Exicure raises $11.2M in cash as psoriasis, I-O assets near clinical trials

Exicure lists Bill Gates’ VC fund and the founders of Aon, Illumina and Groupon among its investors.

Exicure has pulled in more money to advance its pipeline of oligonucleotides. The latest raise sees Exicure branch out beyond the tech investors that bankrolled its atypical rise to secure cash for its move deeper into the clinic.

China’s Luye Pharma led the $11.2 million financing with support from Knoll Capital Management, Eager Info Investments and Purple Arch Ventures. The new investors join Bill Gates’ VC fund, the founders of Aon, Illumina and Groupon, the former chairman of Singapore Airlines and AbbVie on the list of Exicure’s backers.

What the diverse mix of investors have in common is a belief in Exicure’s spherical nucleic acid (SNA) technology, which CEO David Giljohann, Ph.D. researched while working with Chad Mirkin, Ph.D. at Northwestern University. That work led to the creation of AuraSense Therapeutics, which in 2015 morphed into Exicure.

The key differentiator of Exicure’s SNAs from other gene regulatory approaches is their potential to cross biological barriers when administered locally. SNAs, densely-packed constructs of synthetic nucleic acids, make this crossing without encapsulation or complexation, opening up the possibility of safely treating diseases outside of the liver. 

Exicure is starting to generate clinical data to support its belief in the approach. Lead candidate AST-005 came through a phase 1 trial in patients with mild-to-moderate psoriasis without setting off safety alarms. Purdue picked up an option on the TNF-targeting candidate late last year as part of a deal that included an upfront $10 million development fee and up to $770 million more down the line. 

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Investigators are now testing higher concentrations of AST-005 to assess the effect on TNF mRNA and downstream mRNA expression. 

Exicure is carrying out that trial on behalf of Purdue. The SNA specialist is also gearing up to start testing XCUR17 and AST-008 in humans. Exicure thinks XCUR17 can improve outcomes in patients with mild-to-moderate psoriasis by cutting levels of IL-17RA. And that AST-008, an SNA made up of TLR9 agonist oligonucleotides, can treat forms of cancer, particularly when given in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.

The $11.2 million financing comes shortly after Exicure raised $20.1 million, giving it the means to advance the programs into the clinic. Exicure pulled in the larger of the two tranches of money in September, when it also picked up an OTC listing through a reverse merger. Rather than merge with a failed firm, Exicure took over an entity set up with the goal of combining with an operating company.