China's Adagene bags $69M to advance lead immunotherapies

New funding will push what Adagene CEO Peter Luo, Ph.D., calls the first wave of pipeline programs through the clinic: an anti-CTLA-4 antibody and a CD137-targeting antibody. (Pixabay)

China-based Adagene has worked relatively quietly in the eight years since Peter Luo, Ph.D., founded the company, emerging every so often to unveil a new financing. Now, General Atlantic is pouring $50 million into the antibody specialist's $69 million series D.

General Atlantic joins Adagene's other backers: Eight Roads Ventures China, F-Prime Capital, WuXi Corporate Venture Fund and Sequoia China. The round brings the company's war chest to more than $150 million and will push its lead immunotherapies through the clinic as well as support further development of its drug discovery technology, Adagene said in a statement.

Suzhou, China-based Adagene aims to create new cancer immunotherapies for “areas where others have failed,” Luo, the company’s CEO, said in the statement. 

How? Its secret sauce, Luo told FierceBiotech, is its discovery platform, dubbed the Dynamic Precision Library. The technology uses artificial intelligence and computational biology to discover new antibodies and tailor their safety and efficacy profiles, Luo said. It allows Adagene to hit tricky targets that have eluded other drug developers. 

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The funding will push what Luo calls the first wave of pipeline programs through the clinic: ADG116, an anti-CTLA-4 antibody the FDA has cleared for human trials, and ADG106, a CD137-targeting antibody, which is in phase 1 studies in the U.S. and China in solid tumors and blood cancers that are advanced or have spread. Adagene is testing both as single agents but plans to combine them with other cancer-fighting treatments such as checkpoint inhibitors and chemotherapy, Luo said. 

The cross-reactive nature of its drug candidates makes for “robust translational studies” in animals that better reflect how they will work in humans, Luo said. Adagene believes this will help it take a rational approach to combining cancer treatments before “launching tons of clinical trials.” 

Though it is still early days for Adagene’s pipeline, the company is already working to improve its discovery platform to “extend [its] frontiers” and make a second generation of antibodies even better than the first. What kind of benchmark will the first crop of treatments set? Time will tell.