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.

Health­care Dis­par­i­ties and Sick­le Cell Dis­ease

In the complicated U.S. healthcare system, navigating a serious illness such as cancer or heart disease can be remarkably challenging for patients and caregivers. When that illness is classified as a rare disease, those challenges can become even more acute. And when that rare disease occurs in a population that experiences health disparities, such as people with sickle cell disease (SCD) who are primarily Black and Latino, challenges can become almost insurmountable.

Jacob Van Naarden (Eli Lilly)

Ex­clu­sives: Eli Lil­ly out to crash the megablock­buster PD-(L)1 par­ty with 'dis­rup­tive' pric­ing; re­veals can­cer biotech buy­out

It’s taken 7 years, but Eli Lilly is promising to finally start hammering the small and affluent PD-(L)1 club with a “disruptive” pricing strategy for their checkpoint therapy allied with China’s Innovent.

Lilly in-licensed global rights to sintilimab a year ago, building on the China alliance they have with Innovent. That cost the pharma giant $200 million in cash upfront, which they plan to capitalize on now with a long-awaited plan to bust up the high-price market in lung cancer and other cancers that have created a market worth tens of billions of dollars.

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David Meek, new Mirati CEO (Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Fresh off Fer­Gene's melt­down, David Meek takes over at Mi­rati with lead KRAS drug rac­ing to an ap­proval

In the insular world of biotech, a spectacular failure can sometimes stay on any executive’s record for a long time. But for David Meek, the man at the helm of FerGene’s recent implosion, two questionable exits made way for what could be an excellent rebound.

Meek, most recently FerGene’s CEO and a past head at Ipsen, has become CEO at Mirati Therapeutics, taking the reins from founding CEO Charles Baum, who will step over into the role of president and head of R&D, according to a release.

FDA hands ac­cel­er­at­ed nod to Seagen, Gen­mab's so­lo ADC in cer­vi­cal can­cer, but com­bo stud­ies look even more promis­ing

Biopharma’s resident antibody-drug conjugate expert Seagen has scored a clutch of oncology approvals in recent years, finding gold in what are known as “third-gen” ADCs. Now, another of their partnered conjugates is ready for prime time.

The FDA on Monday handed an accelerated approval to Seagen and Genmab’s Tivdak (tisotumab vedotin-tftv, or “TV”) in second-line patients with recurrent or metastatic cervical cancer who previously progressed after chemotherapy rather than PD-(L)1 systemic therapy, the companies said in a release.

Dave Lennon, former president of Novartis Gene Therapies

Zol­gens­ma patent spat brews be­tween No­var­tis and Re­genxbio as top No­var­tis gene ther­a­py ex­ec de­parts

Regenxbio, a small licensor of gene therapy viral vectors spun out from the University of Pennsylvania, is now finding itself in the middle of some major league patent fights.

In addition to a patent suit with Sarepta Therapeutics from last September, Novartis, is now trying to push its smaller partner out of the way. The Swiss biopharma licensed Regenxbio’s AAV9 vector for its $2.1 million spinal muscular atrophy therapy Zolgensma.

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Rafaèle Tordjman (Jeito Capital)

Con­ti­nu­ity and di­ver­si­ty: Rafaèle Tord­j­man's women-led VC firm tops out first fund at $630M

For a first-time fund, Jeito Capital talks a lot about continuity.

Rafaèle Tordjman had spotlighted that concept ever since she started building the firm in 2018, promising to go the extra mile(s) with biotech entrepreneurs while pushing them to reach patients faster.

Coincidentally, the lack of continuity was one of the sore spots listed in a report about the European healthcare sector published that same year by the European Investment Bank — whose fund is one of the LPs, alongside the American pension fund Teacher Retirement System of Texas and Singapore’s Temasek, to help Jeito close its first fund at $630 million (€534 million). As previously reported, Sanofi had chimed in €50 million, marking its first investment in a French life sciences fund.

The biggest ques­tions fac­ing gene ther­a­py, the XLMTM com­mu­ni­ty, and Astel­las af­ter fourth pa­tient death

After three patients died last year in an Astellas gene therapy trial, the company halted the study and began figuring out how to safely get the program back on track. They would, executives eventually explained, cut the dose by more than half and institute a battery of other measures to try to prevent the same thing from happening again.

Then tragically, Astellas announced this week that the first patient to receive the new regimen had died, just weeks after administration.

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Time for round 2: Il­lu­mi­na-backed VC snags $325M for its next fund

Illumina Ventures closed off its second investment fund with a total commitment of $325 million, offering fresh fuel to back a slate of startups that have already included a smorgasbord of companies, covering everything from diagnostics to biotech drug development and genomics.

Fund II brings the total investment under Illumina Ventures’ oversight to $560 million, which has been focused on early-stage companies. And it has a transatlantic portfolio that includes SQZ, Twist and Encoded Therapeutics.

Volker Wagner (L) and Jeff Legos

As Bay­er, No­var­tis stack up their ra­dio­phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal da­ta at #ES­MO21, a key de­bate takes shape

Ten years ago, a small Norwegian biotech by the name of Algeta showed up at ESMO — then the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Conference 2011 — and declared that its Bayer-partnered targeted radionuclide therapy, radium-223 chloride, boosted the overall survival of castration-resistant prostate cancer patients with symptomatic bone metastases.

In a Phase III study dubbed ALSYMPCA, patients who were treated with radium-223 chloride lived a median of 14 months compared to 11.2 months. The FDA would stamp an approval on it based on those data two years later, after Bayer snapped up Algeta and christened the drug Xofigo.

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