Two months ago, biotechnology startup Good Therapeutics struck it big.
A cancer immunotherapy the company was working on drew such interest from Roche that the Swiss pharmaceutical giant paid $250 million, far more than the $30 million the startup had raised privately, to buy it outright.
But Good and its management team only parted with one piece of their work. They kept the technology that led to that drug prospect and turned it into a new company.
Now that startup, known as Bonum Therapeutics and led by former Good CEO John Mulligan, is making its debut, announcing a $93 million Series A round that Roche participated in.
Bonum, the Latin word for “good,” will continue with some of the same type of research that started at its predecessor company. It is still focused on immunotherapies for solid tumors, though it hasn’t identified specific cancers to treat, CEO John Mulligan said in an interview with BioPharma Dive.
“It was an interesting pitch to get investors – it's a company with seed level programs and a Series B technology,” Mulligan said.
The program Roche acquired Good for targets IL-2, an inflammatory cytokine that’s intrigued drugmakers for decades because of its cancer-fighting potential. Bonum is working on other cytokines and molecular targets, among them IL-12, IFN-alpha and TGF-beta, according to the company.
All of them involve Good’s core technology, a way of equipping cytokines with a sensor molecule that’s only active when it encounters its target. Good’s program, for example, had a sensor tailored to the protein PD-1 that's the target of many cancer immunotherapies.
That “conditionally” active approach is meant to lead to precise treatments that can avoid some of the side effects associated with cancer therapies that harness cytokines. But Good hasn’t proven those claims as of yet, because of how quickly it was sold.
“We didn't even have a clinical candidate when Roche bought the program,” Mulligan said.
With Bonum, Mulligan and his returning team are thinking bigger. First, executives used a $3 million cash bridge to carry the company from August to November. Then they started raising funds from the same investors who funded Good, and ended up with $93 million from Vivo Capital, Roche’s venture arm and four other firms.
Now, it’s envisioning a pipeline of treatments for cancer and other diseases that it can form partnerships for once they’re ready for Phase 1 testing, chief development officer Neela Patel wrote in a LinkedIn post.
“Our initial plans aren’t to sell our programs at this very early stage like we did with PD-1/IL-2,” Mulligan said. “To get the most value out of these, [we] plan to sell them at Phase 1 where we have human proof of concept data,” which is when “we can actually see that our claims about reduced toxicity are true and the efficacy can be shown.”
The funding is expected to last the company roughly five years, Mulligan said, enough time to get a drug into early testing and produce six to 12 months of data.