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.

M&A: a crit­i­cal dri­ver for sus­tain­able top-line growth in health­care

2021 saw a record $600B in healthcare M&A activity. In 2022, there is an anticipated slowdown in activity, however, M&A prospects remain strong in the medium to long-term. What are future growth drivers for the healthcare sector? Where might we see innovations that drive M&A? RBC’s Andrew Callaway, Global Head, Healthcare Investment Banking discusses with Vito Sperduto, Global Co-Head, M&A.

15 LGBTQ lead­ers in bio­phar­ma; Paul Stof­fels’ Gala­pa­gos re­vamp; As­traZeneca catch­es up in AT­TR; 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.

A return to in-person conferences also marks a return to on-the-ground reporting. My colleagues Beth Synder Bulik and Nicole DeFeudis were on-site at Cannes Lions, bringing live coverage of pharma’s presence at the ad festival — accompanied by photos from Clara Bui, our virtual producer, that bring you right to the scene. You can find a recap (and links to all the stories) below.

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Abortion-rights protesters regroup and protest following Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Fol­low­ing SCO­TUS de­ci­sion to over­turn abor­tion pro­tec­tions, AG Gar­land says states can't ban the abor­tion pill

Following the Supreme Court’s historic decision on Friday to overturn Americans’ constitutional right to an abortion after almost 50 years, Attorney General Merrick Garland sought to somewhat reassure women that states will not be able to ban the prescription drug sometimes used for abortions.

Following the decision, the New England Journal of Medicine also published an editorial strongly condemning the reversal, saying it “serves American families poorly, putting their health, safety, finances, and futures at risk.”

AstraZeneca's new Evusheld direct to consumer campaign aims to reach more immunocompromised patients.

As­traZeneca de­buts first con­sumer cam­paign for its Covid-19 pro­phy­lac­tic Evusheld — and a first for EUA drugs

AstraZeneca’s first consumer ad for Evusheld is also a first for drugs that have been granted emergency use authorizations during the pandemic.

The first DTC ad for a medicine under emergency approval, the Evusheld campaign launching this week aims to raise awareness among immunocompromised patients — and spur more use.

Evusheld nabbed emergency authorization in December, however, despite millions of immunocompromised people looking for a solution and now more widespread availability of the drug.

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Yong Dai, Frontera Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Lit­tle-known Or­biMed-backed biotech clos­es $160M round to start gene ther­a­py tri­al

Frontera Therapeutics, a China and US biotech, has closed a $160 million Series B and received regulatory clearance to test its first gene therapy stateside, Endpoints News has learned.

Led by the largest shareholder, OrbiMed, the biotech has secured $195 million total since its September 2019 founding, according to an email reviewed by Endpoints. The lead AAV gene therapy program is for an undisclosed rare eye disease, according to the source.

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Spanish Prime Minister Pédro Sanchez and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

EU to launch vac­cine de­vel­op­ment and man­u­fac­tur­ing part­ner­ship with Latin Amer­i­can and Caribbean coun­tries

While European companies, including BioNTech, are focused on increasing vaccine access to African countries by setting up vaccine manufacturing facilities, the European Union is looking westward to Latin America and the Caribbean.

Speaking at a press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Pédro Sanchez, EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that the EU is launching a new initiative for vaccines and medicines manufacturing in Latin America, to get drugs to Latin America and the Caribbean faster.

Matt Kapusta, uniQure CEO

In trou­bled Hunt­ing­ton’s space, uniQure’s gene ther­a­py shows ear­ly promise

In randomized clinical trial data from a small number of patients, Dutch biotech uniQure shared that its gene therapy for Huntington’s disease seems to reduce the amount of the mutant protein responsible for the disease over the course of a year.

In seven patients with early-stage Huntington’s — four who got the treatment and three who got a placebo — mutant huntingtin protein levels in the cerebrospinal fluid decreased by an average of just over 50% in patients who got the gene therapy compared to around a 17% drop in patients who got the placebo after a year.

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DEM BioPharma CEO David Donabedian (L) and executive chair Jan Skvarka

Long­wood sets an­oth­er 'don't eat me' biotech in­to gear with help of for­mer Tril­li­um CEO Jan Skvar­ka

Jonathan Weissman and team are out with a cancer-fighting biotech riding the appetite for those so-called “don’t eat me” and “eat me” signals.

The scientific co-founder — alongside fellow Whitehead Institute colleague Kipp Weiskopf and Stanford biologist Michael Bassik — has launched DEM BioPharma with incubator Longwood Fund and a crop of other investors.

In all, the nascent, 10-employee biotech has $70 million to bankroll hematology- and solid tumor-based programs, including a lead asset that could enter human trials in two to three years, CEO David Donabedian told Endpoints News.

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GSK says its drug for chron­ic hep B could ‘lead to a func­tion­al cure’ — but will it be alone or in com­bi­na­tion?

GSK, newly branded and soon-to-be demerged, shared interim results from its Phase II trial on its chronic hepatitis B treatment, one that it says has the “potential to lead to a functional cure.”

At a presentation at the EASL International Liver Congress, GSK shared that in around 450 patients who received its hep B drug bepirovirsen for 24 weeks, just under 30% had hepatitis B surface antigen and viral DNA levels that were too low to detect.