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.”