With €27.5m ($37m) in venture capital secured - Europe’s second largest Series B for a drug developer this year – Argen-X is ready to take its first two antibodies towards the clinic.
The cash should last until 2015 by which time safety and early efficacy data will be available on the two products, both potential cancer treatments. A decision on partnering or pushing on alone will be taken then, chief executive Tim Van Hauwermeiren tells EP Vantage. Interest in a third drug, a potent anti-IL6 antibody that the company wants to license earlier, is already picking up, he says.
The Belgium antibody specialist managed to attract US investor OrbiMed across the pond for this round, co-leading with France's Seventure. Existing investors including Forbion and Credit Agricole also returned.
OrbiMed - which defied talk of a paucity of capital available to venture firms by raising a huge $550m fund early last year – does invest in Europe but not often. The New York firm last invested in a European drug developer in 2010, contributing to Cerenis’ Series C and Affimed Therapeutics’ Series C rounds, in which it followed rather than led.
Mr Van Hauwermeiren says having a US investor involved this time was important to help build a presence in the market.
“The bulk of potential partners are situated in the States, so it’s a market in which you want to be very active; having an investor like Orbimed on board certainly helps,” he says.
“They know the space very well in which we compete, they have five antibody or scaffold companies already in their portfolio.”
The bulk of the new funds will be directed at two products, ARGX-110 and ARGX-111. The company hopes to file for permission to begin testing in man in 2013 and 2014, respectively; clinical trials will probably be conducted in the US.
The molecular target of ARGX-110 has not been disclosed but the likely cancer target will be lymphomas; the novel antibody is targeted at B and T cell receptors. ARGX-111 meanwhile is anti c-met antibody - “The holy grail in solid tumours”, Mr Van Hauwermeiren says.
Meanwhile, since starting the search for a partner a few months ago interest has been shown in ARGX-109, an anti-IL6 antibody like Roche’s Actemra and a number of others in development.
“We believe '109 is best in class against IL-6. We have completed the in vivo package, it is just a matter of doing IND enabling studies” to get the drug into the clinic, he says.
At the same time further partners will be sought for collaborations over the company’s antibody platform. Derived from outbred llamas and generating antibodies that Argen-X says can target more epitopes with greater potency, a deal with Eli Lilly has already proved fruitful.
“In only six months after signing the deal we cracked the target they thought was not possible to crack,” Mr Van Hauwermeiren says.
“We have shown we can hit difficult disease targets on many different epitopes. With the Series A money we generated data on ten in-house targets showing we can crack these highly complex targets where others failed.”
The €9.5m Series A round, raised in early March last year, has helped establish the potential in Argen-X’s platform. Antibodies and cancer antibodies in particular remain hot property, and the Series B round must now validate the company's first products.