Gilead backs $60M Hookipa round to fund immunotherapy R&D

Hookipa is developing a pipeline derived from two arenavirus-based vector platforms: Vaxwave and TheraT.

Gilead has joined Boehringer Ingelheim and Takeda on the list of investors in Hookipa Biotech. The big biotech participated in a $60 million (€50 million) series C intended to equip Hookipa to advance its cytomegalovirus (CMV) vaccine and cancer candidate through early clinical testing. 

Vienna, Austria-based Hookipa is developing a pipeline derived from two arenavirus-based vector platforms: Vaxwave and TheraT. 

Vaxwave is based on lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus. The twist is Hookipa has replaced the gene encoding for a protein that enables the virus to enter cells with one for the target antigen. Hookipa thinks the resulting therapies will infect dendritic cells and stimulate immune responses, without running the risk they will replicate and cause side effects.  

HB-101, a CMV vaccine based on Vaxware, came through a phase 1 trial earlier this year, setting Hookipa up to return to investors in search of money to support a phase 2 trial in solid organ transplant patients.

An unidentified U.S. public fund focused on life sciences stepped up to the plate and led the round. A clutch of other new investors including Gilead also chipped in money, as did the VC wings of Boehringer and Takeda and the rest of Hookipa’s existing supporters.

RELATED: Ex-uniQure chief Aldag takes helm at vaccine upstart Hookipa

The $60 million investment gives Hookipa the money to take HB-101 into phase 2 and have enough left over to fund a phase 1 trial of lead TheraT-based candidate HB-201 in patients with head and neck squamous cell carcinoma.

TheraT, like Vaxwave, is based on an arenavirus. In the case of TheraT, Hookipa uses an attenuated replicating arenavirus to trigger T cell responses capable of turning cold tumors hot in animal tests. 

The platforms have illustrious roots. Hookipa set up shop to build on the work of the the University of Zurich’s Rolf Zinkernagel, a Nobel Prize-winning immunotherapy expert. That led Hookipa to attract a string of well-known backers, starting with Sofinnova in 2011, and a team that knows what it takes to build a biotech.

Joern Aldag, the former CEO of uniQure, came on board as CEO last year.