Imperial spearheads $28M round for an upstart in the antibody fragment field

Early this year the U.K. biotech Crescendo Biologics unveiled the Crescendo Mouse, a customized, transgenic rodent that produces humanized, single-domain antibody fragments that could help take the biotech industry one step further down the pathway to a new generation of antibody therapies. Now the British biotech has rounded up $28 million (£17.5 million) in first-round venture cash from a group of marquee investors willing to bet big that Crescendo's mouse platform can deliver the best in cutting-edge antibody fragment therapeutics.

"These are the smallest, most robust antibody fragments," Crescendo CEO Mike Romanos, a veteran of GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) R&D, tells FierceBiotech. And he's been carefully tracking the progress of pioneers in the antibody fragment field, like the Belgian biotech Ablynx, which has struck a series of partnerships with its single-domain "Nanobodies."

The large molecule Y-shaped antibodies that have produced some of the biggest blockbusters in the business rely on two heavy protein chains and two light chains to bind to an antigen. Crescendo clips that down to a single-domain heavy chain binder, making it smaller and more versatile. Imperial Innovations, a leading investor in the U.K., led this Series A round, which comes four years after the company was initially founded with seed cash from Sofinnova. New investor Astellas Venture Management joined the round.

"Crescendo is the largest seed investment Sofinnova has done in recent history," notes Sofinnova partner Graziano Seghezzi in an e-mail for FierceBiotech. "We founded the company, pooled the necessary IP from three different institutions, hired the current management team and supported the technology development with about $8 million."

The new infusion of cash will fuel Cambridge-based Crescendo and its team to the second half of 2016, says the CEO, when they'll have Phase Ib data for the lead drug in psoriasis, a topical agent that promises to avoid some of the systemic exposure triggered by earlier therapies, making this potentially a safer, better targeted therapy with early human data that can be predictive of later-stage results. And the company has some ambitious plans to develop a separate program for their single-domain antibody fragments that can be used to more easily penetrate and destroy cancer tumors.

To get that work done Crescendo now plans to expand its staff of 16 to close to 30, and Romanos is planning to do that hiring in the near term as they position the company for a shift into the clinic in 2015, only a little more than a year from now.

"Crescendo was founded around seminal IP generated at the Babraham Institute--the same institute where the technologies behind Medarex and Abgenix were developed," says Seghezzi. "Having recognized the potential from the beginning, it is very satisfying to see that Mike and the team have developed the best-in-class technology, identified unique product opportunities and attracted excellent new investors to move the first Crescendo VH into the clinic."