Andreas Katopodis, Anaveon CEO

The next-gen IL-2 race heats up as Anaveon se­cures a megaround with its sights set on mid-stage tests

There ap­pears to be no short­age of cash for those in the hunt for a bet­ter IL-2. On Thurs­day, Swiss-based Anaveon raked in an­oth­er $119 mil­lion to see its own can­di­date in­to a se­ries of Phase II tri­als — and a new Big Phar­ma in­vestor is get­ting on board.

Im­munother­a­pies tar­get­ing IL-2 — which stim­u­lates T-cells to mul­ti­ply and at­tack tu­mors — have proven to be quite pow­er­ful against can­cer over the last cou­ple decades, but are in­fa­mous for their tox­ic side ef­fects. While Pro­leukin, ap­proved in 1992, helped es­tab­lish the po­ten­cy of IL-2, safe­ty is­sues and a mod­est half-life thwart­ed its po­ten­tial.

Now a broad range of com­pa­nies are rac­ing to see if they can cre­ate a next-gen­er­a­tion IL-2 ther­a­py sans the dan­ger­ous side ef­fects. Anaveon’s can­di­date, ANV419, is de­signed to pref­er­en­tial­ly sig­nal through the be­ta/gam­ma re­cep­tor of IL2, ex­clud­ing the al­pha re­cep­tor, in the hopes of achiev­ing high­er se­lec­tiv­i­ty.

“It helps the safe­ty be­cause the al­pha/be­ta/gam­ma is re­spon­si­ble for some of the safe­ty is­sues,” CEO and co-founder An­dreas Katopodis told End­points News. “It does not pro­lif­er­ate reg­u­la­to­ry cells, which are pro­tect­ing the can­cer, and pro­lif­er­ates on­ly so-called ef­fec­tor cells, which are an­ti-can­cer in this case.”

The ap­proach traces back to re­search done by the Uni­ver­si­ty of Zurich’s Onur Boy­man. The No­var­tis In­sti­tutes of Bio­med­ical Re­search (where Katopodis was di­rec­tor) had been part­ner­ing with the uni­ver­si­ty on the project, be­fore No­var­tis de­cid­ed to pull out. Boy­man and Katopodis launched Anaveon to con­tin­ue the work in 2017.

The com­pa­ny se­cured a rough­ly $35 mil­lion Se­ries A round two years lat­er, with the No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund chip­ping in. This time around, Pfiz­er’s ven­ture arm is al­so hop­ping on board for the Se­ries B. The round was led by For­bion, with a help­ing hand from Syn­cona, the No­var­tis Ven­ture Fund, Cowen Health­care In­vest­ments, Pfiz­er Ven­tures and Pon­tif­ax.

ANV419 is cur­rent­ly in a Phase I/II tri­al in pa­tients with sol­id tu­mors, which is ex­pect­ed to read out re­sults at AACR in April. Next up will be a se­ries of Phase II stud­ies in mul­ti­ple in­di­ca­tions, which Katopodis de­clined to re­veal at this time.

“We are tak­ing the road of try­ing to do many tri­als in par­al­lel, and ei­ther give a green sig­nal to our mol­e­cule ear­ly or a red sig­nal, (which) hope­ful­ly will nev­er hap­pen,” the chief ex­ec­u­tive said. “We don’t want to de­lay the de­ci­sion-mak­ing.”

Anaveon isn’t the on­ly IL-2-fo­cused com­pa­ny to swing a megaround in the last year or so.

Ash­er Bio­ther­a­peu­tics closed a $108 mil­lion Se­ries B just a cou­ple months ago to ad­vance its lead can­di­date, an en­gi­neered IL-2 tar­get­ing CD8+ ef­fec­tor T cells, through a proof-of-con­cept hu­man study. That came just a few months af­ter the com­pa­ny hooked a $55 mil­lion Se­ries A. And back in June, Bright Peak Ther­a­peu­tics nabbed a $107 mil­lion B round to launch its IL-2 pro­gram in­to the clin­ic in 2022.

“I can­not tell you we’re bet­ter than they are, be­cause we don’t know all their da­ta … nor do I know ex­act­ly what they’re do­ing,” Katopodis said of the com­pe­ti­tion. “In the end, of course, it will be a mat­ter of who shows ef­fi­ca­cy and in what in­di­ca­tion.”

Illustration: Assistant Editor Kathy Wong for Endpoints News

How Pur­due's $272M ad­dic­tion pay­out fund­ed a new home for its dis­card­ed non-opi­oid re­search

Don Kyle spent more than 20 years working for Purdue Pharma, right through the US opioid epidemic that led to the company’s rise and eventual infamy. But contrary to Purdue’s focus on OxyContin, Kyle was researching non-opioid painkillers — that is, until the company shelved his research.

As the company’s legal troubles mounted, Kyle found an unlikely way to reboot the project. In 2019, he took his work to an Oklahoma State University center that’s slated to receive more than two-thirds of the state’s $272 million settlement with Purdue over claims that the drugmaker’s behavior ignited the epidemic of opioid use and abuse.

