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.”
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.
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.