Autoimmune Biotech Zenas Will get $118M to Take Antibody Drug Into Section 3

Zenas BioPharma is preparing to take its lead drug candidate into a global Phase 3 test and it now has $118 million to finance the clinical research.

The Zenas drug, obexelimab, is being developed as a treatment for IgG4-RD, a chronic inflammatory disease that affects multiple organs. First-line treatment includes steroids, but these drugs can have toxic effects and relapse is common.

Obexelimab is intended to tamp down the activity of B cells, a type of immune cell. The drug is a bispecific antibody. One part of the drug binds to CD19, a protein on the surface of B cells. The other part of obexelimab binds to another immune cell target called FcYRIIB. According to the company, binding to both targets simultaneously mimics a natural antigen-antibody complex that down regulates B cell activity. This approach has potential applications in many autoimmune disorders.

Zenas acquired global rights to obexelimab from Xencor last year, issuing equity to that company as an upfront payment. According to the deal terms, Xencor could receive up to $480 million in milestone payments depending on Zenas’s progress with the drug.

In addition to supporting obexelimab, Zenas said the new capital, a Series B financing, will also go toward advancing other programs into clinical development in 2023. Enavate Sciences led the latest investment in Waltham, Massachusetts-based Zenas. Other new investors in the company include Longitude Capital, Vivo Capital, Rock Springs Capital, Perceptive Advisors, Agent Capital, Pivotal bioVenture Partners and Superstring Capital. Earlier investors Fairmount, Wellington Management, Tellus BioVentures, Quan Venture Fund, and Xencor also participated in the financing

Zenas’s $118 million financing was the biggest biotech financing of this week. Here’s a look at other companies that raised money:

—Bringing computational techniques to the study of secreted proteins, Juvena Therapeutics is developing new drugs for chronic disorders and diseases of aging. Juvena’s lead program is in preclinical development for the muscle disorder myotonic dystrophy type 1 and the Redwood City, California-based startup has raised $41 million to support that drug and others in the pipeline. Mubadala Capital and Horizons Ventures led Juvena’s Series A financing.

—Sensorium Therapeutics emerged with $30 million in funding to develop psychoactive molecules to address mental health disorders. Founded by scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Sensorium’s research has produced a lead program, SENS-01, for anxiety and depression. The Boston-based biotech said it expects to begin preclinical research that could support an investigational new drug application in 2023, laying the groundwork to reach clinical testing by early 2024. Santé Ventures led Sensorium’s Series A financing.

—New investors pumped money into Lipidio Pharmaceuticals, extending the biotech’s Series A round of financing to more than $20 million. San Diego-based Lipidio is developing drugs for metabolic and skin disorders. Lead drug candidate GDD3898 is in development for treating acne, sebaceous hyperplasia, obesity, and Prader-Willi syndrome. The company said it expects to complete three early-stage studies of the drug by the end of this year, laying the groundwork for data analysis and a Series B financing planned for the first quarter of 2023.

—Blood transfusion technology company Hemanext raised $18 million. The Lexington, Massachusetts-based company has CE mark certification in Europe for a red blood cell processing and storage system and is working to expand its presence into additional European markets in 2023. Hemanext described the latest financing as the first close of its Series B round. The company says it has raised about $130 million total to date.

—Neuroscience company NRG Therapeutics closed £16 million in financing to continue development of small molecule drugs that penetrate the brain to potentially slow or halt neurodegeneration. The drugs of the Stevenage, England-based company target mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. The Series A round of financing was led by Omega Funds. NRG plans to use the capital to advance its molecules through the preclinical research needed to support an investigational new drug application.

Picture: Feodora Chiosea, Getty Images

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