San Diego-based BioAtla has reeled in $72.5 million for their Series D financing, which the company announced in July.
The global clinical-stage biotechnology company has operations in San Diego and China, is focused on the development of Conditionally Active Biologic (CAB) antibody therapeutics.
Soleus Capital led the fundraising and Pfizer’s VC arm also reinvested. New investors included co-lead HBM Healthcare Investments, Cormorant Asset Management, Farallon Capital, Pappas Capital, Boxer Capital and funds managed by Janus Henderson. To date, the biotech has raised $187 million in total funding.
The new financing will be used to design and execute clinical programs evolving from its CAB platform which yields tumor-targeting antibodies with the potential for an enhanced benefit risk profile.
Led by Jay Short, chairman and chief executive officer, BioAtla uses proprietary protein discovery, evolution and expression technologies to generate conditionally Active Biologics.
CABs are proteins that are designed to only activate in a particular cellular microenvironment. These proteins can also “turn off” should they move away from the areas they aren’t designed to treat by detecting pH levels.
Investors are betting on the overall promise of BioAtla’s platform. Short said BioAlta is already seeing early clinical data with some complete and durable responses, with greater safety than its competitors.
An untraditional company in the biotechnology space, this is BioAtla’s first time raising any venture capital investment.
“We grew it from the early days through some strategic partnerships organically which makes it very different because it doesn’t come through the standard networks,” said Short. “When I look at the (partners) involved in our crossover round, I would say that worked out quite well.”
Currently, BioAtla has two programs currently in Phase 1/2 clinical testing which are being developed to treat refractory sarcoma (by targeting AXL), melanoma (ROR2) and non-small cell lung cancer (AXL and ROR2). But the CABs can be applied to a wide array of cancers.
BioAtla underlying goal is to figure out the same thing cancer drug developers have been focused on since the earliest medicines became available — reducing toxicity.
BioAtla’s CABs can distinguish between pH levels and prevent non-cancerous cells from being harmed.
In April 2019, BioAtla striked a deal with BeiGene and is studying how their CABs work in combinations to provide potentially safer cancer treatments. The two companies are currently researching how BeiGene’s tislelizumab, an anti-PD-1 antibody, and BioAtla’s BA3071, a CTLA-4 inhibitor created utilizing CAB technology, can work together.
Clinical trials for this combination, which will launch Phase I sometime in the third quarter of 2020.
“It’s very rewarding to see the remarkable clinical data that we’re seeing patients that are responding so it’s very exciting,” said Short. “We have had a few patients enter our trial with terminal cancer and become disease free after the therapy. We’ve seen some great responses.”
These particular drugs will bring multi-billion dollar market opportunities across the board, Short said, adding that he believes BioAtla has an advanced pipeline that is relative to companies going public today.
Short formerly served as vice president for R&D at Stratagene Cloning Systems (now Agilent). He then launched Diversa, which issued one of the largest biotechnology IPOs of 2000, later sold to Verenium and British Petroleum. Amount not disclosed.
Short was on the board of Invitrogen (Life Technologies) for 15 years, then took a hiatus to co-found the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation. He soon started BioAtla alongside his wife Carolyn Short in 2007.
“We are both grateful for the support of the local biotech community, who has been there for us either through investment, temporary facilities and always exciting discussions,” said Carolyn Short, co-founder of BioAtla. “The BioAtla team has been with us through the sine wave of experiences and I am grateful for that.”
If BioAtla’s drugs continue to work out, the team will be in a position to commercialize its first therapy within the next 2 to 3 years. Which they plan to lead themselves.
BioAtla employs roughly 55 employees, 35 people in its San Diego office and 20 working in its laboratory based in Beijing, China. The company also plans to expand its operations in 2021.
Short said from a biotech perspective, San Diego is one of the most exciting areas to start a technology company.
“It’s very collaborative and easy to interact with different groups because they’re in close proximity. Everyone’s engaged and entrepreneurial by nature,” said Short. “For me, San Diego is one of the more exciting biotech centers you could be involved with.”