Avectas Ltd., of Dublin, brought in a $20 million series C financing, ratcheting the total equity investment in the company to $40 million.
Privately held Avectas, formed in 2012 as a spin-out from Ireland’s Maynooth University, said it plans to accelerate the clinical translation and commercial scale-up of its cell engineering technology and expand its staffing in Ireland. The company currently employs 29 people, 19 of whom have doctorates. Avectas’ technology is designed to engineer efficiencies in a range of payload deliveries, including mRNA, DNA, proteins and gene-editing tools to primary T cells and natural killer cells for immune-oncology and gene-editing applications.
The company's technology, Solupore, employs an alcohol-based solution to transiently permeabilize cell membranes, which allows for efficient take-up of cargoes – which can include large proteins and polysaccharides as well as nucleic acids – with minimal impact on cell viability. The company is positioning the technology for the next wave of cell therapies, including CAR T therapies, which will be more heavily engineered than the first-generation therapies that are currently on the market.
The funding was led by existing shareholders, including Seamus Mulligan, considered Ireland's most successful pharma entrepreneur, who not only led this round but also led the equity finance charge in April 2019 for Avectas’ $10 million financing.
Mulligan has long experience in biotech. He is a former Elan Corp. and Speranza Therapeutics Ltd. executive. In 2009, Circ Pharma Ltd. entered a development agreement with Elan in which the latter firm would develop a chronotherapeutic formulation of the pain-killing drug tramadol for treating moderate to moderately severe pain. Financial terms were not disclosed, but the agreement gave Circ, a virtual company established by Mulligan, access to Elan's formulation, scale-up and manufacturing expertise. Alkermes plc ultimately acquired the drug delivery arm of Elan in a $1 billion cash-and-shares deal in 2011. Mulligan sold one of his ventures, Azur Pharma Ltd., created in 2005, to Dublin-based Jazz Pharmaceuticals plc in 2012. He was appointed to the board of Emergent Biosolutions Inc., of Gaithersburg, Md., in March 2019.
Mulligan’s longtime colleagues, Eunan Maguire and David Brabazon, also Elan alumni, pitched in to the 2019 financing. Maguire is Avectas’ board director. Avectas’ board is chaired by another former Elan executive, Mary Martin, who has also held senior posts at Dublin-based Horizon Pharma plc, Vidara Therapeutics International Ltd. and AGI Therapeutics plc.
In late March, Avectas said it would collaborate with Vycellix Inc., of Tampa, Fla., on the delivery of Vycellix's RNA immunomodulator, VY-M, using Avectas' cell engineering platform. The collaboration is created to address limitations for cell-based therapies, the company said, particularly the need to speed up the manufacturing process and reduce manufacturing costs. Vycellix said it wants to accelerate expansion time of T cells and natural killer cells by decreasing nondividing lag time.
Avectas and Vycellix share a link with the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. The collaboration between the two companies will include research at Karolinska. Both the companies are also collaborative partners at Competence Center for Next Generation NK Cell-based Cancer Immunotherapy, a newly established competence center for research on next-generation natural killer cell-based cancer immunotherapies.
Avectas is also collaborating with CCRM, a cell and gene therapy company based in Toronto. In early March, Avectas said the agreement will help the company support translation of its platform toward the clinic. CCRM is a not-for-profit group funded by the Canadian government designed to support development of regenerative medicines.
It was five years from the time Avectas filed a patent request until its approval on April 8. The patent regarded the company’s technology for delivering a payload such as a protein and/or nucleic acid across a cell’s plasma membrane.