HONG KONG – Singapore and U.S.-based Hummingbird Bioscience Pte Ltd. has raised $19 million in a series B financing round. Proceeds will be used to support the discovery of new disease targets and to fuel the work of co-discovery projects that are part of a multitarget collaboration agreement valued at more than $1 billion signed with Amgen Inc. in September.

Mirae Asset Venture Investment and GNTech Venture Capital co-led the financing. Existing investors like Heritas Capital and Seeds Capital, as well as new investors Delian Capital, Mirae Asset Capital, DAValue-GiltEdge, HB Investment, Wooshin Venture Investment and Kiwoom Investment-Shinhan Capital, also participated in the round.

“Hummingbird Bioscience has invented a differentiated rational antibody discovery platform that designs and generates candidate therapeutic antibodies against difficult yet desirable targets,” said Jae Joon Kim, managing director at Mirae Asset Venture Investment, in a statement.

As the new year draws closer, Hummingbird is also expecting a busy time as its current lead portfolio assets, HMBD-001 and HMBD-002, are expected to enter first-in-human clinical trials following regulatory submissions in the second half of 2020.

HMBD-001 is an anti-HER3 neutralizing antibody with a novel mechanism of action that has potential for broad clinical benefit, including gastric cancer, colorectal cancer and an increasingly important genetically defined population characterized by fusions of the NRG1 protein, which are present in 1-2% of many cancer types including lung and pancreatic cancers.

“Preclinical models have shown that HMBD-001 is able to effectively and uniquely bind to a difficult-to-target region on HER3, blocking the heterodimerization of HER3 with HER2/EGFR, independent of NRG1 binding. This strongly inhibits the activation of the downstream signaling pathway – and consequently, tumor growth,” Piers Ingram, the CEO and co-founder of Hummingbird Bioscience, told BioWorld.

“Cancer Research UK has partnered with Hummingbird to advance this novel antibody drug into clinical trials for the treatment of HER3-driven cancer. The clinical trial of this investigational candidate is expected to commence following regulatory submission approvals in the second half of 2020.”

HMBD-002 is Hummingbird’s first-in-class anti-VISTA neutralizing antibody. The candidate works by binding to VISTA at a specific site predicted to be essential for ligand-binding and function, inhibiting VISTA and neutralizing its activity in cancer cells.

“Preclinical models have shown that a single dose of HMBD-002 as a monotherapy significantly reduces tumor progression, prolongs progression-free survival and inhibits tumor growth with no observed toxicity. Its application as combination therapy with antibodies against PD(L)-1 shows potential to more than double its efficacy,” said Ingram.

The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded Hummingbird a $13.1 million product development grant to advance this first-in-class anti-VISTA therapeutic antibody into clinical trials for the treatment of solid tumors that have been unresponsive to existing therapies and have their antitumor immunity suppressed by VISTA-mediated activity.

According to Ingram, the clinical trial of this investigational candidate is expected to commence following regulatory submission approvals in the second half of 2020.

In addition to HMBD-001 and HMBD-002, Hummingbird is focused on the multitarget collaboration agreement with Amgen from earlier this year, which could potentially expand its pipeline to 12 additional targets. In that deal, Amgen will provide Hummingbird with two of its proprietary targets and allow for further expansion of up to 10 additional targets over a six-year period upon which Hummingbird will apply its proprietary Rational Antibody Discovery platform to create novel therapeutic antibodies. Amgen has an exclusive option to license rights to the resulting antibodies from each project. Hummingbird will receive up-front and research payments and, upon entry into a license agreement, is also eligible to receive downstream clinical and commercial milestone payments of up to $100 million per program plus royalties.

“We are focusing our discovery and development efforts on drug targets with strong biological validation, but which have proven challenging to drug effectively with therapies developed using conventional strategies that have relied on the ‘low hanging fruit’ approach,” said Ingram. “We designed our antibody platform specifically to effectively tackle these targets and make them accessible to therapeutic modulation.”

Hummingbird will publish data on two new programs at an American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Spring 2020. It is also expecting more data readouts in late 2020 on other research it is conducting on autoimmune targets.

Hummingbird was founded in 2015 to focus on new approaches to generating precision antibody therapeutics.

“All of our programs are either first-in-class or have a highly differentiated mechanism that offers the potential for best-in-class efficacy,” said Ingram.

“Our discovery and development strategy focuses on important and hard-to-treat targets or conditions, where there is a distinct line of sight to clinical proof-of-concept in well-defined populations with clear biomarkers for efficacy.”

He added that drug targets in disease areas that tend to need far larger study populations, such as cardiovascular or metabolic disease, would be “natural opportunities” for them to partner with at the preclinical stage.

For a company with a foot in Asia, Ingram said that building teams with a track record in all the aspects of development in Asia has been more of a challenge, given that the industry is still relatively young.

“Nevertheless, we are seeing greater cross-pollination across West and East, which is contributing to the rapid evolution of the ecosystem in the region,” he said.

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