Avidity nets $100M to bankroll antibody-oligonucleotide conjugates for muscle disorders

Avidity Biosciences is on a roll—this year, the company inked a $35 million research deal with Eli Lilly and hired on a new CEO, Sarah Boyce. Now, it's reeling in $100 million in its series C round as it works on its lead antibody-oligonucleotide (AOC) program in myotonic dystrophy and advances earlier-stage work in other muscle disorders and rare diseases. 

Multiple players are attaching drugs to antibodies to take advantage of their selective nature—it's a particularly attractive approach in cancer to deliver cell-killing drugs to cancer cells, but not healthy ones. But only a handful of antibody-drug conjugates have made it to market, despite the proliferation of clinical trials in the space, due to the complexity of this class of medicines.

As far as AOCs go, Avidity reckons it’s ahead of the pack.

“You don’t just slap any oligonucleotide on any antibody and expect it to work. There is a significant amount of technology that goes into it that gives us a significant advantage over some other players now looking at our success and wondering how they can get in the field as well,” the company’s chief scientific officer Art Levin, Ph.D., told FierceBiotech.

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In addition to its lead program in myotonic dystrophy, Avidity is also looking at Duchenne muscular dystrophy and muscle atrophy.

“And then we have our program with Lilly, which is in the immunology space, so we have some targets with them and some of our own also,” Avidity CEO Sarah Boyce told FierceBiotech. “In theory, with antibody-oligonucleotide conjugates, we can go anywhere. By attaching the right siRNA to the right antibody, we can target a whole range of tissues. We’re starting with muscle because that’s where there is a high unmet medical need.”

In April, Avidity picked up $20 million upfront and $15 million in equity from Eli Lilly as part of a partnership to identify new targets and propel new medicines toward the clinic. Under the backloaded deal, Avidity could receive up to $405 million in development, regulatory and commercialization milestones for each target Eli Lilly chooses to advance. The duo did not disclose how many targets this could total.

RELATED: Lilly taps Avidity's antibody-oligonucleotide conjugate tech in $35M deal

Lilly chipped $15 million into the round as part of the deal and several new investors joined the round: RTW Investments, Cormorant Asset Management, CureDuchenne, Logos Capital, Perceptive Advisors and ST Pharm. A laundry list of Avidity’s backers came back for more, including Alexandria Venture Investments, EcoR1 Capital, Partner Fund Management and Takeda Ventures.

With a sizable amount in the bank, Avidity looks to ramp up in 2020.

“2020 for us is really about moving towards the clinic and getting in place all the things we need to do to get ready for that, starting with our first program in myotonic dystrophy,” Boyce said. It’s also going to keep plugging away on its AOC tech as well as on advancing its earlier-stage programs. These include muscle disorders and other rare diseases, but Avidity is keeping details close to the vest for now.