F-star names ex-Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster as leader

Eliot Forster (NHS Innovation Accelerator)

F-star has named ex-Immunocore CEO Eliot Forster as its new leader. The appointment puts a CEO known for raising huge sums of cash in charge of a well-regarded bispecific antibody R&D shop that has funded its progress to date through savvy dealmaking.

Cambridge, U.K.-based F-star made its name through novel deals with AbbVie, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Denali Therapeutics and Merck KGaA. To strike the deals, F-star spun off drugs to create asset-centric vehicles that its partners could buy down the line. The model enabled F-star to gradually monetize its platform, securing a stream of cash to return to its investors and fund its own operations.

Under the leadership of John Haurum, the approach helped F-star operate for years without raising much venture cash. F-star has pulled in incremental amounts over the years, €1.5 million in seed financing and $6 million, $3 million and $8 million in multiple closings of its series A round.

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Now, the appointment of Forster—and advance of F-star’s internal pipeline—suggest F-star’s long spell away from venture markets may be coming to a close. Forster is best known for leading cancer biotech Immunocore to a $320 million series A in 2015. The executive left Immunocore in February. Immunocore subsequently lost chief business officer Eva-Lotta Allan, too.

At F-star, Forster inherits a company that, after years of being known for its partnerships, is gearing up to thrust internal candidates into the limelight. F-star has two bispecific immuno-oncology drugs in preclinical development. FS-222 targets CD137 and PD-L1, while FS-120 targets CD137 and OX40.

F-star has not declared the indications it's interested in, but has been more forthcoming over the years about why it thinks its bispecific platform has an edge over rival technologies. Notably, the platform enables the modification of monoclonal antibodies to create full-length bispecifics with independent specificities.

Bristol Myers and Merck-partnered candidates derived from the platform have advanced into the clinic, but F-star is yet to trial its internal assets. Under Forster, that is set to change.

“I believe that F-star’s first-in-class molecules bring together in a single form, the full power of I/O and combinations. We anticipate this synergistic benefit will deliver more targeted, potent and safer treatment options for cancer patients,” Forster said in a statement.

Editor's note: This story was updated to correct fundraising information and to include the targets of F-star's bispecific antibodies, FS-222 and FS-120.

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