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Top Life Sciences Startups to Watch in 2021

BioSpace is proud to present its NextGen Bio “Class of 2021,” a list of up-and-coming life sciences companies in North America that recently launched.

To come up with this list, BioSpace looked at companies that recently launched over the past few years with a Series A funding. They were then weighted by several different categories and ranked in a cumulative fashion, based on the points awarded for each category. These categories were: finance, collaborations, pipeline, growth potential and innovation.

The NextGen Bio Class of 2021 is a stellar group of companies that are already making an enormous impact on the industry now and will continue into the future. Congratulations to this group!

Points: 52 Launched: 2020 Location: Seattle, WA Notable: Announced total funding of all tranches of its initial financing, raising over $700 million. The funds are being used to advance discovery and development within its core platforms, including gene delivery, immunology, stem cell biology, and gene modification and control. Some approaches include in vivo delivery of genetic payloads to specific cells, ex vivo genetic modifications that hide allogeneic cells from a patient’s immune system and applying stem cell biology to make differentiated cells to replace missing or damaged tissue. Company is led by several co-founders of Juno Therapeutics. The company’s focus is on modulating genes as well as replacing damaged cells in the body. Acquired Oscine Corp. in 4Q2020 to integrate Oscine’s glial progenitor cell program and underlying technologies with its broader platform and programs


Points: 25 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: EQRx launched in January 2020 with a $200 million Series A round. The company is focusing on creating novel, patent-protected medicines at prices that are more affordable for people and sustainable for healthcare systems, with a probable focus on oncology, immuno-inflammation and rare disease. Formed a global strategic partnership with CStone Pharmaceuticals, adding two late-stage immune checkpoint inhibitor therapies to its pipeline worth $150 million upfront. EQRx will have the rights to develop and commercialize outside of Greater China.

Points: 23 Launched: 2019 Location: New York, NY Notable: Nuvation Bio closed on a $275 million oversubscribed Series A financing. It was founded by industry veteran David Hung (Medivation, which sold to Pfizer in 2016 for $14.3 billion). The company does not have many specifics concerning its approach, other than to indicate it is focusing on cancer and has seven mechanistically distinct programs. In 4Q2020, announced it would merge with Panacea Acquisition Corp. that will take it public and add significant funding.

Points: 20 Launched: 2019 Location: South San Francisco, CA Notable: ArsenalBio launched with an $85 million Series A in October 2019, with investments from Westlake Village BioPartners, the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy (PICI), Kleiner Perkins, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Foundation Investment Company, Euclidean Capital and Osage University Partners. The company’s focus is on building a programmable cell therapy company by integrating technologies such as CRISPR-based genome engineering, scale and high throughput target identification, synthetic biology, and machine learning. The initial focus is on cancer. Ken Drazan, the former president of research and diagnostics startup Grail, is now ArsenalBio’s CEO.

Points: 16 Launched: 2020 Location: Crystal Mountain at Barton Creek, TX Notable: Triumvira Immunologics completed a $55 million Series A financing round in August 2020. The round was co-led by Leaps by Bayer and Northpond Ventures. Additional investors include Oceanpine Capital and Viva Biotech Holdings. Existing investors include Bloom Burton & Co. and the Centre for Commercialization of Cancer Immunotherapy (C3i). The company focuses on T-cell Antigen Coupler (TAC), a hybrid molecule made up of multiple protein domains to combine tumor-targeting abilities with the T-cell’s own activation machinery. The company’s Phase I/II clinical trial for TAC01-CD19 was given clearance in the U.S. and Canada in July 2019, although the trial does not appear to have begun recruiting. In March 2020, Triumvira and Switzerland’s Lonza inked a collaboration to develop point-of-care manufacturing for TAC T-Cell therapeutic targeting solid tumors.

Points: 15 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Immuneering Corporation closed on its oversubscribed Series A round in January 2020 worth $20 million. The company focuses on advancing its programs into the clinic in cancer cachexia, next-generation KRAS inhibition, and the RAF-MEK pathway. Imuneering also is developing its Disease Cancelling Technology and computational platforms, which it offers to other biopharma companies as a service. The company has six programs ranging from target identification to preclinical, as well as others. CEO, Ben Zeskind, aims to identify 90 drug programs within five years.

