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.