biotech that emerged out of obscurity last year and raised nearly $400 million for a dark-horse approach to treating neurodegeneration, has found itself in sudden turmoil.

On Tuesday evening, the company released a terse statement announcing that CEO and founder Leen Kawas had been placed on administrative leave while an independent review board investigated “actions stemming” from her doctoral research at Washington State University. Mark Litton, who joined the company as COO two years ago, will take over day-to-day operations, they said.

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Bris­tol My­ers breaks the bank on Ei­sai's fo­late re­cep­tor ADC drug, lay­ing out more than $3B+ for rights

For years, innovation in oncology has been a crapshoot with Big Pharma — the whales at the table — dropping the big bucks for the key to the next generation of tumor fighters. Bristol Myers Squibb hasn’t exactly made a name for being an innovator in the space, but that doesn’t mean it won’t splash in when it sees a potential winner.

Now, with a massive check in hand, the drugmaker is willing to put its intuition to the test.

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Michael Chambers (L) and John Ballantyne

Dana­her strikes deal to buy boom­ing next-gen man­u­fac­tur­er Alde­vron for $9.6B

Life sciences conglomerate Danaher Corp. $DHR has struck a deal to buy the fast-growing Aldevron, one of the world’s top manufacturers of hotly sought-after plasmid DNA, mRNA and recombinant proteins for the burgeoning world of vaccine and drugmakers pushing some game-changing technologies.

Buyout talks set the stage for Danaher to settle on a $9.6 billion cash pact to acquire the private Fargo, ND-based company — a key supplier for a disruptive new Covid vaccine as well as a host of gene and cell therapy and CRISPR gene editing players — founded by Michael Chambers and CSO John Ballantyne as a crew of 2 back in 1998.

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Christian Hogg, Hutchmed CEO

Hutchmed files for $600M+ IPO in Hong Kong as lead on­col­o­gy drug su­r­u­fa­tinib awaits FDA's good graces

In oncology, a flush of Chinese-developed drugs has the biopharma industry rethinking the poles of power in R&D as the blossoming nation continues to make a name for itself and pick up bundles of cash in the process. Now, as its lead drug faces a pivotal FDA review, the company formerly known as Chi-Med is planting its flag on home soil with a massive public offering.

Hutchmed — recently renamed from Chi-Med, or Hutchison China MediTech — will look to raise $603 million as part of a Hong Kong IPO that serves as a homecoming of sorts for the Chinese-based oncology player, which has listed on Nasdaq since 2016.

Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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FDA's con­tro­ver­sial Aduhelm de­ci­sion leaves ALS pa­tients feel­ing spurned

The FDA’s controversial approval of Biogen’s Aduhelm drug for Alzheimer’s disease has been met with fierce resistance from all corners of the biopharma industry, but few seem to be as upset with the decision as ALS patients and advocacy groups.

For all that’s already been written and discussed about the agency’s announcement, from the drug’s exorbitantly high price of $56,000 per year to criticism over lowered standards, ALS patients see something more. ALS patients and associations say they largely regarded Aduhelm’s approval as a bittersweet double standard: happy that those with Alzheimer’s have a new drug available, but questioning how the FDA evaluated Biogen’s drug compared to the experimental programs being studied for their own disease.

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