Big Pharmas Amgen, BMS shield BigHat from stormy market with $75M funding

BigHat Biosciences just capped off a $75 million series B to design safer, more effective antibody therapies, with Big Pharmas Amgen and Bristol Myers Squibb both joining the round as new investors.

“The problems we’re focusing on don’t go up and down with the market—people get sick and need help,” Mark DePristo, Ph.D., BigHat co-founder and CEO, told Fierce Biotech. “That allows us to some degree ignore the storm around us.”

The fundraising is a far jump from the biotech’s initial $19 million series A collected in early last year and brings the California biotech’s total funding to $100 million. The series A was used to tailor the company’s platform, dubbed Milliner after someone who makes hats. The integrated artificial intelligence and machine learning wet lab platform is designed to create breakthrough therapies for hard-to-treat diseases quickly and reliably.

Since the series A, the Milliner platform has grown tenfold, with five internal discovery programs currently underway. The new series B will help scale Milliner’s capacity another tenfold, with the ultimate goal to move therapeutic programs toward human clinical trials. So far, BigHat’s preclinical programs span oncology, inflammation and infectious disease, including a pan beta coronavirus antibody program.

The most recent funding round was led by Section 32, a venture capital firm that boasts 50 life sciences companies in its portfolio including Moma Therapeutics, Satellite Bio and Manifold Bio, among others. BigHat also drew in several new investors, including BMS Ventures and Amgen Ventures, the latter of which is a familiar face for the antibody design shop. 

Amgen, a big pharma DePristo deems BigHat’s closest external partner, has tasked the company with creating a lead panel of next-generation VHH antibodies. The research partnership, which began in 2020, wrapped up its first phase this January and is currently ahead of schedule.

The new financing will help accelerate new strategic collaborations. Though DePristo didn’t disclose any specifics, he said BigHat is in the middle of many partnership discussions and hinted new collaborations could be on the horizon.  

“In the early days, we were very limited by the capacity of the platform. Now we're at the stage of hundreds and approaching thousands of antibodies a week for design,” said Peyton Greenside, Ph.D., BigHat co-founder and chief scientific officer. “This is enabling us not only to pursue our internal therapeutics but to really take on more and more ambitious partnerships.”

Milliner enables the generation and testing of antibodies. Its quick turnaround means BigHat can run through many more cycles of the design-build-test process than what is possible using conventional technologies. Every cycle generates data to inform both the antibody being tested and future projects.

While pipeline timelines are still very loose, Greenside said the company is in a good position because clinical timing will depend on when BigHat scientists are satisfied with the final molecule.

“We're going to be in the luxurious place of being able to keep optimizing, keep making it better,” Greenside said.

BigHat is also widening its brim, with plans to double team size—which currently sits at 37 employees—over the next 12 to 18 months.