Stars align as ex-True North team nabs another $90M to build out biotech constellation

By Kyle LaHucik, Endpoints

Star Therapeutics, which created two antibody-focused biotech startups with more in the works, has now reeled in a $90 million Series C. The round, disclosed Tuesday morning, brings the Bay Area biotech’s total financing to more than $190 million since emerging from Westlake Village BioPartners in early 2022.

Star’s biotech startups Vega Therapeutics and Electra Therapeutics focus on treating various hematological and immuno-oncology indications with antibodies created in-house.

Another offshoot is in the works, CEO and founder Adam Rosenthal told Endpoints News, and Westlake founding managing director Beth Seidenberg said the new funding should “carry us for several years.” The goal is to create new antibodies, without the need for an academic lab or external innovation, that can treat multiple diseases, Rosenthal said.

Proceeds from the Series C will fund an ongoing Phase Ia/Ib trial of Vega’s VGA039, an under-the-skin antibody being tested in Australia to start. The drug alters Protein S, which is involved in the blood-clotting formation process.

The trial is expected to continue into next year, and Vega hopes to first treat von Willebrand disease, or VWD, before moving into additional bleeding disorders, Rosenthal said. Takeda secured FDA approval for an enzyme replacement therapy for forms of VWD early last year, and another biotech, Hemab, has raised more than $190 million to develop a drug for the condition, among other rare blood disorders.

Electra, meanwhile, has separately secured more than $80 million to drug the SIRP pathway for the rare, potentially fatal inflammatory disease named secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. Its clinical-stage asset, ELA026, could be used in additional indications as well.

A new Vega enters the galaxy with bleeding disorder antibody set for 2023 trial.

Star’s oversubscribed round brought in six new investors, and seven existing backers came back to the table, the CEO said. Well-known venture firm Sofinnova Investments led the round. Other bankrollers include first-timers Qatar Investment Authority, Catalio Capital Management, Agent Capital, Soleus Capital and NYBC Ventures. Westlake and a suite of others joined again; this includes OrbiMed, Redmile Group, RA Capital Management, New Leaf Venture Partners, Cormorant Asset Management and Cowen Healthcare Investments.

With a bevy of blue-chip backers, Star could be one to watch as more biotechs join the IPO queue. Seidenberg said some of Westlake’s portfolio companies are thinking about potential initial public offerings next year, with two already having done so in 2023: Acelyrin and Sagimet Biosciences.

Handful of biotechs expected to IPO this fall, but many are stuck in ‘holding pattern’ until 2024

“This model allows us the flexibility to pursue different options potentially with different portfolio companies,” Rosenthal said. “We’ll continue a range of sources of funding in the future. That will include equity financings, [a] potential IPO path, as well as BD-partnering opportunities.”

Seidenberg is familiar with the Star team. As general partner at Kleiner Perkins, she had backed Rosenthal and the team’s ideas at True North Therapeutics, which would go on to sell to Bioverativ in 2017. Bioverativ was later acquired by Sanofi. The French Big Pharma markets Enjaymo, the rare disease drug developed by True North.

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