LONDON – The U.K.’s latest antibody company, Capella Biosciences Ltd., announced the closing of an £11 million (US$15.5 million) series A round, providing the funding to take the lead program through to phase IIa development by the end of 2018, and to complete preclinical development of four other products.
That follows an initial investment of £1.5 million seed funding in 2014, with which, rather than shaping up an existing body of academic research, Capella Chief Operating Of cer (COO) Steve Holmes was charged to go out and prospect for five therapeutic antibody projects around which to form a company. The seed money came from the founding investors, Advent Life Sciences and Medicxi Ventures (then Index Ventures). As Holmes explained, the idea was to draw on his experience, and that of the VC backers, to select the best monoclonal antibody projects.
“The key was the targets; they had to be novel, and to have good biology to go with them,”
Antibody generation has now advanced to the point where a number of platforms are available and in that sense products are commoditised.
“We are agnostic about platforms. Making antibodies is relatively straightforward; it is the targets that make the difference,”
Holmes told BioWorld Today.
“[Products] could be fully human or mouse, it depends what we want to get out of the antibody,”
From initial prospecting in 2014, London-based Capella has advanced to the point of having lead panels of antibodies for its top three programs and has in-licensed target biology for a further two programs.
The first program, in in amatory bowel disease, rests on research from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, Calif. Although not revealing any details, Holmes said that is a known target in which Capella is aiming at a particular aspect of the biology that has not been exploited previously.
“It happens to be a difficult concept for developing an antibody, but we’ve got initial [constructs],”
Holmes said. The second program, in fibrosis, is based on intellectual property from Leeds University.
If target biology is now the key to antibody drug development, the central requirement in its selection is expertise in therapeutic targets.
Holmes has some form here, being former COO of murine antibody company Kymab Ltd. and of Domantis Ltd., and heading the monoclonal antibody group at Smithkline Beecham plc and then Glaxosmithkline plc, during the pioneering decade from 1990 to 2001. Capella’s clinical and scientific advisory group include antibody doyen Don Drakeman, founder of two leading U.S. and European companies, Medarex Inc. (acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. for $2.4 billion in 2009) and Genmab A/S. Meanwhile, Kevin Johnson, partner at Medicxi and board member at Capella, was head of research at Cambridge Antibody Technology plc, a corporate foundation stone of the monoclonal antibody therapeutics sector.
In addition to reflecting the maturity and quality of monoclonal antibody platforms, Capella exemplifies the asset-based investment strategies of the founding VCs. Rather than making an initial investment in forming a company, the two invest in taking on half-formed assets and shaping them up to be suitable for pharma pipelines. The focus then is on conducting a program of research that will validate – or not – a particular asset, with the aim of establishing proof of concept in around three years for an investment of around $20 million.
“The intention with our five therapeutic monoclonal antibodies, is quick in, quick out. This is a really good model for a start-up; we have been completely funded by Advent and Medicxi from nothing,”
“In fact, we started one program and dropped it after five months and found a substitute – so we are very lethal. But with the last five targets everything has worked,”
The intention will be to and commercialization partners at an early stage, and Holmes said he expects to be ready to start the hunt for partnerships before the end of the year. The profile and connections of the investors and the board means Capella “can go straight to the top” when trying to attract big pharma, he added.
Joining the founding investors Advent and Medicxi in the series A is Philadelphia-based Osage University Partners, a VC specializing in the commercialization of academic research.
The series A investment in Capella is Medicxi’s rst since splitting from Index Ventures and launching a new $250 million fund dedicated to early stage European research in February.