Zenas’ $200m round heads big clutch of bio financings

Zenas’ $200m round heads big clutch of bio financings
Towfiqu barbhuiya

Our round-up of recent biotech financings is headed by a sizeable $200 million third round for Zenas BioPharma, with Cellectis, Reunion Neuroscience, Karius, Context Therapeutics, and Enlaza also raising nine-figure sums.

Zenas said its Series C will keep the company ticking over as it works towards a series of readouts in clinical trials of its bifunctional monoclonal antibody obexelimab in autoimmune diseases.

The antibody, which binds to both CD19 and FcγRIIb and is designed to dampen down B-cell immune responses, is in a phase 3 trial in IGg4-related disease and a phase 2 study in warm autoimmune haemolytic anaemia, The cash injection follows a $118 million Series B in 2022 and will help to fund two further phase 2 studies in multiple sclerosis and systemic lupus erythematosus. Bristol-Myers Squibb recently licensed rights to obexelimab in some Asian territories for $50 million upfront.

The third round was led by SR One, NEA, Norwest Venture Partners, and Delos Capital with significant participation from Enavate Sciences, Longitude Capital, and other new and existing investors. In conjunction with the financing, Jake Nunn, venture partner at SR One, and Tim Xiao, Partner at Delos Capital, have joined Zenas’ board of directors.

AstraZeneca has completed a new equity investment in cell and gene therapy developer Cellectis, worth $140 million, which takes its stake in the company to around 44%. It follows an initial payment of $105 million in the French biotech, announced last year when the two companies agreed to use Cellectis’ gene-editing platform and manufacturing capabilities to design therapies.

AZ has taken an option on 25 undisclosed genetic targets, of which up to 10 could be explored for further development, each with a value of $70 million to $220 million in potential milestone payments, plus tiered royalties. The projects cover a range of indications, including targets in oncology, immunology, and rare diseases.

The expanded investment was agreed after consultations with employee representatives, the French government, and shareholders in Cellectis, and gives AZ two seats on the company’s board that will be held by Marc Dunoyer, chief executive of its Alexion subsidiary, and head of corporate development Tyrell Rivers.

Reunion Neuroscience has tapped into growing investor interest in psychedelic medicines, with a $103 million first round led by biotech investor MPM BioImpact, which acquired the company last year, and Novo Nordisk controlling shareholder Novo Holdings. Arkin Bio Capital, Mitsui & Co. Global Investment, Plaisance Capital, FemHealth Ventures, and Palo Santo also took part.

The company’s lead asset, RE104, is a prodrug of 4-OH-DiPT, a variant of psilocybin with a shorter duration of action, which is due to start the phase 2 RECONNECT trial later this year in women with post-partum depression (PPD). Results are anticipated in the first half of 2025.

The new funding will fund that study, as well as investigations into the potential of RE2014 in other psychiatric indications, including adjustment disorder in cancer (ADC) – a persistent difficulty in coming to terms with the diagnosis that is estimated to affect up to 40% of cancer patients.

Infectious disease diagnostic specialist Karius has completed a $100 million third-round financing for further rollout of its liquid biopsy test that helps physicians diagnose infections in immunocompromised patients. The Karius Test uses genomic analysis and artificial intelligence to detect more than 1,000 pathogens from a blood sample.

The company said the new funding will help it to meet increased demand for the diagnostic from healthcare providers outside hospital settings, and to fund research into its cell-free DNA detection technology beyond infectious diseases.

Current investor Khosla Ventures led the round, joined by new investors 5AM Ventures and Gilde Healthcare, as well as existing backers like Softbank Vision Fund 2, General Catalyst, HBM Healthcare Investments, Blue Water Life Sciences, Innovation Endeavors, Waycross Ventures, and Seventure Partners. Khosla’s Alex Morgan, Gilde’s Joep Muijrers, and Andrew Booth, venture advisor to 5AM Ventures and chief financial officer of AbCellera Biologics, have joined the company’s board.

Publicly-listed cancer biotech Context Therapeutics has closed a $100 million private placement led by Nextech Invest and with contributions from Ally Bridge Group, Avidity Partners, Blackstone Multi-Asset Investing, and other prominent healthcare backers. It sold around 64.5 million shares of its common stock at $1.55 per share.

The additional funds will extend its cash reserves into 2028, which Context said would give it time to take lead drug CTIM-76, a bispecific T-cell engager (TCE) antibody targeting CLDN6-positive solid tumours, through proof of concept testing. The placement was announced as the biotech was cleared by the FDA to start a phase 1 dose-escalation study of the drug in gynaecologic and testicular cancers.

CTIM-76 has emerged as Context’s lead drug after the company abandoned the development of ONA-XR (onapristone extended-release) for breast cancer, which was linked to liver toxicity signals in a phase 2 trial. The company ended 2023 with cash reserves of just over $14 million.

Finally, with a third $100 million round, Enlaza has completed a Series A led by the Life Sciences group of JP Morgan Asset Management’s Private Capital division that will be used to develop what it describes as a novel, differentiated class of covalent protein therapeutics.

The company – which raised $61 million in seed financing in 2022 – maintains that covalent proteins made using its War-Lock platform are highly specific to their intended target, making them less prone to side effects, with excellent penetration and retention into solid tumours.

Existing backers Frazier Life Sciences, Avalon Ventures, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and Samsara BioCapital took part, along with a battery of new investors that included the venture arms of Amgen and Regeneron.

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