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Achilles Therapeutics (“Achilles”), a biopharmaceutical company developing personalized cancer immunotherapies, announced September 3rd it has closed a £100 million Series B financing round. U.S. investor RA Capital Management led the financing round, corner-stoned by founding investor Syncona and supported by other significant investors including Forbion, Invus, Perceptive Advisors and Redmile Group.
Despite medical efforts to help patients, cancer remains a leading cause of death all over the world. According to the World Cancer Report 2014, an estimated 14 million new cancer cases were registered in 2012, with figures expected to rise to 22 million annually in the next two decades. In the same interval, cancer deaths are expected to increase from an estimated 8.2 million to 13 million annually. Early detection and diagnosis are difficult, because ideal cancer biomarkers needed are missing. Consequently, most patients are diagnosed when they are already in a late-stage of the disease, so the possibilities to successfully treat them remain limited. Traditional cancer treatment approaches, such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have been less efficient for patients with late-stage disease. This is why innovative and effective cancer treatments are urgently needed for cancer patients with late-stage and refractory disease. Testing using cancer immunotherapy, particularly adoptive cell transfer, has shown encouraging results in patients with late-stage disease, including those who are refractory to standard therapies.
TILs, the type of immunotherapies Achilles is researching, represent one of many cell therapies that are now developed to try and fight cancers. Achilles is not the only company developing them.
Iovance said in July that it could use data from its Phase II study of a TIL in cervical cancer to seek the agency’s approval. Other cell therapies include T-cell receptors, or TCRs, and chimeric antigen receptor T-cells, or CAR-T. Novartis’ Kymriah (tisagenlecleucel) and Gilead Sciences’ Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel), both targeting the CD19 antigen, are CAR-Ts with FDA approval for blood cells.
The newly obtained funds will help deliver two human proof-of-concept studies using a unique personalized T-cell therapy approach to target clonal neoantigens in non-small cell lung cancer and melanoma. These programs will most likely enter the clinical trial phase this year. The new money will also ensure the company can continue to expand its manufacturing capabilities, and broaden its growing solid tumor pre-clinical product pipeline, which now lists multicenter Phase I/IIa studies for both indications. The trials are also listed on ClinicalTrials.gov, with the page for the NSCLC study stating it is currently open for recruitment.
The financing companies are happy to support the company, which brings new hope to patients everywhere.
“In 2016, we saw an opportunity to work with world-leading experts to found a company harnessing unique insight into the understanding of cancer evolution, bioinformatics and the development of cell-based immunotherapies to target the treatment of solid tumors. We are delighted with the outcome of this funding round, which is a testament to the Company’s globally differentiated proposition and best-in-class team. We look forward to continuing to support Achilles as it works toward its goal to bring treatments to patients,” added Martin Murphy, CEO of Syncona Investment Management Limited.
The new financing came with two new leading life science executives for Achilles’s Board: Dr. Derek DiRocco, Principal of RA Capital Management and Dr. Rogier Rooswinkel, Partner at Forbion.
Both parties seem equally happy to work together for the advancement of the new cancer treatments.
“Achilles is leading the next wave of immuno-oncology drug development. We have moved from concept to clinic-ready in less than three years. We are extremely pleased to welcome this excellent group of new investors to Achilles and I would like to personally thank our existing founding investors for their continued support,” said Dr Iraj Ali, CEO of Achilles Therapeutics.
“With this fundraising, we have made a clear statement about the scale and nature of our ambitions to bring novel cancer therapies rapidly to patients with a high unmet medical need.”
“The Achilles approach integrates years of multi-disciplinary scientific and clinical knowledge from immuno-oncology, cell therapy, and genomics with the goal of creating a TIL-based therapeutic enriched with T-cells reactive against clonal neoantigens. We believe this approach may represent the optimal way to expand the utility of polyclonal TIL therapy to multiple solid tumor types and has the potential to provide profound clinical benefit for patients living with cancer. RA Capital is impressed by the scientific co-founders, management team, board of directors, and vision of the Company, and we are excited to support Achilles as they progress into the clinic this year,” added Dr. Derek DiRocco, Principal of RA Capital Management.
Achilles is developing personalized T-cell therapies for solid tumors targeting clonal neoantigens: protein markers unique to each patient that are present on the surface of all cancer cells. Using its PELEUS™ bioinformatics platform, Achilles can identify clonal neoantigens from each patient’s unique tumour profile which are present on every cancer cell. Achilles uses its proprietary process to manufacture T cells which seek to exquisitely target a specific set of clonal neoantigens in each patient. Targeting multiple clonal neoantigens that are present on all cancer cells, but not on healthy cells, reduces the risk that new mutations can induce immune evasion and therapeutic resistance, and allows individualised treatments to potentially target and destroy tumours without harming healthy tissue.