Bright Peak Therapeutics bags $90 million Series C to develop cancer immunotherapies

By Jonathan Smith

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images
© Getty Images

Related tags Johnson & johnson series C funding Bright Peak Therapeutics Immune system

As investors and big pharma pile on developers of antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs), Bright Peak Therapeutics has attracted $90 million based on the promise of a related type of technology called immunoconjugates.

Bright Peak’s Series C round was led by Johnson & Johnson Innovation with participation from Venrock, KB Investment, and Northleaf Capital Partners, alongside existing investors. The Swiss-US firm will use the proceeds to take its lead candidate immunoconjugate into a phase 1/2a trial and fuel the development of the rest of its pipeline.

One part of Bright Peak’s lead candidate treatment is an antibody designed to seek out a target on immune cells called PD-1, a so-called checkpoint protein that tumors can hijack to evade the immune response. The antibody is chemically linked to an engineered version of a protein called interleukin-18 (IL-18), which stimulates the immune system. These two mechanisms were shown to work synergistically to supercharge immune cells against tumors in preclinical studies.

New therapeutic modalities

“We are now well positioned to bring much needed innovation to the field of anti-PD-1 immune-checkpoint inhibition and look forward to advancing our lead program into the clinic later this year across multiple tumor types” said Fredrik Wiklund, CEO of Bright Peak in a public statement​. “This capital raise provides financial flexibility to bring new therapeutic modalities to patients with cancer”

Bright Peak’s latest round follows on from a $107 million Series B round in 2021, led by RA Capital. The company uses chemical protein synthesis and conjugation technologies to turn existing therapeutic antibodies into conjugates more quickly and easily than conventional strategies, which require many protein expression, optimization and cell-line development processes. Bright Peak can also engineer proteins that are more optimized for use as a therapeutic than their natural counterparts, such as by modifying their binding properties.

Bright Peak licensed the antibody in its lead candidate from Livzon Mabpharm, a subsidiary company of Livzon Pharmaceutical Group, in 2021. The firm is also developing a program where it conjugates the antibody with a different immune simulator called IL-2. In an earlier-stage program, Bright Peak is developing a candidate with a modification that lets it be conditionally activated in the tumor microenvironment, which could reduce the potential for side effects.

ADCs and immunoconjugates

Immunoconjugates are one of many variations of antibody conjugation technology, with one of the best known being ADCs – tumor-seeking antibodies chemically linked to drugs such as chemotherapies.

ADCs are hot in the biotech industry with many acquisitions focused on snapping up promising candidates, including Pfizer’s $43 billion acquisition of Seagen in 2023. There are many ADC-focused startups​ attracting big funding rounds, with recent examples including Adcytherix’s recent $32.2 million seed round and a $158 million B2 round raised by Torl BioTherapeutics.

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