California biotech Apexigen has raised $73 million from a pair of financings that will be used for clinical testing of its lead CD40-targeting immuno-oncology candidate as well as to broaden its pipeline.
The series B and C fundraising—five years after Epitomics spinoff Apexigen raised $20 million in its first round—puts the biotech on “a new trajectory for growth,” according to CEO Xiaodong Yang, M.D., Ph.D., who said in a release that it also provides the resources to bring forward additional therapies based on its antibody-discovery platform APXiMAB.
Apexigen is already advancing lead CD40 agonist APX005M on a broad front, with eight clinical trials in play both as a monotherapy and in combination with other drugs, including Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo (nivolumab) and Merck & Co.’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab).
The biotech reckons its drug will complement first-generation checkpoint inhibitors, which only work in some patients, as the I-O field moves toward combination therapy. Not all those combinations will work of course, as recent disappointments with IDO and CD122 inhibitors have shown.
CD40 is a receptor whose activation triggers a complex immune response involving both arms of the immune system, innate and adaptive, working together to stimulate a T-cell assault against cancerous cells. It’s been considered an interesting target in immuno-oncology for some time, and Apexigen is one of a group of companies bringing a CD40 drug through clinical development which also includes Roche-Genentech with selicrelumab, AbbVie’s ABBV-428, Johnson & Johnson-backed Alligator Biosciences’ ADC-1013, and Celldex’s CDX-1140.
In June, APX005M was paired with PD-1 inhibitor Opdivo and BMS-Five Prime’s experimental CSF1R antibody cabiralizumab as a therapy for non-small cell lung cancer patients who fail initial checkpoint inhibitor therapy, and it’s also being tested in pediatric brain tumors, esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer and other solid tumors.
“We believe CD40 activation by APX005M will become a key component in several new I-O therapeutic regimens for treating cancer patients,” Yang said in the release. “Looking ahead, we will use our powerful discovery research engine to accelerate generation of new I-O therapeutics.”
The $15 million series B financing was led by Decheng Capital, while the $58 million series C financing was led by 3E Bioventures Capital, Virtus Inspire Ventures, and SV Tech Ventures.
Dan Zabrowski, Ph.D., of Decheng Capital and Karen Liu, Ph.D., of 3E Bioventures Capital have joined Apexigen’s board following the investments.