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Bright Peak Raises $90M Series C

BIOTECH: Developing Drugs in $40B Category

DEL MAR – Bright Peak Therapeutics, a company focused on developing immunotherapies in category with few big players, has raised $90 million from venture capitalists.

Launched in 2020 and backed by Versant Ventures, Bright Peak’s goal is to build out its portfolio of immunotherapies that can help treat patients with cancer and autoimmune disease.

The Series C funding round was led by Johnson & Johnson’s strategic VC arm JJDC with participation by Venrock, KB Investment and Northleaf Capital Partners, among several others.

Fredrik Wiklund
President and CEO
Bright Peak Therapeutics

Bright Peak is led by CEO Fredrik Wiklund, who has worked in the San Diego’s life science industry for nearly two decades.

“We are now well positioned to bring much needed innovation to the field of anti-PD-1 immune-checkpoint inhibition,” Wiklund said. “We look forward to advancing our lead program into the clinic later this year across multiple tumor types.”

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The fundraising provides the firm with roughly three years of runway, he added.

Bright Peak’s lead drug candidate, BPT567, targets PD-1 and stimulates IL-18 signals and will treat certain tumor types if proven successful. The broader aim of a PD1-IL18 molecule is to build on the PD-1 antibody.

“The ‘first-generation’ PD-1s are the biggest class of drugs in the world, with approximately $40 billion in annual sales,” Wiklund said. “Despite the incredible commercial success of these therapies, many patients unfortunately are not sufficiently served by this class of drug and eventually need to look for alternative approaches to their cancer. Bright Peak intends to serve those patients by our next-gen approach.”

Entering Clinical Studies

Three years ago, Bright Peak was scientific approach and pipeline much looked different than it is today. After raising a $107 million in Series B funding in 2021, it pivoted from its first program called the “IL-2 candidate” to focus on BPT567, which is more innovative and effective, according to the firm.

BPT567 works by “linking” together a checkpoint inhibitor to a cytokine. “We have shown in animal models that by adding IL-18 as a ‘payload’ conjugated to a PD-1 antibody we can drive quite dramatic synergistic anti-tumor efficacy vs. an aPD-1 alone,” Wiklund said.

Investors’ Remain Optimistic

Investors involved are betting long-term that BrightPeak will have a competitive pipeline to produce innovative immunotherapies in a lucrative category.

Currently, there are no FDA-approved IL-18 drugs. Gilead licensed an anti-IL-18 program from Compugen in December, though that is a monotherapy and still preclinical, like BPT567.

Wiklund said having the backing and support from a distinguished syndicate of leading life sciences investors provides the management team strong confidence it can bring new therapeutic modalities to patients with cancer.

To take BPT567 past the current trial, the company will consider partnerships, equity or a combination of both, to get more cash. If equity is in the mix, an IPO may be on the table in the future.

Competitive Landscape

BrightPeak is not the only company working in this space. For example, Merck ($MRK) PD-1 drug, called Keytruda (pembrolizumab)  –  now generating $25 billion annually  –  have been very successful. Though, Wiklund noted that significant unmet needs remain.

“Almost half the patients that get diagnosed with cancers get diagnosed with tumors where PD-1s are not approved,” he said. “The majority of patients that do get treated with PD-1, unfortunately, do not respond or ultimately progress.”

Still in the pre-clinical stages, Bright Peak aims to test BPT567 in a Phase 1/2a trial in solid tumors with roughly 100 patients. The study is expected to begin in the second half of this year, and Wiklund thinks accelerated approvals are possible for indications in which PD-1 inhibitors aren’t already the standard of care.

Better Days Ahead

BrightPeak employs more than 40 people and has double its headcount since its inception.
The startup has raised more than $197 million, to date. Based in Del Mar, the firm also has employees based in Basel, Switzerland.

“I have been active in the San Diego life sciences community for about 15 years now. The city has world-class academic research institutions that have always acted as an important cornerstone for the local biotech industry,” Wiklund said. “With the local capital, executive, and technical talent, we truly have a local ecosystem which means that companies like Bright Peak can now stay in San Diego and lay down longer roots in the community.

“Perhaps a decade ago, a company like Bright Peak would have likely received some Series A venture funding from a syndicate of Bay Area VCs, with the requirement that they move the company to San Francisco. That rarely happens these days and I feel the best days of San Diego biotech absolutely remains ahead of us,” Wiklund continued.

Bright Peak’s board of directors includes Laura Shawver, who led the development of engineered cytokines for cancer and autoimmune disorders at San Diego-based Synthorx.

That company was purchased by Sanofi for $2.5 billion in 2022.

Bright Peak Therapeutics
FOUNDED: 2017
CEO: Fredrik Wiklund
HEADQUARTERS: Del Mar
BUSINESS: A biotech advancing a portfolio of multifunctional immunotherapies.
EMPLOYEES: 40+
WEBSITE: https://brightpeaktx.com
NOTABLE: Former CEO of Synthorx (acquired for $2.5B), sits on its of its board of directors.

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