Lassen Therapeutics uncloaks with $31M and anti-IL-11 antibody

Lassen Therapeutics is named after Mount Lassen, a volcanic mountain in Northern California. (Pixabay)

There’s a new antibody player on the block—Lassen Therapeutics is coming out of the shadows with $31 million from Frazier Healthcare Partners, Alta Venture and Longwood Fund and a mission to create antibodies to treat cancer and fibrosis. Its first target? IL-11, a cytokine that plays a role in both disease areas.

Unlike antibody giant Regeneron, which had to set up its own antibody generation platforms, Lassen and its team of seasoned antibody developers are taking advantage of platforms developed by others to find and develop antibodies against new targets, Lassen CEO Mark Barrett told Fierce Biotech.

“My co-founder David King and I set out to create an antibody discovery and development company that can be extremely efficient,” said Barrett, who held business development roles at Sanofi Genzyme and Johnson & Johnson before joining Frazier as an entrepreneur-in-residence. “We can do that by leveraging a whole host of external capabilities that exist today, but didn’t exist 5, 10, 15 years ago.”

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Its initial plan was to develop an antibody against IL-11 using those external platforms, but it found out that Australia’s CSL had a number of patents and molecules around that cytokine. Because that program fell outside its bread-and-butter plasma and vaccine businesses, CSL licensed its work to Lassen.

“We’re bringing forward an antibody we’ve developed based on inputs from CSL. It’s an improved version of what CSL had and we’re working toward an IND, which is targeted for next year,” Barrett said.

Blocking IL-11 could be even more effective than blocking other fibrosis-driving cytokines like TGF-beta. That’s because proteins like TGF-beta and CTGF all feed into a common pathway, IL-11, making it an “attractive nexus of profibrotic factors,” Barrett said. Hitting this nexus could be more effective than blocking any single factor. In addition to treating fibrosis, blocking IL-11 could be useful in treating several cancers, including stroma-rich tumors.

Lassen is primarily interested in fibrosis of the lung and liver, Barrett said. It’s still mulling over which specific cancer indications it wants to pursue, but breast, lung and pancreatic cancers could all be potential targets.

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