Radiopharma remains hot as Germany's ITM raises $109M to advance neuroendocrine cancer program
The world of radiopharmaceuticals has been heating up over the last few years, and Thursday saw another company focused on the field pull in a new nine-figure raise.
Germany’s ITM, or Isotopen Technologien München, scored a $109 million round of loan financing to push forward its precision oncology pipeline and fund late-stage development for its lead program. As part of the agreement, the loan will convert to shares in the event of future financial or corporate transactions, ITM said.
Behind radiopharma is a concept similar to that of antibody-drug conjugates. Rather than a drug payload being delivered to a specific target, it’s a radioactive molecule or isotope that’s transported to where it needs to go. And it’s usually not an antibody performing the delivery, but peptides or other types of molecules.
In ITM’s case, they have developed their own therapeutic radioisotope called Lutetium-177, CEO Steffen Schuster told Endpoints News, which emits a low amount of radioactive energy. Their lead program combines this molecule with an edotreotide component, which targets receptors in neuroendocrine cells that have gone awry as a result of the cancer.
Whereas ADCs have to be internalized, the radiopharmaceuticals only need to bind to the tumor surfaces, Schuster said. ITM’s candidates function as what he calls a highly-precise “cage,” trapping the radionuclide within the targeting molecule that can then bind to the tumor surface. The candidate — whose full name is N.c.a. 177Lu-Edotreotide — is currently in a Phase III trial for gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors.
Schuster is keeping his cards close to the vest regarding data readouts, but noted that they’re “pretty far” in the 300-person study.
Significant interest from investors and Big Pharma companies have heated up the space recently, most notably from a handful of acquisitions by Novartis. There was the Advanced Accelerator Applications buyout from France back in 2017, giving the pharma giant its radiopharma platform and Luthera for $3.9 billion.
Then came the Endocyte acquisition in 2018, where the formerly small biotech turned a $12 million licensing agreement into a deal with Novartis. The drug involved there was Lu-PSMA-617, a radioisotope targeting prostate-specific membrane antigen, or PSMA, commonly found in metastatic prostate cancer. Novartis shelled out $2.1 billion to get its hand on that drug after Endocyte hustled it into Phase III.
“We see other companies in the same space as partners and less as competitors,” Schuster told Endpoints. “One thing we have in common with them is more — ‘fight’ is the wrong word — but we want to demonstrate that our therapies are better than some of the chemos which are really bad for the patients.”
More recently, the biotechs RayzeBio and Aktis secured hefty raises from prominent investors, signaling a further appetite for the potential behind these therapies. RayzeBio has tallied $150 million over two funding rounds, including from an October launch, while Aktis secured $72 million from a syndicate led by MPM Capital.
Other players like Fusion Pharmaceuticals and Clovis are also angling for market entry, with the former solidifying an IPO last June for $212.5 million.
Where ITM hopes to differentiate itself is through its manufacturing capabilities. ITM had been convinced of the effectiveness of these drugs since its founding in 2004, Schuster said, but there simply hadn’t been enough supply of radionuclides. By making their own drugs, and also selling the necessary components to other pharma companies, ITM is shooting to be a leader in the field on two fronts.
“The Lutetium-177, from our standpoint, is going to be the workhorse for radiopharmaceuticals for the next 10 years,” Schuster said. “We were the ones who started from 2004 on making this available on scale in big quantities to everybody. Not just us, but we supply who was interested, so we have been instrumental over the last [several] years to create this industry because of the supply of radionuclides.”
ITM’s Thursday raise was led by Petrichor Healthcare Capital Management. Further terms of the deal beyond details of the convertible loans were not disclosed.