HONG KONG – Bispecific antibody startup Epimab Biotherapeutics Inc. has completed a $120 million series C financing, bringing it closer to a potential IPO next year. The Shanghai-based company said the new funds would help it move its EGFR/cMET-targeted bispecific candidate, EMB-01, into phase II testing this year, as well supporting the advancement of other clinical candidates and an expansion of its pipeline.

The series C round brings Epimab’s total venture capital raised to more than $220 million. China Merchants Bank International and Mirae Asset Financial Group co-led the latest round, joined by an interesting mix of new and existing investors including Hony Capital, Cormorant Asset Management and Decheng Capital, as well as cultural entrepreneur Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development.

“We expect to kick off our pre-IPO round in the back half of 2021 and are looking to IPO in 2022,” Epimab’s chief financial officer, David Gu, told BioWorld.

Epimab's current clinical-stage candidates include EMB-01, EMB-02 and EMB-06, each of which arose from its Fabs-In-Tandem Immunoglobulin (FIT-Ig) bispecific antibody technology platform, with designs intended to overcome typical bispecific development issues and increase efficacy.

EMB-01, a bispecific antibody targeting EGFR and cMET, is currently under evaluation in a phase I dose escalation study with expectations for a likely phase II start in the second half of this year, said Gu. Meanwhile, with an IND for EMB-02 cleared in the U.S., the bispecific antibody targeting PD-1 and LAG-3 checkpoints is also on its way to potential IND clearance in China this year, he said.

“For EMB-06, the CTA was recently cleared in Australia and we are also working on the IND filing in China. We would expect initial phase I dose escalation data from EMB-02 and EMB-06 to be available internally this year.”

A clinical trial application for EMB-06, a bispecific T-cell engager targeting B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) and CD3, was recently cleared in Australia as the company continues work on an IND filing in China. “We would expect initial phase I dose escalation data from EMB-02 and EMB-06 to be available internally this year,” Gu said.

So far, little is known outside the company about EMB-02 and EMB-06. Gu said EMB-02 has induced tumor regression in PD-1 resistant in vivo models and EMB-06 has shown a unique safety profile in toxicology studies.

Epimab is striving to move two to three candidates into the clinic each year, as well pursuing in-licensing and partnership opportunities that would bring new compounds into its portfolio. There are "several ongoing high-value development projects in the pipeline" that will move towards the clinic, Gu said.

Prior to the latest round, Epimab had reeled in $74 million in capital from a series B financing in June 2019. The series B funding came from SDIC Fund, Sherpa Healthcare Partners and SCVC, with further support from the company’s series A backers 3E Bioventure Capital, Decheng Capital, Oriza Seed Capital and the Trend Investment Group. It marked a different pool of investors in Epimab as it was mostly Chinese investors. Epimab’s seed money and angel funding came from mostly U.S. individual investors.

In addition to its internal discovery efforts, Epimab has also looked beyond China in its quest to innovate. Last year, it partnered with Brisbane, Australia-based QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute to look for novel bispecific target combinations with applications in immuno-oncology. Bispecific antibodies that arise from the collaboration will be tested using the institute’s preclinical models and would be offered exclusively for further development by Epimab.