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.

Forge Bi­o­log­ics’ cGMP Com­pli­ant and Com­mer­cial­ly Vi­able Be­spoke Affin­i­ty Chro­matog­ra­phy Plat­form

Forge Biologics has developed a bespoke affinity chromatography platform approach that factors in unique vector combinations to streamline development timelines and assist our clients in efficiently entering the clinic. By leveraging our experience with natural and novel serotypes and transgene conformations, we are able to accelerate affinity chromatography development by nearly 3-fold. Many downstream purification models are serotype-dependent, demanding unique and time-consuming development strategies for each AAV gene therapy product1. With the increasing demand to propel AAV gene therapies to market, platform purification methods that support commercial-scale manufacturing of high-quality vectors with excellent safety and efficacy profiles are essential.

Mathai Mammen, FogPharma's next CEO

Math­ai Mam­men hands in J&J's R&D keys to lead Greg Ver­dine’s Fog­Phar­ma 

In the early 1990s, Mathai Mammen was a teaching assistant in Greg Verdine’s Science B46 course at Harvard. In June, the former R&D head at Johnson & Johnson will succeed Verdine as CEO, president and chair of FogPharma, the same month the seven-year-old biotech kickstarts its first clinical trial.

After leading R&D at one of the largest drugmakers in the world, taking the company through more than half a dozen drug approvals in the past few years, not to mention a Covid-19 vaccine race, Mammen departed J&J last month and will take the helm of a Cambridge, MA biotech attempting to go after what Verdine calls the “true emperor of all oncogenes” — beta-catenin.

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Sen­ate Fi­nance Com­mit­tee lobs more bi­par­ti­san pres­sure on­to PBMs

Congress is honing in on how it wants to overhaul the rules of the road for pharmacy benefit managers, with a Senate Finance Committee hearing Thursday serving as the latest example of the Hill’s readiness to make changes to how pharma middlemen operate.

While pledging to ensure patients and pharmacies “don’t get a raw deal,” Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) laid out the beginning of what looks like a major bipartisan effort — moves the PBM industry is likely to challenge vigorously.

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Nicklas Westerholm, Egetis Therapeutics CEO

Ac­qui­si­tion talks on­go­ing for Swedish rare dis­ease biotech Egetis, shares up al­most 40%

Shares of the Sweden-based rare disease biotech Egetis Therapeutics skyrocketed on Thursday afternoon as the company said it’s engaged in “ongoing discussion” with external parties regarding a “potential acquisition.”

Egetis confirmed rumors with a statement on Thursday while noting that there is no certainty that a takeover offer will be made.

Nonetheless, the possibility of an acquisition has shot up Egetis’ share price. By the afternoon on Thursday, its stock price was {$EGTX.ST} up over 38%. An Egetis spokesperson told Endpoints News in an email that it has no further comments.

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Lu­pus drug de­vel­op­ment mar­ket heat­ing up, while FDA links with ad­vo­ca­cy group to fur­ther ac­cel­er­ate re­search

The long-underserved systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) market is suddenly buzzing with treatment possibilities. Less than two years after AstraZeneca’s approval for Saphnelo — the first new SLE drug in a decade and joining just one other approved in GSK’s Benlysta – the pipeline of potential drugs numbers in the dozens.

Although most are very early stage — Spherix Global Insights estimates five in Phase II/III — the pharma R&D enthusiasm is catching on among doctors, patients and advocacy groups. On Wednesday, the Lupus Research Alliance and the FDA formed a novel private-public partnership called Lupus Accelerating Breakthroughs Consortium (Lupus ABC) to help advance lupus clinical trial success.

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Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

Mod­er­na so­lid­i­fies deal with Kenya to build mR­NA man­u­fac­tur­ing fa­cil­i­ty

The mRNA player Moderna is further cementing its presence on the African continent.

Moderna announced on Thursday that it has finalized an agreement with Kenya’s government to partner up and bring an mRNA manufacturing facility to the east African nation. The new facility aims to manufacture up to 500 million doses of vaccines annually. Moderna also said the new facility will have the ability to spike its production capabilities to respond to public health emergencies on the continent or globally.

Luke Miels, GSK chief commercial officer

GSK picks up Scynex­is' FDA-ap­proved an­ti­fun­gal drug for $90M up­front

GSK is dishing out $90 million cash to add an antifungal drug to its commercial portfolio, in a deal spotlighting the pharma giant’s growing focus on infectious diseases.

The upfront will lock in an exclusive license to Scynexis’ Brexafemme, which was approved in 2021 to treat a yeast infection known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, except in China and certain other countries where Scynexis already out-licensed the drug.

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Deborah Waterhouse, ViiV Healthcare CEO

MPP re­cruits three gener­ic man­u­fac­tur­ers to ex­pand use of Vi­iV's in­jectable PrEP drug

ViiV Healthcare has teamed up with the UN-backed Medicines Patent Pool and three generic manufacturers to expand access to medicine that can prevent HIV.

ViiV and the Medicines Patent Pool jointly announced Thursday that the MPP signed sub-licensing agreements with Aurobindo, Cipla and Viatris to manufacture generics of a long-acting form of cabotegravir for HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). As a result of the agreement, the manufacturers will be able to develop, manufacture and supply generic versions of cabotegravir LA in 90 countries — subject to regulatory approvals.

Four community leaders who are living with HIV celebrate life and accomplishments in Theratechnologies' new campaign

Re­al pa­tient ‘cham­pi­ons’ liv­ing with HIV star in Ther­at­e­ch­nolo­gies cam­paign

Over the past several years, people living with HIV have been more often telling Theratechnologies that they wanted more representation. Specifically, they wanted more African American people and more focus on living and thriving versus more typical medication regimen messaging.

So Theratechnologies came up with a new campaign called “I Am A Champion,” initially launched at the US Conference on HIV last year. The initial conference, print and digital media efforts highlight the triumphs of four long-term survivors from across the US.

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