There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of cash for those looking for a better IL-2. Swiss company Anaveon raised an additional $ 119 million on Thursday to see its own candidate participate in a series of Phase II trials – and a new Big Pharma investor is signing up.
Immunotherapies targeting IL-2 – which stimulates T-cell multiplication and attacks tumors – have proven to be quite powerful against cancer over the past two decades, but are infamous for their toxic side effects. While Proleukin, approved in 1992, helped establish IL-2’s potency, safety concerns and a modest half-life thwarted its potential.
Today, a wide range of companies are rushing to see if they can create next-generation IL-2 therapy without the dangerous side effects. Anaveon’s candidate, ANV419, is designed to preferentially signal via the IL2 beta / gamma receptor, excluding the alpha receptor, in the hope of achieving greater selectivity.
“This contributes to safety because alpha / beta / gamma is responsible for some of the safety issues,” said CEO and co-founder Andreas Katopodis. News from terminals. “It does not proliferate regulatory cells, which protect cancer, and only proliferate so-called effector cells, which are in this case anticancer. “
The approach dates back to research conducted by Onur Boyman at the University of Zurich. Novartis Biomedical Research Institutes (of which Katopodis was director) had partnered with the university on the project, before Novartis decided to pull out. Boyman and Katopodis launched Anaveon to continue the work in 2017.
The company got around $ 35 million in Series A funding two years later, with the participation of venture capital fund Novartis. This time around, Pfizer’s venture capital arm is also joining Series B. The round was led by Forbion, with a helping hand. of Syncona, the Novartis Venture Fund, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Pfizer Ventures and Pontifax.
ANV419 is currently in a Phase I / II trial in patients with solid tumors, the results of which are expected to be read at the AACR in April. The next step will be a series of Phase II studies in multiple indications, which Katopodis has declined to disclose at this time.
“We are taking the road of trying to do a lot of trials in parallel, and give either a green signal to our molecule early or a red signal, (which) hopefully will never happen,” said the managing director. . “We don’t want to delay decision making.
Anaveon isn’t the only IL-2-focused company to have taken a huge turn in the past year.
Asher Biotherapeutics closed a $ 108 million Series B round just a few months ago to advance its lead candidate, a modified IL-2 targeting CD8 + effector T cells, through a human proof-of-concept study. It came just a few months after the company snagged a $ 55 million Series A. And in June, Bright Peak Therapeutics landed a $ 107 million B round to launch its IL-2 program in the clinic in 2022.
“I can’t tell you we’re better than them because we don’t know all of their data… and I don’t know exactly what they are doing,” Katopodis said of the competition. “Ultimately, of course, it will be a question of who is working and in what indication.”