Several companies decided to get a head start on their new year’s growth as 2019 came to a close, sharing news of momentum for their respective drug discovery/development platforms. Werewolf Therapeutics and Arctoris Ltd. closed successful financings that will support their efforts to further grow their platforms, while Engitix Ltd. secured a spot at LabCentral to advance its work in fibrosis and cancer.
A PREDATOR born of Werewolf
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.—Late November saw the close of Werewolf Therapeutics’ $56-million Series A financing, which was led by MPM Capital and Longwood Fund. Taiho Ventures, Arkin Bio Ventures, UPMC Enterprises and DC Investment Partners also participated. Werewolf plans to use the Series A funds to advance its platform and pipeline into early clinical development, as well as to support investment in research and expanding its staff.
“Immunotherapy has emerged as a foundational treatment option in oncology, but the range of patients benefiting from these medicines is still small and the repertoire of more potent immunotherapies is limited by significant toxicities,” said Dr. Daniel J. Hicklin, Werewolf’s president and CEO. “Werewolf Therapeutics is designing powerful immunotherapies to more precisely and effectively stimulate anti-tumor immune responses to improve safety, efficacy and durability. Through our PREDATOR technology platform, we are creating a new class of transformative immuno-oncology therapeutics to deliver a clinically meaningful impact for patients.”
The company’s platform focuses on protein engineering to generate potent biologics that can be delivered in an inactivated state so that they only activate in the target zone and don’t damage healthy tissues. Once therapeutic molecules reach the tumor microenvironment, they are selectively activated to deliver their payload, offering a new way to use cytokines and immune stimulatory antibodies at therapeutically effective doses without the risk of systemic toxicities.
With the aid of the Series A funding, Werewolf intends to focus initially on INDUKINES, its conditionally activated cytokines.
Robotics platform gets funding boost
OXFORD, U.K.—A seed funding round near the end of last year netted Arctoris Ltd. £3.2 million to advance its fully automated drug discovery platform. RT Partners led the financing, with additional participants including angel investors Patrick Pichette and Vishal Gulati, as well as industry members such as Charles Songhurst, Alexander Straub, TD Veen AS and Tanarra Capital.
“This support from industry-recognized investors and advisors will enable our team to continue to develop our revolutionary approach to drug discovery, which has been specifically designed to produce data of the highest possible quality from a broad range of biochemical, molecular biology and cell biology assays,” remarked Dr. Martin-Immanuel Bittner, co-founder and CEO of Arctoris. “Through our platform, scientists and biotechnology entrepreneurs worldwide can make discoveries faster and more efficiently, paving the way to introducing new treatments to patients sooner.”
The company will use the funds to further develop its commercial operations and service portfolio. Arctoris’ service offerings provide customers with a platform for rapid success in drug discovery from target identification to candidate characterization, in addition to generating datasets for artificial intelligence model validation. The robotic laboratory features a broad range of cellular, molecular and biochemical assays, and delivers high-quality data through standardized, pre-optimized and validated processes.
A year across the pond
LONDON—Winning a Golden Ticket from Takeda Pharmaceutical Co. Ltd. may not have gotten Engitix Ltd. into Wonka’s chocolate factory, but it did provide the company’s subsidiary, Engitix Inc., with access to LabCentral. Engitix will get to enjoy one year of lab bench space at LabCentral, a shared laboratory and office space in Cambridge, Mass., as well as first-class lab, facility and administrative support; skilled laboratory personnel; and participation in LabCentral’s training program and seminars. Engitix intends to use the Golden Ticket to accelerate its human extracellular matrix (ECM) research in fibrosis and solid tumor disease progression.
Engitix describes its drug discovery platform as the world’s first proprietary platform based on tissue- and disease-specific human ECM scaffolds. The 3D human ECM scaffolds enable further exploration of the role of the ECM in disease pathology, thereby aiding in the identification of more relevant targets for drug and biomarker discovery, according to Engitix. The company notes that “A key current limitation in developing more effective treatments in fibrosis and for various solid cancers has been the absence of human ECM in experimental models.”
“We are honored to have received this Golden Ticket from Takeda, bringing us immediate access to a world-class bioresearch facility. It is a first step in developing Engitix’s presence in the United States, and I look forward to building our network in Cambridge and across the USA more widely. We are also delighted that Takeda, a leader in the area of gastrointestinal diseases, has recognized the potential in Engitix’s ECM technology,” said Dr Giuseppe Mazza, Engitix co-founder and CEO.