$70M funding sets Neon on course for bright 2017

CEO Hugh O'Dowd says funding means company is not dependent on partnering to finance activities.

Immuno-oncology startup Neon Therapeutics has started the year with a cash injection that will allow it to move ahead with all three of its development programs in parallel.

The $70 million series B financing comes as Neon is just months away from data from an ongoing Phase 1b trial of cancer vaccine candidate NEO-PV-01, the first test of its neoantigen technology platform in humans.

The trial is testing the combination of the Fierce 15 company's personalized vaccine technology with Bristol-Myers Squibb's checkpoint inhibitor Opdivo (nivolumab) and—according to CEO Hugh O'Dowd—"have an initial read-out of immune and clinical endpoints by the end of 2017."

Neoantigens are antigens which are foreign to the body but found in cancer cells, so can be used to drive the immune system to attack tumors. Neon's first cancer vaccines will use antigens harvested from patients themselves.

O'Dowd—who joined the biotech from Novartis Oncology last September—told FierceBiotech that the new funding will allow Neon to maintain its independence as it prepares for that data and pushes forward two other projects—its NEO-PTC-01 personalized T cell program and the search for 'shared' neoantigens that can be used for off-the-shelf therapeutic vaccines.

"This financing ensures that Neon Therapeutics is not dependent on partnering activities to finance its activities," he said, adding that it also means that the company has no near-term plans to pursue an initial public offering (IPO) to raise further funds.

"Future financing activities, including a potential IPO, will be dictated by our progress and data," continued O'Dowd. "Partnering could bring some important complementary capabilities and assets to our programs,, but it is important that the right partners and the right structures are considered to ensure Neon … can remain independent and retain important value-creating rights."

The latest financing will allow the company to build out its capabilities in bioinformatics, immune monitoring and tumor immunology, he said. It will also be used to initiate other combination studies with NEO-PV-01 during the course of 2017, file an investigational medical product (IMP) dossier for NEO-PTC-01 and validate several shared neoantigen targets.

Before the end of the year, the company expects to have selected initial clinical candidates for its share neoantigen program. Meanwhile, the clinical trial design for the first trial of NEO-PTC-01 has not yet been finalized, but dosing with a checkpoint inhibitor is currently being assessed.

The series B financing was led by Partner Fund Management and included existing investors Third Rock Ventures and Access Industries, as well as new backers Fidelity Management & Research Company, Wellington Management Company, Inbio Ventures and Nextech Invest.

"The investor quality in this financing reflects the promise of the neoantigen biology platform, as well as our leading position," said O'Dowd.