Inflammatory disease biotech launches with $168M and ex-Kite leader at the helm

With a former Kite Pharma leader at the helm, Santa Ana Bio has unveiled with $168 million and three precision medicine antibodies slated to enter the clinic next year.  

Founded by Versant Ventures, Santa Ana’s financing is a combined series A and B, with the $43 million series A led by Versant and the $125 million series B led by GV. Other investors include TPG, Access Biotechnology, a16z Bio + Health and RTW.

Since launching in 2022, the California-based biotech has developed three preclinical programs for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, all of which are poised to enter the clinic in 2025.

“By identifying pathogenic cell types and pathways, and leveraging our deep protein engineering capabilities including monoclonal, bi-specific antibodies and ADCs, we aim to expand the reach of biologics to patients across numerous inflammatory diseases,” Peter Emtage, Ph.D., Santa Ana CEO and venture partner at Versant, said in a June 13 release.

Before taking the reins at Santa Bio, Emtage served as the global head of cell therapy research at Gilead Sciences' Kite for nearly three years. Before that, he was chief scientific officer at Cell Design Labs, which was acquired by Gilead.

First of the three programs is SAB01, an asset built to block c-Kit, a validated target on mast cells that drives many allergies. The bispecific is designed to conditionally block c-Kit and overcome toxicity challenges other medicines targeting c-Kit face due to the biologics' expression on other cell types. A phase 1 trial for SAB01 in chronic inducible urticaria—a common skin condition that causes recurring itchy hives—is expected to start next year.   

Moving down the list is SAB03, which agonizes PD-1, a clinically validated target in rheumatoid arthritis. Santa Ana’s molecule is made to remove and inhibit high-, medium- and low-expressing PD-1 pathogenic T cells. Clinical testing is expected for a variety of severe inflammatory conditions.

Last but not least is SAB05, an antibody-drug conjugate that aims to safely harness the established therapeutic efficacy of glucocorticoids—steroid hormones from the adrenal glands—while circumventing side effects often associated with corticosteroids.

Each candidate is designed to attack the cause of disease, as compared to autoimmune biologics that target cytokines. The candidates are shaped to leave healthy cells alone and boost response and safety durability.  

The biotech has also attracted several other leaders as academic founders and advisers, including Alexander Rudensky, Ph.D.; Richard Flavell, Ph.D.; Graham Lord, M.D., Ph.D.; and Ansu Satpathy, M.D., Ph.D.