Fredrik Wiklund, Bright Peak CEO

Ver­sant-backed Bright Peak sets a date to bring its IL-2 in­to the clin­ic — but all eyes are on an IPO af­ter lat­est mega-round drops

Just un­der a year af­ter se­cur­ing its first ven­ture round, a Ver­sant-backed start­up has pulled in a mas­sive Se­ries B haul to cre­ate de­sign­er cy­tokines —and it seems as though CEO Fredrik Wik­lund is keep­ing the S-1 pa­per­work in his back pock­et.

Bright Peak Ther­a­peu­tics un­veiled a $107 mil­lion Se­ries B round on Thurs­day morn­ing, led by RA Cap­i­tal with some help from Ver­sant, Fi­deli­ty Man­age­ment & Re­search Com­pa­ny, In­vus, Qatar In­vest­ment Au­thor­i­ty, Black­Rock, Alexan­dria Ven­ture In­vest­ments and an undis­closed in­vestor.

When asked if an IPO is around the cor­ner, Wik­lund re­spond­ed: “With the syn­di­cate that we have of course, this is the an­tic­i­pat­ed ques­tion … But we haven’t made any board-lev­el de­ci­sions or any fi­nal de­ci­sions on that front.”

Jef­frey Bode

The com­pa­ny’s us­ing tech­nol­o­gy out of Jef­frey Bode’s lab at ETH Zürich to en­hance the util­i­ty of cy­tokines by chem­i­cal­ly syn­the­siz­ing pro­teins in a way that op­ti­mizes func­tion, while al­so adding con­ju­gate han­dles to pur­sue com­bi­na­tion ap­proach­es.

“Think of this as an ADC but a cy­tokine pay­load,” Wik­lund told End­points News. “An im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion from what we do from first gen­er­a­tion, sort of re­com­bi­nant meth­ods is that we can ac­tu­al­ly com­bine these cy­tokine pay­loads to any an­ti­bod­ies at any stage of de­vel­op­ment, with­out any struc­tur­al mod­i­fi­ca­tions to that an­ti­body.”

If they want­ed, the sci­en­tists could take the pay­load and ADC link­er, go to the phar­ma­cy, buy a mon­o­clon­al an­ti­body and make an im­muno­cy­tokine, he added.

The com­pa­ny’s first pro­gram is an IL-2, which Wik­lund ex­pects to en­ter the clin­ic some­time in 2022.

While Pro­leukin, which hit the mar­ket in 1992 to treat can­cer, helped es­tab­lish the po­ten­cy of IL-2, it comes with a “mod­est half-life” and sig­nif­i­cant tox­i­c­i­ties, the com­pa­ny not­ed. Bright Peak ex­tend­ed the half-life of its can­di­date, BPT-143, and made small mod­i­fi­ca­tions to block bind­ing to the al­pha re­cep­tor while en­hanc­ing bind­ing to the be­ta re­cep­tor, thus ex­pand­ing tu­mor-killing ef­fec­tor T-cells.

The com­pa­ny al­so has ear­li­er pro­grams in the works for IL-18, IL-7 and IL-2 AI.

“The tech­nol­o­gy al­lows for a sort of plug-and-play,” Wik­lund said. “We can take these cy­tokines in as sin­gle agents — that’s what we’re do­ing with the IL-2. We al­so like very much the pro­file of IL-18 as a sin­gle agent — but then again, these are al­so uti­lized as pay­loads.”

While they haven’t dis­closed the tar­gets yet, Wik­lund said the team is look­ing at “a num­ber of dif­fer­ent an­ti­bod­ies” to which they can con­ju­gate IL-2, IL-18, IL-7 and IL-2 AI.

“So now we’re mak­ing im­muno­cy­tokines not just in im­muno-on­col­o­gy, but we’re al­so tak­ing this mind­set and ap­proach in­to au­toim­mu­ni­ty, which is quite nov­el,” he said.

In ad­di­tion to the round, Bright Peak is wel­com­ing Lau­ra Shawver, CEO of Sil­ver­back Ther­a­peu­tics, and Chris­tine Siu, for­mer CEO of Ei­dos Ther­a­peu­tics, to its board of di­rec­tors. Shawver pre­vi­ous­ly led the de­vel­op­ment of en­gi­neered cy­tokines for can­cer and au­toim­mune dis­or­ders as CEO of Syn­thorx, which was bought out by Sanofi last year for $2.5 bil­lion.

Tom Woi­wode

Man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Tom Woi­wode said the team at Ver­sant un­der­stood the pow­er of Bode’s ap­proach for some time be­fore launch­ing Bright Peak. The firm was an ear­ly in­vestor in Am­brx, which was ex­plor­ing how to use cell en­gi­neer­ing to in­cor­po­rate un­nat­ur­al amino acids in­to pro­teins.

“I’d say that was kind of the first gen­er­a­tion of this, which was re­al­ly ex­cit­ing at the time,” said Woi­wode, who’s a chemist by train­ing. “But when we saw the way Bode does it … we all said, ‘Wow, this is a lot eas­i­er and a lot more pow­er­ful.’”

The full team at Bright Peak is cur­rent­ly less than 20 full-time staffers, and Wik­lund says part of the IPO pro­ceeds will be used to hire new folks in both their San Diego and Basel, Switzer­land of­fices.

In­side Track: Be­hind the Scenes of a Ma­jor Biotech SPAC

Dr. David Hung and Michelle Doig are no strangers to the SPAC phenomenon. As Founder and CEO of Nuvation Bio, a biotech company tackling some of the greatest unmet needs in oncology, Dr. Hung recently took the company public in one of this year’s biggest SPAC related deals. And as Partner at Omega Funds, Doig not only led and syndicated Nuvation Bio’s Series A, but is now also President of the newly formed, Omega-sponsored, Omega Alpha SPAC (Nasdaq: OMEG; oversubscribed $138m IPO priced January 6, 2021).

