Four biotech startup reel in $238M in financing to ramp up for clinical trials


Biotech funding hasn’t taken a break for summer, and this past week saw four startups close Series B rounds of financing that raised a combined $238 million as the each prepare for clinical trials. The programs in development span neurodegenerative disorders, rare disease, and of course, cancer. Here’s a look at the companies, their drugs, and the clinical trial plans.

Vigil Neuro unveils $90M Series B round as neuro drug nears clinic

Eight months after launch, Vigil Neurosciences announced this week a $90 million Series B round of funding as the company prepares to bring its lead program into the clinic. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Vigil aims to treat neurological disorders by targeting microglia, a type of immune cell of the central nervous system. The biotech’s lead program, VGL101, is an antibody that targets TREM2, a cell surface receptor on microglia that play a role in how microglia respond to CNS injury.

Vigil’s lead disease target is adult -onset leukoencephalopathy with axonal spheroids and pigmented glia (ALSP), a rare inherited neurodegenerative disorder that has no FDA-approved drugs. By targeting TREM2, Vigil aims to restore microglia function. According to Vigil, ALSP affects an estimated 10,000 people in the U.S, and similar numbers of people in Europe and Japan. The company plans to start a natural history study enrolling ALSP patients in the fall to better understand the characteristics of the disease and evaluate biomarkers. A Phase 1 study in healthy volunteers is expected to begin by the end of this year. In addition to its antibody drug, Vigil is also developing small molecules that also target TREM2.

Vigil’s latest financing was led by Vida Ventures. Earlier investors Atlas Venture, Northpond Ventures and Hatteras Venture Partners, also participated, as well as new investors including Surveyor Capital, Cormorant Asset Management, Invus, OrbiMed, Rock Springs Capital, Deep Track Capital, Logos Capital, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, and Lightstone Ventures.

Jnana Therapeutics raises $50M for rare enzyme deficiency drug

Jnana Therapeutics is developing medicines that go after hard-to-hit drug targets. With its $50 million Series B round of funding, the company unveiled a lead program in phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare and potentially fatal enzyme deficiency that has few treatments.

PKU patients lack phenylalanine hydroxylase (PAH), an enzyme needed to break down, an amino acid in protein-containing foods. Without the key enzyme, phenylalanine levels can build up to dangerous levels. PKU is mostly managed by diet, though in 2017, the FDA approved BioMarin Pharmaceutical drug Kuvan for the condition. Jnana’s drug is a small molecule that designed to block SLC6A19, a protein that is responsible for reabsorption of phenylalanine by the kidney, which in turn reduces levels of phenylalanine in the blood.

With the financing, Jnana aims to bring its lead molecule into clinical testing. The biotech also aims to advance its other pipeline programs and investing in its drug discovery platform. Jnana’s Series B round was led by RA Capital Management. All of the startup’s earlier investors participated, including Polaris Partners, Versant Ventures, Avalon Ventures, AbbVie Ventures, and Pfizer Ventures.

Immunitas adds $58M for CD161-targeting cancer drug

Immunitas Therapeutics emerged in 2019 with technology that enables the company to analyze single cells to identify and validate new drug targets. That research has yielded a lead program and the Waltham, Massachusetts-based company now has $58 million in Series B funding to advance that drug into clinical testing.

The program, IMT-009, is an antibody designed to designed to block CD161, a receptor found on two types of immune cells, T cells and natural killer cells. Immunitas says blocking and knocking out CD161 in preclinical research has shown enhanced tumor-killing as well as increases in cytokines, proteins that regulate inflammation. The company aims to test IMT-009 in both solid tumors and blood cancers. An investigational new drug application is on track for filing in the first half of next year.

Agent Capital led the latest round of funding for Immunitas. Other investors include Medical Excellence Capital, 120 Capital, Solasta Ventures, Mirae Asset, Ono Venture Investment, The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, NS Investment, BrightEdge, and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Therapy Acceleration Program. Earlier investors Alexandria Venture Investments, Evotec, Leaps by Bayer, M Ventures, Novartis Venture Fund, and founding investor Longwood Fund also joined the round.

Ranok raises $40 million for new take on targeted protein degradation

Targeted protein degradation has emerged as a promising way to potentially treat disease by using a cellular process for disposing of old proteins as a way to get rid of disease-causing proteins. Ranok Therapeutics raised $40 million as it eyes bringing a cancer drug candidate into clinical testing.

Ranok calls its technology chaperone-mediated protein degradation (CHAMP for short). This approach takes advantage of the cellular chaperome network, which is different from other targeted protein degradation technologies and could offer safety advantages because of its selectivity in targeting tumors. The biotech, which splits its operations between Boston and Hangzhou, China, will use the proceeds from the financing to continue development of its most advanced cancer program, which it expects to announce by the end of this year. Ranok will also expand other assets in its preclinical pipeline based on the CHAMP technology.

The Series B round was led by Lapam Capital and Shanghai Healthcare Capital. Other investors in the round include Wu Capital and Zhongguancun Kaiyuan Capital. To date, the company says it has raised the equivalent of more than $50 million.

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