Achilles raises £100M for personalized T cell solid tumor trials

Achilles Therapeutics has raised a £100 million ($120 million) series B round. The financing sets Achilles up to run human proof-of-concept studies of its personalized T-cell therapies in two types of solid tumors.

Syncona and Cancer Research Technology founded Achilles in 2016 to build on research into cancer and cell therapies done by scientists including Charles Swanton at the Francis Crick Institute, UCL and the Royal Free Hospital. The collective efforts of those scientists gave Achilles a platform for developing T-cell therapies targeting clonal antigens. These antigens are cell surface proteins unique to each patient’s tumor.

Working with an initial £13.2 million series A and other funding, Achilles has taken two programs to the cusp of the clinic. The British biotech received clearance to start testing one asset in non-small cell lung cancer in January and followed up with a green light to run a trial in melanoma patients the next month.

The series B round positions Achilles to start those trials and advance the programs to critical early efficacy readouts. Achilles’ main goal for the series B is to deliver proof-of-concept studies. The rest of the money will support the build-out of Achilles’ manufacturing capabilities and preclinical work.

Achilles has expanded its investor syndicate to gather the money needed to execute that strategy. RA Capital Management, a new, U.S.-based investor, led the round with the support of fellow first-time backers including Forbion, Invus, Perceptive Advisors and Redmile Group. Syncona again played a big role in the financing, committing £35.1 million to the round.

The investors will provide Achilles with the funding in tranches. Syncona, which as a public company discloses its investments, is providing Achilles with £23.4 million in the first series B tranche. The value of Syncona’s investment almost doubled between the series A and B rounds, but it now has to share the company with other investors. Syncona’s share will fall to 44% once the series B is over.

In the run-up to the series B, Achilles has put together a team to oversee its move into the clinic. The business is headed up by Iraj Ali, who moved over from Syncona, and features Jane Robertson and Markus Dangl in the chief medical officer and chief scientific officer roles, respectively. Robertson led phase 3 trials of Lynparza while at AstraZeneca. Achilles has also enlisted ex-Ablynx CEO Edwin Moses to serve as chairman.