Boehringer backs $20M round in ADC cancer player

CHF 1000 notes

NBE Therapeutics has raised CHF 20 million ($20.5 million) from investors including PPF Group and Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund (BIVF). The antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) specialist will use the Series B to move its lead candidate through a Phase I/II trial.

Basel, Switzerland-based NBE is currently wrapping up lead optimization and characterization work on its two lead programs, the targets of which remain a secret. One of the ADCs is aimed at multiple myeloma; the other is being looked at in leukemia, triple-negative breast cancer and lung cancer. The plan is to start an anticipated two years of IND-enabling preclinical development work and cGMP manufacturing early in 2017, after which the drugs will be ready to enter the clinic.

The CHF 20 million will allow NBE to take whichever drug emerges as the lead candidate beyond this stage and to the delivery of clinical proof-of-concept data. The size of the round reflects this step up to life as a clinical-phase biotech.

Prior to the Series B, NBE had raised CHF 5.5 million in venture funding over its first four years of operations. NBE raised more than half of the CHF 5.5 million last year in a BIVF-led Series A. That round marked the start of NBE’s transition from developing and validating ADC technologies to using those platforms to develop cancer candidates.

The technologies are the bedrock of NBE’s R&D operation. The Swiss biotech has sought to establish technologies covering each step in the ADC research process. NBE uses Transpo-mAb Display to express and screen fully human antibodies, an ultrapotent toxin platform for payloads and its SMAC-Technology to couple the different components together. The company and its backers think this combination can create ADCs that deliver cellular toxins right to cancer cells.

Roger Beerli, formerly of Cytos and Intercell, has overseen development of the technologies as CSO. Beerli came on board shortly after Ulf Grawunder founded the company. Grawunder made his name as a co-founder of 4-Antibody, a Swiss biotech that raised CHF 50 million and worked with Boehringer before fizzling out somewhat. Agenus ($AGEN) bought 4-Antibody for $10 million upfront and $40 million in milestones in 2014.

Grawunder has resumed his relationship with Boehringer, through its venture fund, as CEO of NBE. Having led the Series A, BIVF played second fiddle this time around to PPF, a financial group that has grown its assets to €24.2 billion ($26.8 billion) since it was founded in the Czech Republic in 1991. PPF put up half of the CHF 20 million.

In recent years, PPF has used Czech Republic-based immunotherapy firm Sotio to spearhead its expansion into biotech. PPF invested in Sotio in 2012, before going on to take stakes in Czech CRO Accord Research and French cancer research shop OriBase Pharma in 2014. Immuno-oncology player Cytune Pharma joined the portfolio last year.

The portfolio acts as a source of assets and R&D support to Sotio. NBE will now join the network and collaborate with Sotio on ADCs against undisclosed targets. Sotio will cover the R&D costs and pay an upfront fee, milestones and royalties on any assets it takes on.