Drugs designed to precisely target cancers with specific genetic signatures have changed the course of disease for many patients. But for the majority, such drugs either don’t work because of innate resistance or they eventually stop working once the cancer develops new mutations that hamper their effectiveness.
Kinnate Biopharma, one of the biotechs working to tackle both problems, has raised $98 million to fund its plan to move two of its preclinical programs into the clinic next year. The Series C financing was led by RA Capital Management, a new backer.
The San Diego-based company, which has about 25 employees, is developing small molecules aimed at treating cancers driven by certain genetic alterations. Kinnate has a long way to go, however: CEO Nima Farzan (pictured), who joined the company in May, says the company aims to start its first clinical trial in the first half of next year.
That program is advancing compounds to target BRAF mutations, which come in three flavors: Class I, Class II, and Class III. Drugs exist to target Class I mutations, but not for the latter two types.
“We think we’ve been able to develop a compound that could be effective in Class II and Class III,” Farzan said. Such alterations, which play a role in a range of cancer types, are more complex than then ones at play in Class I, he added.
The company plans to first tackle melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer.
The other preclinical program Kinnate aims to move into the clinic as soon as next year is intended to address patients who have developed resistance to oncology treatments that target mutated members of a family of proteins called fibroblast growth receptors, or FGFRs.
The FDA in April approved Incyte (NASDAQ: INCY) drug pemigatinib (Pemazyre) for patients with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer affecting the bile ducts. That drug targets mutated FGFR2. What Kinnate is looking to do is provide patients who acquire resistance to such drugs with another option that can address those subsequent alterations and the initial cancer driver.
“We want to bring this to the clinic as well … and be able to first test it in patients who have developed resistance, as a second-line therapy, but then, ultimately, once if we’ve been able to demonstrate effectiveness there, go first-line and show that we think there will be better clinical outcomes from the very beginning by protecting against all the different potential mutations instead of waiting for resistance to develop,” Farzan said.
The Kinnate compounds, a type of drug called a kinase inhibitor, are designed to target cancers with mutated FGFR2 or FGFR3, which is typically found in intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma and urothelial carcinoma, the most common type of bladder cancer. The company is also studying a potential CDK12 inhibitor, plus conducting research into other potential targets, Farzan added.
Kinnate’s Series C round will facilitate the entry of the BRAF and FGFR programs into the clinic and fund the generation of early-stage results from at least the lead candidate, he said.
The work the company is doing is possible because of advances in sequencing technology, Farzan said, which has new tools that weren’t widely available as recently as a couple of years ago.
“Next-generation sequencing technology has advanced to the place where we can go beyond genetic sequencing of a tumor and really be able to find and identify gene fusion events and other things that can be oncogenic drivers that aren’t always just going to be in the genetic sequence,” he said.
New investors that joined in Kinnate’s latest round, in addition to RA Capital, included Viking Global Investors, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, Fidelity Management & Research Company, Janus Henderson Investors, Citadel’s Surveyor Capital, the Tavistock Group’s Boxer Capital, Logos Capital, and an investment fund associated with SVB Leerink. Earlier investors Foresite Capital, OrbiMed, Nextech Invest, and Vida Ventures also participated. The financing follows a $74.5 million round that closed last December.
While many of the company’s backers are what are known as crossover investors, whose participation often signals a company’s intent to IPO, the company doesn’t appear to be making immediate plans to seek funds from public investors, too.
“Any kind of future financing will be dependent on both the progress we make internally and market conditions in the future,” Farzan said.
Farzan, who is based in San Francisco, said the company is hiring aggressively and will likely double its headcount as it moves programs into the clinic.