The second half of the year has seen some big biopharma venture rounds. While the latest, Kymab’s $100m series C, has not hit the dizzy heights of Moderna’s $451m round, it is still the joint fourth-largest of 2016 so far (see table below).
It is also the chunkiest raise for a private UK biotech this year. The monoclonal antibody specialist was no doubt helped by its presence in the hot immuno-oncology sector; however, it is still an early bet as Kymab does not yet have any assets in the clinic. Its first is set to be a graft-versus-host disease candidate, KY1005, an anti-Ox40 ligand MAb due to start human trials next year, chief executive David Chiswell told EP Vantage.
Ox40 agonists, which aim to enhance the immune system rather than suppress it, are already being studied in cancer, but KY1005 is the only antagonist of Ox40 or its ligand in development according to EvaluatePharma.
Eye on China
Interestingly, Kymab’s funding round included new investors from China, ORI Healthcare Fund and Shenzhen Hepalink Pharmaceutical, as well as existing investors the Wellcome Trust, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Malin Corporation, and two funds run by Neil Woodford.
Kymab has had its eye on China for a while and had been building up relationships in the country, Mr Chiswell said. “We now have friends in China who can help us work out how best we exploit the potential there.”
The Hepalink connection could be doubly useful down the line as the company has an antibody manufacturing facility in the US through last year’s acquisition of Cytovance Biologics.
|Top 10 biopharma funding rounds in 2016*|
|Moderna Therapeutics||451.4||Various||US||Undisclosed||Aug 2016|
|Denali||130||CNS||US||Series B||Aug 2016|
|Unity Biotechnology||116||Diseases of aging||US||Series B||Oct 2016|
|DalCor Pharmaceuticals||100||Cardiovascular||Canada||Series B||Jan 2016|
|Kymab||100||Oncology/various||UK||Series C||Nov 2016|
|Zai Lab||100||Oncology/respiratory||China||Series B||Apr 2016|
|Mission Therapeutics||86.4||Oncology/CNS||UK||Undisclosed||Feb 2016|
|Tioma Therapeutics||86||Oncology||US||Series A||Aug 2016|
|Biohaven Pharmaceutical Holding||80||Neurology||US||Undisclosed||Nov 2016|
|Forty Seven||75||Oncology||US||Series A||Feb 2016|
|*As of November 24. Source: EvaluatePharma|
But first Kymab, which produces fully human antibodies using its Kymouse transgenic platform, will need to negotiate clinical trials. The new cash injection should last it three years – in this time the group hopes to get five programmes into the clinic, two or three of which will be in immuno-oncology, Mr Chiswell said.
The first immuno-oncology candidate will probably start clinical trials in 2018, the UK biotech veteran added. He would not say much more about what targets Kymab was looking at, apart from that the initial immuno-oncology programme would feature a “fairly typical antibody with some interesting features”, while the next few would “quite likely be bispecifics”.
Indeed, he thinks quite a lot of Kymab’s future pipeline will be made up of bispecific antibodies, an area of increasing interest for big pharma (Behold the son of Blincyto, September 2, 2016).
Mr Chiswell insisted that Kymab was not looking for a takeout. “That’s not our intention. We want to build a large pharma company based on our technology and, in the fullness of time, sell our own products.” He added that the group would likely do lots of deals with bigger companies between now and then.
Mr Chiswell seemed unconcerned with potential competitors like Ablynx and Crescendo Biologics. “We do human antibodies – Crescendo does fragments and Ablynx does camels. We don’t really compete with antibody companies. In immuno-oncology, we compete with the whole world of immuno-oncology.”
He claimed that Kymab had “the best antibody-generating platform – that’s why we work with the Gates Foundation. Our business model is to use that as a ticket to the game, and the game is developing human therapeutics.”
As well as oncology and autoimmune disorders, Kymab is also developing candidates in haematology and infectious diseases. With 16 projects on the go, according to its website, its problem is unlikely to be running out of candidates – but rather, focusing on the right ones.