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President Joe Biden at the State of the Union address with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (Patrick Semansky/AP Images)

The drug pric­ing pres­i­dent: Biden warns of ve­to for any IRA re­peal at­tempts

President Joe Biden made clear in his “finish the job” State of the Union address last night that one of those jobs to be finished is insulin prices.

Biden’s push again to tackle insulin prices, after Republicans rebuffed the idea last summer and just after Biden won Medicare drug price negotiations/caps via the Inflation Reduction Act, shows how heavily he’s leaning into this work.

Rupert Vessey, Bristol Myers Squibb head of research and early development

Up­dat­ed: R&D tur­bu­lence at Bris­tol My­ers now in­cludes the end of a $650M al­liance and the de­par­ture of a top re­search cham­pi­on

This morning biotech Dragonfly put out word that Bristol Myers Squibb has handed back all rights to its IL-12 clinical-stage drug after spending $650 million to advance it into the clinic.

The news arrives amid a turbulent R&D stage for the pharma giant, which late last week highlighted Rupert Vessey’s decision to depart this summer as head of early-stage R&D following a crucial three-year stretch after he jumped to Bristol Myers in the big Celgene buyout. During that time he struck a series of deals for Bristol Myers, and also shepherded a number of Celgene programs down the pipeline, playing a major role for a lineup of biotechs which depended on him to champion their drugs.

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Utpal Koppikar, new Verily CFO

Ex­clu­sive: Ver­i­ly wel­comes Atara Bio­ther­a­peu­tics vet­er­an as new CFO

Verily, Alphabet’s life sciences outfit, has plucked a new CFO from the ranks of Atara Biotherapeutics, the company announced on Wednesday.

Utpal Koppikar joins Verily after a nearly five-year stint as CFO and senior VP at Atara, though his résumé also boasts roles at Gilead and Amgen.

The news follows a major reshuffling at Verily, including several senior departures earlier this year and a round of layoffs.

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Singer Nick Jonas is back at work for Dexcom, this time for its new G7 glucose monitor.

Dex­com's spokescelebri­ty Nick Jonas re­turns to Su­per Bowl in new glu­cose mon­i­tor com­mer­cial

Dexcom is going back to the Super Bowl with its pop singer and patient spokesperson Nick Jonas. Jonas takes center stage as the lone figure in the 30-second commercial showcasing Dexcom’s next-generation G7 continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) device.

Jonas’ sleight-of-hand tricks populate the commercial — he pinches his empty fingers together and pops them open to reveal the small CGM — even as he ends the ad, saying, “It’s not magic. It just feels that way.” Jonas then disappears in a puff of smoke.

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Richard Francis, newly-appointed Teva CEO (Novartis via Facebook)

New Te­va CEO Richard Fran­cis repri­or­i­tizes to 'get back to growth'

Six weeks into his new role at the helm of Teva Pharmaceutical, Richard Francis said it’s time to “get back to growth,” starting with a good look at the company’s priorities.

The chief executive has kicked off a strategic review, he announced during Teva’s quarterly call, which will continue over the next several months and produce results sometime in the middle of 2023. That means some pipeline cuts may be in store, he told Endpoints News, while declining to offer much more detail.

FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on Capitol Hill, Feb. 8, 2023 (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

FDA com­mis­sion­er floats ideas on how to bet­ter han­dle the pan­dem­ic

FDA Commissioner Rob Califf joined the heads of the CDC and NIH in the hot seat today before a key House subcommittee, explaining that there needs to be a much faster, more coordinated way to oversee vaccine safety, and that foreign biopharma inspections, halted for years due to the pandemic, are slowly ramping up again.

Califf, who stressed to the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health that the CDC also needs better data, made clear that the FDA’s ability to monitor the safety of vaccines “would also benefit greatly by a coordinated federal public health data reporting authority.”

Sanofi is renewing its #VaccinesForDreams campaign with more stories, such as Juan's in Argentina (Sanofi)

Sanofi re­news so­cial cam­paign to re­mind that vac­cines let peo­ple ‘Dream Big’

Sanofi is highlighting people’s dreams — both big and small — to make the point that vaccines make them possible.

The renewed “Dream Big” global social media campaign’s newest dreamer is Juan, a teacher in the Misiones rainforest in Argentina whose story is told through videos on Instagram and Sanofi’s website with the hashtag #VaccinesForDreams.

The campaign ties to Sanofi’s broader umbrella initiative “Vaccine Stories” to promote the value of vaccines and drive awareness of the need for improved vaccination coverage.

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Bill Haney, Dragonfly CEO (Dave Pedley/Getty Images for SXSW)

Drag­on­fly chief: Bris­tol My­ers shouldn’t blame IL-12’s clin­i­cal per­for­mance for de­ci­sion to scrap the deal — eco­nom­ics played a key role

Bristol Myers Squibb says the IL-12 drug they were developing out of Dragonfly Therapeutics was scrubbed from the pipeline for a simple reason: It didn’t measure up on clinical performance.

But Bill Haney, the CEO of Dragonfly, is taking issue with that.

The early-stage drug, still in Phase I development, has passed muster with Bristol Myers’ general clinical expectations, advancing successfully while still in Phase I, he says.

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