A consistent theme of 2023 has been that advanced assets attract seismic capital and a newly launched biotech adds more proof to the pile.
Aiolos Bio is jetting out of stealth with a $245 million series A, igniting its startup thrusters en route to a phase 2 trial for its lead asset to treat severe asthma. That asset, AIO-001, is an anti-TSLP antibody licensed from Jiangsu Hengrui Pharmaceuticals, a Chinese biotech that’s retained rights to the greater China market.
The $245 million has been spent in part on licensing the asset, the financial details of which Aiolos leadership declined to disclose in an interview with Fierce Biotech, beyond saying that it involved upfront and milestone payments. Hengrui did not respond to a request for additional details. The rest will be spent on developing the asset toward “a meaningful clinical value inflection point,” according to CEO Khurem Farooq, who previously was the CEO of Novartis-acquired Gyroscope Therapeutics. Farooq said the company is still working through exactly what point that is.
Nonetheless, the deal serves as yet the latest example of how “derisked” assets are the best way to attract big money in biotech amid a tight financing environment. In other words, the more promising data, the better. AIO-001 has so far been tested in more than 100 patients in phase 1 trials in China and New Zealand, the majority of whom were healthy volunteers.
Tony Adamis, M.D., co-founder of Aiolos, says the data so far show that the molecule is “very potent” and effective when dosed just twice a year.
“That really led us to the conclusion that this is potentially best-in-class, best-in-disease,” Adamis told Fierce Biotech.
The asset is also being researched as a treatment for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) and chronic spontaneous urticaria (CSU). Adamis said that research in both indications remains in a preclinical stage and that “to date, only asthma patients have been treated with this drug.”
The fact that the company is launching with a mid-stage asset was tantalizing to investors, who include top firms such as RA Capital, Atlas Venture, Bain Capital Life Sciences, Forbion and Soffinova.
Other biotechs have been able to go public with a similar strategy, leaning on the potential of a single clinical-stage asset rather than exciting but unproven science. Mineralys and Abivax are two companies that hit Wall Street with single assets. Farooq noted, however, that the expectation is not that AIO-001 will be the only asset in the pipeline forever.
“We will continue to look for additional assets to bring into the company, as appropriate,” he said. “It’s something we'll be actively looking at, for sure.”