London-based CAR-T player Autolus has raised $80 million in a third-round financing that it says will fund proof-of-concept testing for three programs.
The company’s established investors, Syncona, Woodford, and Arix Bioscience, have been joined by new backers including Cormorant Asset Management and Nextech Invest, taking the total amount of financing raised by Autolus to date to around $173 million.
Autolus bills itself as a next-generation CAR-T therapy company with a technology platform that it hopes will be a safer way to deliver autologous T cell therapies, in which cells are harvested from patients, engineered to ramp up their activity against cancer cells and then reinjected.
The company recently announced the start of trials for two of its CAR-T candidates—AUTO2 for multiple myeloma and AUTO3 for diffuse large B cell lymphoma and pediatric acute lymphoblastic leukemia—and says the cash injection will enable it to complete these trials as well as a third on T-cell lymphoma candidate AUTO4 due to get underway within the next six months.
Unlike first-generation CAR-Ts, Autolus’ candidates can target two separate cancer-associated antigens, which it hopes will enhance their activity. In the case of AUTO2, for example, the therapy is directed against both B-cell maturation antigen and transmembrane activator and calcium modulator and cyclophilin ligand interactor.
It will also be able to advance preclinical candidates and start to develop the manufacturing and commercial infrastructure it will need if it is to bring one or more of its clinical programs to market, says CEO Christian Itin, Ph.D.
“Since our inception three years ago, Autolus has made substantial progress with two dual targeting programs in three clinical studies, a novel program for T-cell lymphoma’s clinic ready and a unique suite of cell programming technologies established for use in hematological and solid cancers,” he said. “With the new financing we are well on our way to building a premier fully integrated oncology company that harnesses the unique power of T cells to combat cancer.”
Autolus is ramping up its clinical programs shortly after the first CAR-T therapy—Novartis’ CD19-targeting Kymriah (tisagenleucel)—was approved by the FDA and launched with a $475,000-per-course price tag.
It also follows the $11.9 billion acquisition of near-to-market CAR-T firm Kite Pharma by Gilead Sciences, a sum which gives a clear indication of the excitement and optimism about the potential of this form of cancer immunotherapy.
The new deal makes Autolus the largest investment for recently formed fund Arix Bioscience, according to analysts at Stifel, who said in a research note that they “assume Arix has at least held its corner, currently a 9% stake.”
“Arix is rapidly deploying its IPO cash into an increasingly balanced portfolio of 11 companies and we believe Arix has the right ingredients to deliver long-term value for shareholders,” they added. Arix CEO Joe Anderson, Ph.D., sits on Autolus’ board of directors.