EpimAb reels in $120M to propel 3 clinical-stage bispecifics, including dual checkpoint inhibitor

Nearly two years after a $74 million raise, EpimAb Therapeutics is adding another $120 million to its coffers to bankroll the development of its bispecific antibodies. The capital will fuel the journey of three programs through the clinic, including a dual checkpoint inhibitor and a T-cell engager that targets CD3 and BCMA.

The funds will also support the development of EpimAb’s preclinical programs, the targets of which the company is keeping under wraps for now.

The company’s lead program, EMB-01, is designed to target EGFR and cMET on tumor cells. It is in a phase 1/2 study in China and the U.S. Its second candidate, EMB-02, targets checkpoint proteins PD-1—the target of Merck’s Keytruda and Bristol Myers Squibb’s Opdivo—and LAG-3, and it recently got the FDA OK to start clinical trials in the U.S.

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EpimAb’s third program, EMB-06, is a T-cell-engaging bispecific treatment that targets CD3 and BCMA and has been cleared to start clinical trials in Australia. The company believes this treatment will be safer than other bispecifics currently in the clinic because its preclinical work as turned up a low rate of cytokine release syndrome, a side effect in which the immune system is activated too strongly, EpimAb Chief Financial Officer David Gu, Ph.D., said.

The company thinks of its three clinical programs as pilot programs in three major areas of bispecifics development: targeted oncology, dual checkpoint inhibition and T-cell engagement, said Stephan Lensky, Ph.D., EpimAb’s chief operating and business officer.

If all goes to plan, “a long list” of drugs in each of these buckets will follow, as well those exploring new areas, Lensky said.

EpimAb’s pipeline is based on its EpimAb’s pipeline is based on its Fabs-in-tandem immunoglobulin technology, or FIT-Ig for short.

“An antibody is a Y-shape, where the two handles of the ‘Y’ are the fabs,” Lensky said in a previous interview. Using its Fit-IG platform, EpimAb essentially sticks two more fabs—or antigen-binding fragments—onto the arms of the “Y” to make a bispecific antibody. This approach allows EpimAb to create bispecifics without messing with sensitive antibody structures and causing problems, such as mispairing, where the chains of proteins that make up the antibody come together incorrectly and make them unable to bind their targets.

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Partnering will play an important role in the company’s growth. It’s not just the upfront payments that come with licensing its platform to others, but also the validation of its platform that EpimAb is after, Lensky said.

EpimAb is also exploring licensing other programs into its pipeline, though the heart of the company will remain innovation, Gu said.

The $120 million series C comes from a long list of new and existing backers, including Cormorant Asset Management, Yanchuang Capital, ShangBay Capital II, SDIC Fund, Decheng Capital, Sherpa Healthcare Partners and Hidragon Capital. China Merchants Bank International and Mirae Asset Financial Group led the round.

Timelines are still fuzzy, but EpimAb hopes to raise a pre-IPO round sometime this year ahead of an IPO in 2022.

“The venue is still undetermined at this point. We are keeping all our options open,” Gu said.