Nearly a year after emerging from a Versant Ventures incubator, Bright Peak Therapeutics is reeling in a $107 million series B. The funding will advance Bright Peak’s pipeline of cytokine medicines toward the clinic and build out its underlying technology, though the company is keeping details close to the vest.
“We’ve told folks that we expect the lead program to be in the clinic next year … We hope there will be a conveyor belt of opportunities coming to fruition over the next, say, 12 to 18 months,” said Bright Peak CEO Fredrik Wiklund.
Bright Peak, like several other biotechs, is working to deliver the promise of cytokines as treatments for cancer and autoimmune disease without their drawbacks. These proteins evolved as signaling molecules rather than drugs, so it’s no surprise that they make poor medicines.
Proleukin, a recombinant version of the cytokine interleukin-2, or IL-2, has been on the market since the early 1990s. Though it can dial up the immune system to fight cancer, the treatment isn’t used widely because of side effects like immunosuppression and vascular leak, where fluids and proteins leak from blood vessels into surrounding tissues, causing organ damage.
Rather than modify wild-type cytokines to try to remove their side effects, Bright Peak is building them from the ground up to only include the properties it wants them to.
“We can theoretically make any protein, but our initial focus is on cytokines. They are important molecules that are clinically validated in oncology and autoimmunity and we think we can enhance the design of these through chemical synthesis as opposed to recombinant methods,” Wiklund said. This way, the company can create and test new cytokines more quickly than companies using a recombinant approach.
The company’s pipeline includes versions of IL-2, IL-7 and IL-18 for cancer as well as an IL-2 treatment for autoimmune disease.
Bright Peak’s technology comes from the lab of Jeffrey Bode, Ph.D., at ETH Zurich in Switzerland. It allows the company to make specific tweaks at any atom, as well as at multiple places, in a protein to make it work better, said Tom Woiwode, Ph.D., managing director of Versant. The technology also allows the company to attach cytokines to other molecules such as antibodies to make treatments similar to antibody-drug conjugates that it calls Immunocytokines.
“There’s a couple of different ways we can take these Immunocytokines. In an antibody-drug conjugate approach, we can use antibodies to direct [the cytokine] to the tumor microenvironment,” Wiklund said. But it can go even further, attaching cytokine payloads to checkpoint inhibitors or ADC-enhanced antibodies for a one-two punch to fight cancer.
This approach lays the groundwork for all kinds of partnerships, including with companies that already market antibodies and with those whose antibody treatments are not yet approved, Wiklund said.
Bright Peak also announced the addition of Laura Shawver, Ph.D., and Christine Siu to its board. Shawver is the CEO of Silverback Therapeutics, a company working to attach antibodies to drugs that adjust the immune system rather than cell-killing agents used in traditional ADCs. She previously led Synthorx, the cytokine-focused biotech that Sanofi snapped up in January 2020 for $2.5 billion.