UK’s Pheon is latest kid on the block in ADC sector

by Stephen Riddle

There’s a new player in the antibody-drug conjugate (ADC) scene. UK-based Pheon Therapeutics has entered stage right with $68 million in funding that will be used to fund development of a pipeline of new therapies for hard-to-treat cancers.

Pheon’s lead ADC PHN-010 is directed at a novel, undisclosed cancer antigen that it says is highly expressed in a broad range of solid tumours. It is expected to be ready for clinical testing within the next 18 months, according to a company statement.

It is being led by chief executive Bertrand Damour (pictured above), a biopharma entrepreneur who previously held the top job at Swiss biotech NBE-Therapeutics, another ADC specialist that was acquired by Boehringer Ingelheim for $1.4 billion in 2020.

“We are laser-focused on implementing our strategy to get our first programme into clinical development as rapidly as possible and the preclinical data generated so far are very promising,” he said.

Damour’s co-founders are ADC scientist Paul Jackson – formerly of King’s College London – who will serve as vice president of R&D, as well as Jackson’s firmer boss at KCL Prof David Thurston, who will act as an advisor to the new company.

Thurston was a co-founder of Spirogen, whose payload technology is being used in ADC Therapeutics’ recently-approved lymphoma therapy Zynlonta (loncastuximab tesirine).

Meanwhile, Pheon has also appointed industry veteran Leigh Zawel as chief scientific officer, who brings experience across the big pharma, biotech and the investment sector to the table.

While they have been around for a couple of decades, the number of ADCs on the market remains low, but latterly the class has been gathering momentum in biopharma drug development as early issues with stability and toxicity have been ironed out.

Pheon’s lead candidate is based on an in-licensed targeting antibody, and is linked to a cancer cell-killing ‘warhead’ based on a proprietary technology with a novel mechanism of action.

It targets an “internalisable single-pass transmembrane protein which is highly over-expressed in multiple solid tumours and has low expression in healthy tissues.”

The company says its ADC platform is designed to balance safety and efficacy for each target, and is already attracting interest from big pharma partners.

The Series A financing was led by Brandon Capital, Forbion and Atlas Ventures, with participation from seed investor Research Corporation Technologies (RCT).

“In the last few years ADC drugs have started to show unprecedented clinical efficacy through a better understanding of the properties that make an effective ADC, combined with next generation payloads and targets,” commented Brandon’s Jonathon Tobin, who has been named chair of Pheon.

“We are excited by the potential of Pheon’s first-in-class antibody target coupled with its novel proprietary payload platform to make a significant contribution to the ADC field and cancer patients,” he added.

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