The brainchild of three top U.K. universities and three pharma giants, Apollo Therapeutics made a splash when it debuted in early 2016. Then, crickets.
“We’ve been quiet for the last five and a half years because we didn’t need to communicate," said Richard Mason, the newly appointed CEO of Apollo Therapeutics.
"Apollo was set up to really get on and find potentially transformative science in those three universities—deep academic science—and fuse that with cutting-edge industrial R&D expertise,” said Mason, who takes over from Richard Butt, Ph.D., a Pfizer veteran who’s led Apollo since May 2016 and will now serve as Apollo’s chief scientific officer.
"Now is the time to really accelerate it and go full throttle in this next phase of major investment," he said. So, what has Apollo been up to, in the intervening years?
“We’ve been very busy beavering away, creating a large, diversified portfolio of programs,” Mason said. That includes more than 15 programs at various stages of preclinical development, spanning oncology, inflammatory disorders and rare diseases.
The company isn’t divulging specific targets or diseases for those programs, but Mason said it’s working on small molecules, antibodies and other biological constructs. It expects “a number of them” to enter the clinic in “the relatively near term, plus or minus 12 months,” Mason said.
And Apollo’s new $145 million in financing—from Patient Square Capital, Rock Springs Capital, Reimagined Ventures and UCL Technology Fund—will help get it there. The proceeds will also support the expansion of the company’s facilities in Cambridge, U.K., set up operations across the pond in Boston and allow it to pursue partnerships with other academic institutions around the world.
Apollo emerged in January 2016 as a joint venture between Imperial College London, University College London and the University of Cambridge with support from AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline and Johnson & Johnson’s venture capital arm, J&J Innovation. The tech transfer units at the universities each chipped in £3.3 million ($4.7 million), and the Big Pharmas added £10 million ($14 million) apiece, for a total deal worth about $57 million.
The company follows a portfolio-based model, mining the three universities for the most promising research and bringing them forward in “the most capital and time efficient way possible." Apollo supports its R&D efforts with a centralized team and resources, so it can shift staff and funding between the different assets as needed.
It’s a model Jim Momtazee, managing partner of Patient Square Capital, knows well. Momtazee joined Apollo’s board as part of the financing and also sits on the board of BridgeBio, which uses a similar “hub-and-spoke” model.
“The fact that there are choices embedded in the portfolio leads to good decision-making—you can strictly follow the science because if the science is not leading you where it ought to, you look elsewhere in the portfolio,” Momtazee said.
“It changes the classic biotech orientation of managing to milestones and catalytic events, where you need to raise additional capital,” he added. Taking fundraising worries out of the equation means the management team can make better long-term decisions, he said.
These points are particularly important for a company that’s not building itself to be sold but to become a “self-sustaining enterprise” that’s constantly churning out new therapies, Momtazee said.
As Apollo brings its programs into the clinic, it will partner some out while holding onto others. In July 2020, the company and UCL Business, the commercialization company for University College London, licensed out a gene therapy program to Deerfield Management Company.
“Undoubtedly, we will partner some of our programs, but also, the intent is to take some programs all the way to market. Where we are the best owner, we would seek to develop assets to commercialization,” Mason said.