Shifting into higher gear with next-gen antibody combos for cancer and autoimmune disease
CEO: Tom Schuetz, M.D., Ph.D.
Based: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Clinical focus: Compass is seeking to move the needle with a new approach in seeking out antibody drug candidates that can hit all targets in the human immune synapse, and is looking for lots of shots on goal in a rapid-fire approach.
The scoop: This biotech is using the basis of an old technology, namely monoclonal antibodies, but moving it into the fast lane. “We have built a technology internally that allows us to drug two new targets per month and from the start of antigen-in-hand to fully human therapeutic candidate is only about two months’ time," CEO Tom Schuetz tells us.
The technology allows Compass to discover a “very large number of antibodies” while doing it in an “extremely rapid timeframe.” In the three years since its inception in 2015, Compass has already completed drugging its first 30 targets in the immune synapse. And that speed, Schuetz figures, is how the company managed to pull off a massive $132 million series A this summer, backed by some of the biggest names in the venture capitalist world.
Compass now has 75 employees focused on immuno-oncology and autoimmune disease, and plans to enter the clinic in 2019 (although its target is not yet disclosed).
What makes Compass fierce: The standard approach, Schuetz tells us, is to pick a couple of targets, and then take those forward no matter what. “We just want to be able to think differently,” he explains. “Our core business hypothesis is that, in order to address the complexity of the human immune synapse, you need to be as broadly nonbiased as possible in drug discovery as you can be: That really was the founding principle of the company.
“Now, the second element is our new technology, which we’ve created internally, that we call StitchMabs. This tech allows the company link two or more monoclonal antibodies, antibody fragments, or other biologics into a variety of customized bi- and multi-specific formats in a matter of minutes.This can help it boost elements across other tech: For example, the company has designed multi-specific antibodies that target and enhance activation of Natural Killer (NK) cells, all the while also targeting tumor cells.”
He says that: “Ultimately, in immuno-oncology research, the future of therapeutics regimens are going to be combination based. So, that either means combinations of two antibodies, or a bispecific molecule. And we believe we are uniquely poised to really do core discovery that looks for the best combination regimens for the future.”
With 30-plus early-stage candidates in its pipeline, Compass is aiming for lots of shots on goal in terms of number of candidates in the clinic, starting from next year. From 2020, it’s looking to start moving multiple candidates into clinical development every year.
But are antibodies still "sexy" in an era of gene and cell therapies? Schuetz says the biotech is building on "two decades-plus" of therapeutic success with mAbs, rather than adding “risk on risk" by focusing on approaches that aren't fully battle-tested. Gene and cell therapies get a lot of headlines, he argues, but they face lingering questions about cost, safety and the percentage of patients who can be treated, as well as questions about industrializing therapies like CAR-T for broad manufacture.
“With cell therapy and CAR-T therapy, CRISPR, etc., it remains to be seen what the therapeutic success of those will be," he says. "We know that mAbs are viable agents. And we, along with others like Roche, really believe that bispecific antibodies are going to be the next generation of therapeutics.”
Compass has “unique preclinical data” suggesting that combining its candidate ‘471 with tumor-targeted antibodies is “uniquely synergistic,” he says, so the company is already thinking of combining it with Rituxan, a CD20 antibody, or EGFR-targeting treatments such as Erbitux for phase 1b-type studies.
And what about the financial future? Compass only started looking at pharma relationships this year, but Schuetz says it’s discovering that, at “such a pace," it can’t do everything on its own, so tie-ups will likely be in the cards. But the company wants to stay an independent biotech, rather than become a unit of, say, Roche or Pfizer; more money will be raised, with IPO timing also being considered, likely sooner rather than later if market conditions remain favorable.
Investors: The $132 million series A financing round was led by OrbiMed Advisors and included F-Prime Capital, Cowen Healthcare Investments, Thiel Capital, Biomatics Capital, Ulysses Holdings, Borealis Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments and Biomed Realty Ventures