In seven years, a small company has built two programs in immuno-oncology and molecular glues and partnered with one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies. Now, the transatlantic biotech has bailed out its coffers.
Orionis Biosciences announced Wednesday morning that it has completed a Series C round and secured $55 million. This infusion gives Orionis the flexibility to expand its R&D operations, increase its pipeline and bring assets into human trials. The biotech plans to bring its lead candidate, a conditionally active cytokine therapy, into the clinic within the next year.
Founder and CEO Nikolai Kley says Terminal News than Ghent, Belgium, and Waltham, MA, the biotech was founded in 2015 and has developed two platforms – one for I/O-focused cytokines and one for molecular glues and other degraders.
In addition to the funding, Orionis also announced that it has hired Robert Petit as Head of Early Clinical Development in recent months. A Bristol Myers Squibb vet and member of the pioneering team that helped establish the first checkpoint inhibitor treatment ipilimumab (approved by the FDA in 2011 and marketed as Yervoy), Petit joined the biotech in March after recent stints as CSO at Carisma Therapeutics, Advaxis and Saros Thérapeutique.
Kley said that after the biotech was established, it remained semi-stealthy for a few years, building its technology platforms until it announced a partnership with Novartis in 2020. Per Kley:
And the mission was to create platforms that are first and foremost unique and can somehow take on some of the grand challenges of drug discovery, hit unsolvable targets, and so on. – create this in a very modular way so that we can scale it. .
The startup connected to Novartis through Kley’s background as co-founder of Forma Therapeutics (acquired last month by Novo Nordisk for $1.1 billion). He knew people at Novartis and knew that Novartis was interested in molecular glues. The two signed a drug discovery partnership in 2020.
As for what sets Orionis apart from other space biotechs, Kley touted that its platforms enable optionality and risk-taking — going much further in terms of drug discovery. Its more advanced platform, called A-Kine, worked on what Kley called “finely tuned cytokine effector molecules” that could harness the immune system against cancer – including even cold tumors, another name for cancerous tumors that render checkpoint inhibitors ineffective.
Orionis’ other platform, called Allo-Glue, is less advanced than A-Kine – but focuses on cellular interactions, studies them at scale and then finds several approaches to use: either E3 ligases to bind to a protein and then degrade, or involving a “target-centric” approach. How Kley explained it:
If you have a target of therapeutic interest, and you want to identify or discover a glue that promotes its degradation, now you associate it with an E3 ligase and you do a large-scale diversity screening approach to identify the glues that enhance or promote these interactions.
Next steps for biotech include bringing at least one cancer lead candidate, with a focus on solid tumors, into the clinic, as well as growing the pipeline and hiring more people. The biotech currently has 45 employees and plans to continue to expand, but Kley declined to share details on how long the company’s funding will last.
Existing and new investors participated in the round, including Cormorant Asset Management, Novartis and a series of undisclosed “high-caliber investment funds,” according to Orionis.