Alphamab Oncology believes it has what it takes to stand out from the deluge of checkpoint inhibitors currently in development — not just in China but globally. A syndicate of well-heeled investors now shares that confidence, infusing more than $100 million to fuel an ambitious drive through the clinic.
Advantech, PAG and China Venture Capital Fund led the Series A, which is expected to support Alphamab’s lead asset, KN035, all the way up to registrational trials and fund late-stage programs for three other clinical drug candidates. OrbiMed, Heritage Provider Network and Janchor Partners also chipped in.
Spun out of Suzhou Alphamab, Alphamab Oncology inherited all cancer-related work done over the last nine years at the parent company under CEO Ting Xu, the founder of both entities and a former senior researcher at Biogen and Serono.
Back when the team started its programs several years ago, Xu tells me in an email, they envisioned a highly competitive PD-(L)1 field. Their strategy in response features plays in both “I/O 1.0” — a subcutaneously administered PD-L1 antibody — and “I/O 2.0” with a bispecific targeting both PD-L1 and CTLA-4.
KN035, or envafolimab, the PD-L1 antibody currently in pivotal trials, represents the most advanced program in Alphamab Oncology’s pipeline. Given that frequent intravenous administration is a major drawback to compliance and convenience, Xu says, the “user-friendliness” of a subcutaneous product, with a shorter administration time and potential for home-use, can make it attractive in the adjuvant/neoadjuvant setting and as a maintenance therapy.
It’s a competitive advantage also being pursued by Bristol-Myers Squibb through a pact with San Diego-based Halozyme, which is providing its hyaluronidase enzyme-based tech to see if the checkpoint leader can deliver its I/O drugs with a subcutaneous jab.
Alphamab is partnering with 3D Medicines, a China-based precision medicine company, on the clinical development while building a commercial manufacturing site to prepare for potential approval.
The PD-L1/CTLA-4 bispecific dubbed KN046, on the other hand, is aimed at overcoming the safety limitations of current CTLA-4 antibodies.
“We will explore the opportunities in two fronts: Increase the response rate in large indications like NSCLC, HCC etc. while addressing some PD-(L)1 non-response tumor types,” Xu adds.
Both programs, like the rest of the pipeline, are being positioned for the US, EU and Japan markets in addition to China. Some early-stage clinical trials will be conducted in Australia through an Alphamab subsidiary there.
The new funds will also go toward an aggressive recruitment plan: At 100 staffers now, the company plans to double its size by the end of 2019.
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