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.

Big Phar­ma's Twit­ter ex­o­dus; Mer­ck wa­gers $1.35B on buy­out; $3.5M gene ther­a­py; and more

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As you start planning for #JPM23, we hope you will consider joining Endpoints News for our live and virtual events. For those who are celebrating Thanksgiving, we hope you are enjoying the long weekend with loved ones. And if you’re not — we’ll see you next week!

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Paul Perreault, CSL Behring CEO

CSL lands FDA ap­proval for he­mo­phil­ia B gene ther­a­py, sets $3.5M list price

The FDA has approved the world’s first gene therapy for hemophilia B, ushering into the market a treatment that’s historic in both what it promises to do and how much it will cost.

CSL will be marketing the drug, Hemgenix, at a list price of $3.5 million — which sets a new record for the most expensive single-use gene therapy in the US.

In a statement provided to Endpoints News, the Australian company noted that the current costs of treating people with moderate to severe hemophilia B can be significant over a lifetime. By some estimates, healthcare systems could spend more than $20 million per person.

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Elon Musk (GDA via AP Images)

Biggest drug com­pa­nies halt­ed Twit­ter ad buys af­ter Lil­ly in­sulin spoof

Almost all of the drug industry’s biggest advertisers cut their spending on Twitter to zero or near-zero over the last two weeks amid worries about impersonation of their brands by pranksters and the future of the social media company.

Among 18 of the biggest pharmaceutical advertisers in the US market, 12 cut their Twitter ad spending to nothing for the week beginning Nov. 14, according to Pathmatics, which tracks data on prescription drug ad spending as well as general corporate advertising. The list of drugmakers cutting spending to zero includes Merck, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer and others.

Rob Davis, Merck CEO

Up­dat­ed: No Seagen here: 'Do more' means a small $1.35B pur­chase of Ima­go for Mer­ck

Merck is making an acquisition, the Big Pharma announced before Monday’s opening bell. No, Seagen is not entering the fold, as had been speculated for quarters.

Folding under Merck’s wings will be Pfizer-backed Imago BioSciences. For nearly a year, Merck CEO Rob Davis has been saying the pharma giant needs to “do more” on the business development front after its 2021 $11.5 billion acquisition of Acceleron.

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Andrew Phillips, Nexo Therapeutics CEO

Scoop: Ver­sant, NEA launch new biotech helmed by ex-CEO of pro­tein de­grad­er C4 Ther­a­peu­tics

Long-time biotech venture firms Versant and New Enterprise Associates are backing a new startup run by former C4 Therapeutics chief executive Andrew Phillips.

The fledgling biotech has raised at least $30 million so far, according to paperwork filed with the SEC this week. The round could balloon to $60 million.

Phillips, who left protein degradation startup C4 in 2020 to be a managing director at Cormorant Asset Management, is running the show of the new venture as president, the SEC filing outlines. He also served as interim CEO of Cormorant-backed and Hansoh Pharmaceutical-partnered Blossom Bioscience last year.

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Alzheimer’s drug bites the dust; Re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture, re­struc­ture; Land­mark di­a­betes OK; and more

Welcome back to Endpoints Weekly, your review of the week’s top biopharma headlines. Want this in your inbox every Saturday morning? Current Endpoints readers can visit their reader profile to add Endpoints Weekly. New to Endpoints? Sign up here.

Being in the news business can give one a warped sense of time — it feels like quite a while since we published some of these stories below. But next Saturday’s Endpoints Weekly will definitely be shorter, as we take off Thursday and Friday for Thanksgiving. We will still have the abbreviated edition in your inbox at the usual time.

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Image: Shutterstock

MIT re­searchers re­veal DNA "Paste" tech be­hind lat­est gene edit­ing start­up

MIT scientists have developed a tool that they say can insert large gene sequences where they want in the genome.

In a paper published Thursday in Nature Biotechnology, MIT fellows Omar Abudayyeh, Jonathan Gootenberg and colleagues detail a technology they call PASTE, which they say can potentially be used to insert long strands of DNA and treat genetic diseases caused by many different mutations, such as cystic fibrosis and Leber congenital amaurosis, a rare eye disorder that causes blindness.

J&J's Spra­va­to pulls a PhI­II win against Sero­quel XR in treat­ment-re­sis­tant de­pres­sion

A day before Thanksgiving, J&J’s Janssen has a new cut of Phase III Spravato data to be grateful for.

The pharma giant announced on Wednesday that its nasal spray, also known as esketamine, beat extended-release quetiapine, previously sold by AstraZeneca as Seroquel XR, in treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Of 676 adults, a significantly higher number of patients on Spravato were able to achieve remission and avoid relapse after 32 weeks, according to J&J.

Dermavant Sciences' first consumer TV ad for its Vtama psoriasis med shows people ready for a new topical treatment.

Roivant’s Der­ma­vant de­buts first-ever TV com­mer­cial for pso­ri­a­sis cream Vta­ma

Dermavant Sciences has been marketing its first product, psoriasis med Vtama, to dermatologists for months, but on Tuesday it rolled out its first consumer campaign. The debut DTC effort including a streaming TV commercial encourages patients to a “Topical Uprising” in a nod to Vtama being a topical cream.

In the new commercial, a swell of people discards scarves and jacket coverings, gathering in the street to converge on a pharmacy to demand a steroid-free prescription. A moment of levity follows when a pharmacist says, “You know you can just talk to your doctor, right?” The gathered crowds collectively says, “Oh.”

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