ADC startup NBE raises $20M from Novo Holdings, doubling size of Boehringer-backed B round

Swiss flag by a lake
The expression of ROR1, a tyrosine kinase orphan receptor, by range of tumor types has attracted the attention of multiple research groups. (Andrew Bossi/CC BY-SA 2.5)

Novo Holdings has invested CHF 20 million ($20 million) in NBE Therapeutics, doubling the size of the startup’s series B round. NBE will use the money to start testing anti-ROR1 antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) NBE-002 in solid tumor patients.

Swiss biotech NBE is building its pipeline upon an enzymatic approach to the conjugation of small molecules and antibodies. NBE thinks its approach provides more control over where the payload is joined to the antibody than is possible with traditional chemical conjugation. This should contribute to superior stability, enabling NBE to use highly toxic payloads without running the risk that they will detach near healthy tissue and cause adverse events.

Fueled by CHF 20 million from Novo, NBE is now set to test this idea in the clinic. The first candidate to emerge from the enzymatic ADC platform consists of an anthracycline-based toxin attached to a ROR1-targeting antibody.

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The expression of ROR1, a tyrosine kinase orphan receptor, by a range of tumor types has attracted the attention of multiple research groups. A team at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is testing an anti-ROR1 CAR-T in the clinic, while Oncternal Therapeutics has advanced a monoclonal antibody aimed at the target into early-phase trials.

NBE is deploying a different modality to go after the same target. In NBE’s case, the idea is to use an antibody to latch onto the receptor, after which it will release a toxic chemotherapeutic payload. If, as was thought, ROR1 is found at low levels, if at all, in healthy tissues this approach could result in a highly targeted therapy. However, research published last year suggested ROR1 is more prevalent in healthy tissues, particularly the stomach antrum and gastric body, than previously thought. 

Further details of what, if anything, this means for the field will become clearer as the groups with ROR1 therapies in and on the cusp of the clinic generate more data. Backed by Novo, NBE is set to start learning how its candidate fares in solid tumor patients. 

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