CEO Harith Rajagopalan (Fractyl)

Af­ter a decade in the type 2 di­a­betes game, Fractyl Lab­o­ra­to­ries recharges with a fresh $100M and a new name

Harith Rajagopalan compared the way type 2 diabetes is managed to sticking your fingers in a dam that’s leaking from a number of places.

You can take drugs to lower your blood sugar, cholesterol, or blood pressure, but you’re not addressing what he says is the core issue — the metabolic abnormality that causes the disease.

“We’re so busy plugging the holes in the dam, we don’t have time to see that the whole infrastructure is at risk,” he said. “That infrastructure is a full-body systemic metabolic abnormality called metabolic syndrome, that we’re ignoring while we’re so busy trying to treat all of the individual symptoms of the condition.”

Barry Greene, Sage CEO

UP­DAT­ED: Sage's sec­ond chance at de­pres­sion hits the PhI­II pri­ma­ry, but ques­tions re­main over dura­bil­i­ty, side ef­fects

Looking to make a comeback after a big Phase III flop, Sage Therapeutics revealed data they believe could change the entire depression treatment landscape, given the vast array of failures in the field. But some results are spooking investors, sending Sage $SAGE shares down early Tuesday.

First, the primary: Sage and Biogen reported Phase III data for once-daily zuranolone Tuesday morning, saying the experimental drug hit its primary endpoint by spurring a statistically significant change from baseline in the 17-item Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression total score. After 15 days, patients in the drug arm saw an average change of -14.1 points, compared to -12.3 on placebo.

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Michel Sade­lain puts his name and new cell en­gi­neer­ing tech be­hind 'ag­nos­tic' CAR-T start­up chas­ing epi­ge­net­ic anti­gens

It felt natural for Alain Maiore and Sebastian Amigorena to bring in Michel Sadelain as a co-founder of Mnemo Therapeutics. A CAR-T pioneer, Sadelain had been involved as an advisor since the early days — enthusiastic about Amigorena’s work in a genetic knockout that could enhance T cell memory and a new class of potential targets he’s discovered — and could introduce some well-known technologies to the toolbox. So they got the initial cash from Sofinnova Partners to plant roots in Paris and New York in early 2019; within a few months, they began to see more clearly just what the antigen discovery platform might unlock.

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Bio­gen sig­nals a big PhI­II fail­ure as the lead gene ther­a­py in their $800M Night­star buy­out goes down in flames

That $800 million buyout of Nightstar has turned into a bust for Biogen as the lead therapy in the deal failed a pivotal study, signaling a severe setback for the biotech’s ambitions in gene therapies.

The big biotech put out the word after the market closed on Monday that the gene therapy they picked up in the deal for a degenerative blindness called choroideremia failed the Phase III study, just a month after their #2 drug in the deal also flopped in a mid-stage study.

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Hal Barron, GSK R&D chief (Endpoints News)

Hal Bar­ron gam­bles $625M cash on high-wire TIG­IT act, throw­ing Glax­o­SmithK­line in­to heat­ed race and com­plet­ing next-gen I/O trin­i­ty

Count Hal Barron and GlaxoSmithKline in for the TIGIT fight.

The stakes are as high as the risks: While a growing pack of Big Pharma rivals is lending credence to the hypothesis that TIGIT will be the next big immune checkpoint and cancer drug target, the first clinical trials have shown response rates that can be described as modest at best. But Barron’s bet is on the whole “axis” that the receptor sits on, with an eye on testing its new anti-TIGIT antibody not just in combo with PD-1 but also in triplets.

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As Covid-19 shifts the world's at­ten­tion to biotech, Noubar Afeyan's Flag­ship builds $3.4B fund to fu­el new in­ven­tions. Here's the plan

A little more than a year ago, Flagship Pioneering rolled out a monster fund with $1.1 billion in it to bankroll the platform companies they were creating inside their own labs. But it turns out, that was just the prelude to a much, much larger raise, as both current investors — who’ve been reaping the rewards of some booming biotech stocks — join in with new investors betting on more in the years to come.

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An­oth­er busy week for IPOs be­gins with an off-the shelf cell ther­a­py play­er sniff­ing around uni­corn sta­tus

Editor’s note: Interested in following biopharma’s fast-paced IPO market? You can bookmark our IPO Tracker here.

A flurry of biotechs are expected to hit Nasdaq this week, with two companies, Ambrx Biopharma and Century Therapeutics, setting the terms for their public debuts, with expected raises at $126 million and $200 million, respectively. Alzamend Neuro is also joining in with a $12.5 million raise and two preclinical Alzheimer’s treatments in tow.

Alexander Vos, VectorY CEO

Start­ing fresh in man­u­fac­tur­ing, For­bion start­up re­fu­els to steer next-gen gene ther­a­py ap­proach for ALS, Alzheimer's in­to clin­ic

Forbion laid out its case for a next-generation gene therapy approach when it took the wraps off VectorY Therapeutics and its vectorized antibody tech in February. Now, the Dutch VC has tapped an experienced hand at cell and gene therapy manufacturing to steer the ship — and pulled a marquee syndicate for a €31 million ($37.6 million) seed round.

Alexander Vos, the new CEO, is a venture partner at BioGeneration Ventures and jumps immediately from VarmX, a BGV portfolio company developing an anticoagulant. But before that, he had led Dutch CDMO PharmaCell for eight years until it was bought out by Lonza.