Taiwan's Acepodia closes Series B with the promise of conjugating antibodies and off-the-shelf NK cells
What if researchers could take the antibody-drug conjugate model and apply it to off-the-shelf NK cell therapy? For the Taiwan-based biotech Acepodia, that’s the $47 million question.
Acepodia closed its Series B round Tuesday morning, hoping to build upon CEO Sonny Hsiao’s work from when he was a biologist at UC Berkeley. The biotech plans to use the funds to advance its lead program through the end of a Phase I trial and launch a Phase II study, as well as to get two other candidates into the clinic.
Following a $10 million Series A, Acepodia has now raised $57 million to date.
The biotech’s core technology comes from Hsiao’s lab research at Berkeley, where he discovered a way to conjugate antibodies with NK cells in a similar fashion to the ADC approach with small molecule or checkpoint inhibitors. And as if taking a cue from that model, Acepodia calls its platform “antibody cell conjugation,” or ACC.
While most NK cell therapies are already administered in conjunction with antibodies, Hsiao says Acepodia’s tech allows for a more targeted treatment. Normally, the antibodies and NK cells are administered separately, making for less potent efficacy, Hsiao told Endpoints News.
But by conjugating the two, the cancer-targeting antibodies are less likely to diffuse throughout the body. Hsiao likened the antibodies used in his platform to tracking devices, hunting down tumor cells as they evade the body’s natural defenses.
“We can put hundreds of thousands of them, of these very good tracking devices, on the NK cells for the NK cells to recognize and kill the tumor cells,” Hsiao said.
The ACCs also help activate the entire immune system to fight the tumor, Hsiao added, as conjugating the NK cells directly provides for an enhanced immune response compared to current NK cell therapies or your typical ADC.
Acepodia’s lead program is called ACE1702, and it’s currently undergoing a Phase I study targeting HER2-expressing solid tumors. As with any initial clinical trial, Acepodia is evaluating the safety and tolerability of the program and is enrolling between 12 and 24 patients. The first patient was dosed with ACE1702 last August, with topline data expected at ESMO this summer.
Should the Phase I return positive results when it’s finished, Acepodia plans to prep a Phase II for early 2022.
Hsiao highlighted the versatility of the platform, noting that HER2 is expressed in several different cancer types. And the programs coming up behind ACE1702 will target CD20 and CD70, respectively, with initial indications planned for a variety of liquid and solid tumors, he said. Acepodia expects to submit an IND for the CD20 candidate in the second half of this year.
Beyond that, the biotech is already setting the wheels in motion to kick off its crossover round funding. The Series B gives Acepodia enough runway for 12 to 18 months to launch these trials, but future funding is expected to help the company expand its pipeline even further.
And after that, could Acepodia see itself jumping to Nasdaq with an IPO? It’s “definitely an option for us to keep in mind,” Hsiao said.
Tuesday’s round was supported by new investors Ridgeback Capital, 8VC, and DEFTA Partners, and the Taiwan-based institutional investor-CDIB Capital Healthcare. Acepodia’s Series A investors also participated in the funding.