Artios bags $84M to trial next-generation DNA damage response drugs

3D medical background with DNA strand
Artios’ interest in Polθ rests on evidence of its role in a DNA repair pathway. (kirstypargeter/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images)

Artios Pharma has raised $84 million (£65 million) to take DNA damage response (DDR) programs to clinical proof of concept. The series B round sees more big-name investors give cash to researchers whose earlier work on PARP inhibitor Lynparza put DDR on the map.

Cambridge, U.K.-based Artios emerged in 2016 with DDR programs in-licensed from Cancer Research Technology, a C-suite that developed Lynparza at KuDOS Pharma before AstraZeneca snapped it up and $36 million from investors including SV Health Investors and the VC wings of AbbVie and Merck KGaA. Two years later, Artios has advanced programs to the point it needs a further $84 million to mount a push into the clinic. 

Andera Partners—the fund formerly known as EdRIP—and LSP led the round with support from fellow new backers Pfizer Ventures and Novartis Venture Fund. Existing shareholders Arix Bioscience, SV Health Investors, M Ventures, IP Group and AbbVie Ventures also contributed to the series B.

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The syndicate’s support will bankroll the development of small molecule DDR drugs, including a lead candidate that targets DNA polymerase theta (Polθ). Artios’ interest in Polθ rests on evidence of its role in a DNA repair pathway and its upregulation in a range of solid tumors. This evidence suggests Polθ inhibitors could selectively kill cancer cells by disrupting a DNA repair process they need to survive. Combining the inhibitor with chemotherapy or radiotherapy may further dial the efficacy up.

Artios’ Polθ inhibitor and other programs follow the same general approach as PARP inhibitors but go after different enzymes involved in DNA repair. These enzymes collectively play a bigger role in DNA repair than PARP but were overlooked initially due to technological limitations. Those barriers have come down in recent years as assays and cell-based technologies have advanced, enabling Artios to build a DDR pipeline beyond PARP.

The mix of a proven team, validated overarching concept and novel targets has proven attractive to investors.

"Artios represents a unique opportunity to deliver a truly world class biotech company. LSP has worked with Artios' team before at KuDOS which developed olaparib, the first approved PARP inhibitor and used in ovarian and breast cancer, creating a billion dollar market,” Rene Kuijten, managing partner at LSP, said in a statement.