When a company is developing science that has never been done before, an early sign of its validation often comes from investors.
Such is the case for San Diego-based Enlaza Therapeutics, which came out of stealth mode last month by announcing a $61 million seed round. The financing was led by Avalon Ventures and joined by Lightspeed Venture Partners, Frazier Life Sciences and Samsara BioCapital.
The funding will be used to advance Enlaza’s trademarked War-Lock platform and build a pipeline of covalent biologics – a new technology that will increase the efficacy of biologic therapeutics by binding them to drug targets.
“We’ve combined recent breakthroughs that allow introduction of proprietary unnatural amino acids to protein drugs, which enables specific covalent binding to their target proteins,” said Sergio Duron, CEO of Enlaza Therapeutics. “Our covalent biologic platform is white-space technology, and we are pioneering an entirely new class of biologic therapeutics with the potential for significantly improved efficacy and safety to address numerous indications and disease areas.”
Duron said that using covalent bonds to “handcuff” drugs to targets has been used with success in small molecules but “no one has done this in the context of biologics.”
“But is a good area to use the science because biologics have superior selectivity. They’re designed to bind to the drug target, and almost exclusively drug target, but currently are reversible – they bind and then they come off.”
Enlaza is developing a way to make the the binding covalent and essentially attach to the target. For example, a biologic that treats cancer can be forced onto the tumor and cancer cells, allowing the drug to work quickly in clearing the body of the tumor. The covalent nature of the biologic also improves the safety of the drugs.
“This covalency only happens when you bind to the drug target. The molecules are non-reactive until they bind and once they bind to the drug target, they’ll permanently attach to that,” Duron said, adding that Improving safety and efficacy are “the hallmarks of drug discovery.”
“Enlaza has built a highly differentiated therapeutic platform which, for the first time, will enable covalent biologics,” said Jay Lichter, managing partner of Avalon Ventures. “The platform provides the opportunity to develop drugs against multiple target classes, offering opportunities across all therapeutic areas.”
Although Enlaza is currently focused on developing covalent biologics for oncology, Duron said the technology in the War-Lock platform is “indication agnostic.”
“There are other opportunities for our technology to go beyond oncology,” he said, adding that the long-term vision is to incorporate War-Lock for other applications such as auto-immunity which he described as a “perfect opportunity” for the platform.
War-Lock creates specific therapeutic “warheads” that lock onto targets of interest, producing broadly applicable therapeutic candidates with effective drug-like properties. For example, protein drugs derived from the platform can be modified to incorporate various payloads, creating antibody-drug conjugates or radioligand therapies with specific target tissue delivery, without the need for half-life extension engineering.
“The breadth of Enlaza’s platform will be transformative across multiple modalities,” said Shelley Chu, M.D., partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners.
Marcos Milla, venture partner at Samsara BioCapital said, “The Enlaza platform opens the possibility to enhance the therapeutic index of biologic drugs in a way that is not accessible with platforms relying on conventional recombinant technologies.
Enlaza has generated preclinical data for its oncology drug candidates showing fast tumor penetration coupled with high systemic clearance, high tumor retention, and low off-target toxicity.
“We are impressed with the in vitro and in vivo data the team has generated and believe that Enlaza can build an industry leading pipeline of important new protein drugs employing its incomparable technological advantage,” said Jamie Topper, managing partner of Frazier Life Sciences.
With the seed round funding, Duron said Enlaza will be ramping up hiring and move as fast as possible to prove that the technology can be used to produce a drug. The company will also spend some of the capital expanding the platform and establishing new pipelines in oncology as well as other areas of interest.
“We want to become part of the toolbox of biologics drug discovery,” he said.
CEO: Sergio Duron, Ph.D.
Headquarters: San Diego (La Jolla)
Business: Developer of covalent biologics drug platform
Notable: Enlaza Therapeutics is a pioneering company in the field of covalent biologics.