Novo, Sanofi VC units lead Lava's $83M series C to fund gamma delta T-cell trials

Lava Therapeutics has raised $83 million to advance its portfolio of bispecific gamma delta T-cell engagers. The series C positions Lava to begin assessing the drugs in proof-of-concept clinical trials in solid tumors and hematological malignancies starting next year. 

Dutch biotech Lava raised €16 million in 2018 to explore the use of bispecific antibodies to engage Vγ9Vδ2 T cells and cancer targets, thereby drafting cells that exhibit cytotoxicity, interferon-γ secretion and HLA-unrestricted tumor cell killing into the fight against disease. The approach caught the attention of Johnson & Johnson, which struck a deal to work with Lava earlier this year. 

Now, Lava has raised a series C to support its internal activities. Lava is moving several lead Vγ9Vδ2 T-cell engagers toward the clinic. Buoyed by the funding, Lava expects to start proof-of-concept trials of the therapies next year. Lava hired Benjamin Winograd, M.D., Ph.D., Celgene’s former European head of clinical development, as chief medical officer in July ahead of its move into the clinic.   

Lava’s ability to embark on the clinical development program is built on the support of a syndicate of new and existing investors. Novo Ventures and Sanofi Ventures co-led the series C round with assists from fellow new investors Redmile Group, Ysios Capital and BB Pureos Bioventures. Current investors Versant, Gilde Healthcare and MRL Ventures Fund also participated in the series C.

The interest of the investors reflects the potential for Lava to be one of the companies that realizes the therapeutic potential of gamma delta T cells. The cells, which bridge the gap between the innate and adaptive immune system, have played second fiddle to alpha beta T cells in the early years of the immuno-oncology era, but Lava and other companies are working to change that.

Companies including Lava, Adaptate Biotherapeutics and ImCheck are developing antibodies aimed at the subset of T cells. Another set of biotechs, including Adaptate’s parent company GammaDelta Therapeutics, is trying to turn the T cells themselves into therapies. The companies are yet to show their ideas translate into the clinic, but, with Lava joining the list of gamma delta players to raise large rounds, there is a growing pool of biotechs with the means to do so.