Big Pharma vets bag $39M to drive I-O firm Elstar forward

Elstar Therapeutics has raised $39 million. The series A positions a management team with résumés dotted with senior posts at Serono, Eli Lilly and Novartis to advance multifunctional anticancer drugs toward human testing.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Elstar is the brainchild of Andreas Loew, Ph.D., a protein engineer best known for his research on multispecific antibodies and CAR-Ts at Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research. Loew teamed with Apple Tree Partners to fuel his interest in developing a new generation of drugs that zero in on diseased cells and tweak the adaptive and innate immune system to drive attacks on tumors. Elstar is the result.

Apple Tree is the founding investor in Elstar, which follows the VC shop’s playbook of getting in on the ground floor at biotechs and leaving its mark with a name taken from an apple cultivar.

With Elstar, the result is a biotech built on a discovery platform designed to generate antibody-based biologics that target two independent antigens on the surface of tumor cells or adjacent immune or stromal cells. Elstar thinks this will decrease off-target effects.

The biologics, which come in bi, tri and tetra-functional versions, then enlist the support of innate and adaptive immunological mechanisms in a bid to wipe out the tumor.

Elstar is one of a sizable pool of companies that think their platform can unlock the full potential of immunotherapies. The biotech is yet to present data or a detailed breakdown of its platform to back up its confidence. But it does have an A-list leadership team that marks it out as a company to watch.

Loew, the founder, has taken the CSO role and surrounded himself with people of similar pedigree. Steve Arkinstall, once a big wheel at Serono, is in the CEO chair. John Herrmann, formerly CSO of oncology external innovation at Eli Lilly, has come on board as chief strategy officer. 

The team, plus VPs that came to Elstar via stints at Regeneron, Novartis, Lilly and Forma, is working to move the first fruits of the drug discovery platform toward clinical trials. These efforts will be boosted by the series A funds.

“This financing will enable our experienced team to expand and advance our robust pipeline of cancer immunotherapy programs. Elstar’s goal is to rapidly move drug candidates into clinical trials for several serious hematological and solid malignancies,” Arkinstall said in a statement.