Cullinan Oncology emerged nearly three years ago with an approach to cancer drugs its founders said would improve the odds of success. Now it has a pipeline of seven compounds and a fresh $98.5 million to advance all of them.
The new cash announced Thursday is a Series B round of funding that added the financial backing of unnamed institutional investors and family offices.
The approach of Cambridge, MA-based Cullinan involves assembling a broad portfolio that diversifies the risk—both scientific and financial. Many drug companies are built around as single compound, which is risky for the company and for its investors, Cullinan CEO Owen Hughes told Xconomy when his firm initially launched. Cullinan aims to spread out that risk.
After acquiring the rights to preclinical or early-stage compounds, Cullinan sets each one up in a subsidiary that shares resources with the parent company. If one of the programs isn’t working out, Cullinan can end it, freeing up remaining resources for the parent to nurture other pipeline programs, Hughes said. It’s not an entirely novel idea. Roivant Sciences operates a similar model. BridgeBio Pharma (NASDAQ: BBIO) has found success with its rare disease-focused “hub and spoke” structure, which has led to the spinoff of several subsidiaries and its own IPO.
The two most advanced Cullinan programs are now in early-stage testing. A Cullinan subsidiary called Apollo is developing VK-2019, a small molecule designed to address Epstein-Barr virus, which is also linked to lympohomas, gastric cancers, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. The small molecule, which was licensed from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia last year, is designed to block EBNA 1, a protein that is key to the replication of the virus and the uncontrolled growth of tumors.
The second clinical-stage Cullinan program is overseen by a subsidiary called Pearl. The compound, TAS6417, is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor intended to target a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EFGR). Cullinan acquired its rights from Taiho Pharmaceutical last year. The drug is designed to block EFGR variants that have exon 20 insertion mutations. These mutations are associated with lung cancers.
Concurrent with the Series B investment, Cullinan named Jon Wigginton as its chief medical officer, the same position he held most recently at MacroGenics (NASDAQ:MGNX), a Rockville, MD-based cancer immunotherapy developer. Cullinan said that Wigginton will also advise MPM Capital, one of the biotech’s financial backers, providing input on potential oncology investments as well as the clinical development plans for the firm’s portfolio companies. In addition, Cullinan appointed Jennifer Michaelson to the position of chief development officer of biologics. She is joining Cullinan from Jounce Therapeutics (NASDAQ: JNCE), where she was senior director and program leader.
Cullinan launched in 2017 with $150 million in Series A financing from UBS Oncology Fund and F2 Ventures, which is managed by MPM Capital. F2 and MPM also invested in the latest round. Though Cullinan did not identify the new investors in the Series B financing, Cowen Healthcare Investments was likely among them. Tim Anderson, one of the fund’s managers, has joined the Cullinan board of directors.