Werewolf prepares to bare its teeth in 1st trial for targeted cytokine tumor fighters with new round of investor cash
Boston area biotech Werewolf Therapeutics launched in late 2019 with the goal of chasing novel immune system modulators to eradicate solid tumors. Just over a year after hitting the ground running, Werewolf has three candidates in development and has its eyes set on the clinic with a new round of funding.
Werewolf on Thursday unveiled a $72 million Series B round to move its immunotherapies, which target the microenvironments of solid cancer tumors, to Phase I clinical proof-of-concept studies.
The company, which launched with $56 million in Series A financing, is chasing pro-inflammatory immune modulator molecules like IL-2 and IL-12 under its Indukine trademark to hunt solid tumors. Werewolf’s targeted cytokine candidates aim to only trigger an immune response once they enter a tumor’s microenvironment — thereby sparing the surrounding healthy cells from damage.
Werewolf CEO Dan Hicklin told Endpoints News that the newest round of financing signifies the level of progress the company has achieved in a relatively short period of time, but more importantly will allow further research into addressing the ongoing unmet medical needs associated with solid cancer tumors that don’t respond consistently to other cancer therapeutics.
“First, we got over the hurdle of showing that you could really make immunotherapy work and (the second hurdle of) not just in one or two cancers, but multiple cancers. So we have to start tapping into other approaches and other mechanisms to stimulate the immune system, because right now checkpoint therapy is remarkable in what it can do — but it has its limitations,” Hicklin said. “There’s still patients that don’t respond. There’s still patients that relapse. And so, you know, the therapy is trying to go to that next stage where we’re looking at additional mechanisms and different ways to stimulate the immune system.”
Werewolf Therapeutics CEO Dan Hicklin works alongside a scientist in the company’s laboratory.
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Werewolf now has three molecule programs in its portfolio, Hicklin said, and is “thrilled” about the progress the company has made in its ongoing technology developments. This progress is what led to “a really world-class set of life science investors” funding a new round of investments, he added.
Those investors include RA Capital Management, which led the round and is joined by Deerfield Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Soleus Capital, Adage Capital, Sphera Healthcare and CaaS Capital. The company said its Series A investors, including MPM Capital, Longwood, Taiho Ventures, Arkin Bio Ventures, DC Investment Partners and UPMC, also contributed to the Series B funds.
Werewolf’s Indukine uses a proprietary engineering structure dubbed PREDATOR, which Hicklin describes as a multifaceted system that has pharmaceutical properties which allow it to function like a drug. Once administered into the body, the molecules selectively activate once they encounter cancerous disease tissue, which could spare regular tissue from adverse effects.
“These are cytokines that are a very powerful way to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors,” he said. “But unfortunately, these cytokines can also activate the immune system and adversely affect normal tissues as well, especially if they’re not targeted and controlled properly once they’re administered to the host … importantly, we’re doing this without compromising their potency.”
The new round of financing comes at an exciting time for the company, which in the past six months or so has added two key biotech vets to its C-suite in Randi Isaacs, a 20-year veteran who took over as Werewolf’s chief medical officer after leaving Novartis, and Ellen Lubman, who hopped over as the company’s chief business officer after stints at Impel NeuroPharma and Allergan.
Lubman, who joined Werewolf in August, said her first five months have been “nothing short of exhilarating.”
“Both in terms of where the biotech industry is today, and how we have really become as an industry, much more of a unicorn — given the ability to rapidly develop a Covid-19 response, medically speaking — and so that’s been an exhilarating opportunity … to be part of this time in our history,” Lubman said.
Werewolf has held its preclinical data for its two Indukine candidates, known as WTX-124 and WTX-330, close to the vest. Hicklin said the company plans on publicly reading out data during the American Association for Cancer Research conference, which will be held in April and May.