Verseau Therapeutics has raised $50 million to develop macrophage-targeted immunotherapies. The startup, which appointed George Golumbeski as chairman, will use the money to take macrophage checkpoint modulators into the clinic.
Massachusetts-based Verseau was co-founded by Robert Langer, his MIT colleague Daniel Anderson and scientists Igor Feldman and Tatiana Novobrantseva, whose paths crossed at Jounce Therapeutics a few years back. The researchers came together to modulate the immune system via macrophages, attracting the attention of former Celgene EVP Golumbeski in the process.
Verseau has progressed quietly for the past couple of years, only breaking cover to reveal a pact with 3SBio earlier this year. Now though, Verseau has made a bigger splash, unveiling a $50 million round alongside the appointment of Golumbeski.
20/20 HealthCare Partners, 3SBio, Alexandria Venture Investments, Highlight Capital, InHarv Partners Ltd., The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and Yonghua Capital put up the money.
Verseau will use the money to start testing its macrophage checkpoint modulators in humans. The idea is to develop antibodies that make tumors highly inflammatory and cause multiple cell types to attack cancer cells. As macrophages infiltrate the tumor microenvironment more than T cells do, Verseau thinks its drugs may succeed in areas where PD-1 inhibitors struggle.
The most advanced of Verseau’s assets targets PSGL-1, an adhesion molecule that has been discussed as a new immune checkpoint. Verseau thinks PSGL-1 is an ideal target for its approach.
“Using our proprietary discovery and validation platform, we identified PSGL-1, an adhesion molecule that is highly expressed on tumor-associated macrophages across most tumor types, as the target of our first-in-class [macrophage checkpoint modulator] program,” Novobrantseva, who works as CSO of Verseau, said in a statement. “Our PSGL-1 MCM antibody is designed to reprogram inhibitory tumor-associated macrophages into anti-cancer immune response stimulators.”
Novobrantseva said that Verseau has now validated more than two dozen targets that it can go after using different modalities. That effort has led to a portfolio of antibody drug candidates. According to Golumbeski, Verseau has generated “impressive” early data on the antibodies.
The clinical data needed to validate Golumbeski’s belief that the therapies can “become a significant advance in immunotherapy” is still some way off but Verseau has persuaded 3SBio to buy into the idea. 3SBio’s deal with Verseau gives it the right to commercialize some of the macrophage specialist’s antibodies in China.