Pharma veterans regroup with $50M and a plan to discover new multi-specifics
While a horde of drugmakers develops bispecific antibodies to more directly target tumor cells — there were about 100 programs in or nearing clinical trials back in May — a new company is emerging to go one step further.
On Thursday, Tentarix Biotherapeutics unveiled a $50 million Series A round to support its next-gen multi-specifics platform. While the field has largely focused on bispecifics, which engage two targets, Tentarix believes its multifunctional programs have the potential to be even more specific, since more conditions must be met for potent activity to occur.
The company’s lead program has one subunit that targets the IL2R gamma receptor, a subunit that targets the IL2R beta receptor and other subunits that bind to cell surface proteins on a specific subset of T cells.
“The advent of technologies to produce high-precision biologics to engage multiple disease targets represents a major advance,” CEO Paul Grayson said in a statement. “This financing allows us to develop multiple programs for oncology and autoimmune disease based on the Tentarix technology platform.”
To aid discovery, Tentarix says it has built a high-throughput platform that can screen millions of molecules for activity and conditionality.
The team, based in both San Diego and Vancouver, is led by a group of well-seasoned pharma veterans, including CSO Stephen Demarest, who was head of Eli Lilly’s protein engineering and computational biotherapeutics departments; chief development officer Margaret Karow, who’s held senior positions at Xilio, Amgen and Regeneron; and senior VP of corporate development Paul Kang, who worked on antibody generation technologies at ImmGenics, Abgenix, Amgen and Innovative Targeting Solutions.
Grayson, a venture partner at Versant, has had a hand in building several biotechs now, including Aurora Biosciences (which was snapped up by Vertex two decades ago), Senomyx (acquired by the Swiss company Firmenich), Fate Therapeutics and Bird Rock Bio.
There are currently three bispecifics on the market — Amgen’s leukemia drug Blincyto, Roche’s hemophilia A drug Hemlibra, and J&J’s Rybrevant, which scored an approval back in May to treat a form of non-small cell lung cancer. A crowd of candidates is still in development, while some companies, like Tentarix, have set their sights on multispecific drugs. Big Pharma has shown interest in that space too, with Sanofi striking a deal for Biomunex’s bi- and multi-specific antibody therapeutics back in 2019.
“It is gratifying to see the vision of multifunctional protein therapeutics shared with the Tentarix founders rapidly develop into a transformative discovery and development company,” said Srini Akkaraju, managing general partner at Samsara, which co-led the Series A with Versant.