The biologic drugs currently available are designed to hit one or two targets, but even so, they can still activate other cells and spark adverse effects. Tentarix Biotherapeutics is developing biologic drugs that selectively hit multiple targets in a manner that avoids activating immune cells and causing problems. The biotech startup aims to use its approach to develop new treatments for cancer and autoimmune diseases, and it has emerged with $50 million in funding.
The Series A financing announced Thursday was co-led by Versant Ventures and Samsara BioCapital.
The class of drugs called bispecific antibodies hit two targets to provide their therapeutic effects. There are three bispecific antibodies on the market: Amgen’s Blincyto has FDA approvals for treating several forms of leukemia; Hemlibra, a Roche bispecific drug for hemophilia A; and the newest one, Johnson & Johnson’s Rybrevant, which the FDA approved in May as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer characterized by a specific genetic signature.
There’s a long list of bispecific antibodies or bispecific T cell engagers, a subset of these bispecific drugs, that are in clinical testing. These therapies are in development in the hands of small biotechs as well as large pharmaceutical companies, where the shared goal is developing drugs capable of treating solid tumors.
Tentarix is developing multispecific biologics that go beyond the two-target approach of bispecifics. The company, which has operations in San Diego and Vancouver, British Columbia, is developing biologic drugs that either activate or block specific cells. For example, a Tentarix drug could activate only immune cells that kill cancer cells without hitting other immune cells that could cause toxic effects. According to Tentarix, the company’s technology platform discovers and optimizes biologics with the desirable properties: selectivity for the target cells, multiple functions, and robust expression in mammals. So far, Tentarix has produced proof-of-concept data in multiple classes of receptors.
The lead Tentarix program is a multifunctional drug with one part that targets the IL2R gamma receptor, another part that targets the IL2R beta receptor, and remaining parts that bind to cell surface proteins on a specific subset of T cells. The company said that potent activity occurs only when all of the targets are engaged simultaneously.
With the new capital, Tentarix plans to develop multiple programs in cancer and autoimmune disease. The company did not disclose which specific diseases it aims to target.
“We believe this powerful platform has broad potential to create differentiated, conditional biotherapeutics across multiple therapeutic areas and with a range of unique and important functionalities,” Srini Akkaraju, managing general partner at Samsara and Tentarix chairman, said in a prepared statement.
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