Points: 14 Launched: 2019 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Cellarity was launched by Flagship Pioneering in December 2019, with an undisclosed $50 million financing round. It was otherwise established in 2017. Focus is on developing a platform that utilizes single-cell technologies and machine learning to analyze cell behavior. The platform digitizes and quantifies cell behavior, which allows it to analyze the dynamics associated with the behaviors, which it hopes to use to develop therapies that cause those behaviors. As of December 2019, the company had used what it calls “network biology” to develop more than 250 digital guides called Cellarity Maps, which are designed to demonstrate how cells are behaving and interacting. The company indicates its platform is not tied to any one disease or indication, and has demonstrated the ability to change the behaviors of disease in 10 different therapeutic areas and has produced compounds that the company says can trigger the intended change. Currently the company is sorting through compounds in hematology, immuno-oncology, metabolism and respiratory.

Points: 13 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Omega Therapeutics declared an $85 million financing round in July 2020, led by Flagship Pioneering and others. The funding supports the development of their Epigenomic Programming TM platform for Precision Genomic Control TM, and progression to first-in-human clinical trials of their Epigenomic ControllersTM for programs in oncology, liver disease, serious inflammatory conditions, and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), among others. Omega Therapeutics has created a new category of medicine through their epigenomic programmingTM platform. The company is developing novel engineered and modular therapeutics, called Omega Epigenomic ControllersTM, that specifically and durably modulate and tune the level of expression of any of the 25,000+ human genes, individually or collectively, to treat and cure disease. This is Precision Genomic ControlTM.

Points: 13 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Korro Bio closed on a $91.5 million Series A financing round in September 2020, with plans to use the funds to advance its platform for precise, single-base, RNA editing to modulate protein function for therapeutic applications. The company’s proprietary platform, OPERA, leverages the body’s natural base editing system to make targeted edits to a single RNA base, meaning it can be used to repair disease-causing mutations at the RNA level.

Points: 13 Launched: 2020 Location: Menlo Park, CA Notable: Synthekine closed an $82 million Series A financing round in September 2020. The company focuses on immunology, structural insights on cytokines and multiple engineering technologies to create optimized therapeutics against new and validated cytokine targets for cancer and autoimmune disorders. The company’s two lead programs, which are in IND-enabling studies, include STK-012, an engineered Interleukin-2 (IL-2) partial agonist for cancer; and the combination of STK-009 and SYNCAR-001, an orthogonal IL-2 ligand and a CD-19 CAR-T-cell therapy being studied in combination.

Points: 12 Launched: 2020 Location: Redwood City, CA / Morrisville, NC Notable: Kriya Therapeutics closed on an $80.5 million Series A financing in May 2020. The company’s pipeline includes multiple AAV-based gene therapies for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, severe obesity, and other indications. Kriya’s pipeline consists of KT-A112, a gene therapy for delivering genes intramuscularly to produce insulin and glucokinase for types 1 and 2 diabetes; KT-A522, a gene therapy administered by salivary gland injection that delivers the gene to produce a glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1) receptor agonist for type 2 diabetes and severe obesity; and KT-A832, a gene therapy administered by intrapancreatic injection that delivers the gene to produce modified insulin growth factor 1 (IGF-1) for type 1 diabetes.

Points: 12 Launched: 2020 Location: New York, NY Notable: In September 2020, Neogene Therapeutics raised $110 million in a Series A financing co-led by EcoR1 Capital, Jeito Capital and Syncona, with participation from Polaris Partners and Pontifax. Seed investors Vida Ventures, TPG and Two River also participated. The company is focused on developing neoantigen T-cell therapies. The company’s platform allows for the isolation of neo-antigen specific TCR genes from tumor biopsies. The tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) obtained from the biopsies often express TCRs specific for mutated proteins found in cancer cells. Using its proprietary technology, the company believes it can take the isolated TCR genes and engineer them into T-cells for a potent T-cell therapy.

Points: 12 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Q32 Bio launched in May 2020 with a $46 million Series A financing. The company is focused on advancing a portfolio of biologics targeting the body’s innate and adaptive immune systems. The company indicates it has a “robust product pipeline” that includes a monoclonal antibody antagonist of the interleukin-7 receptor (IL-7R) and a complement therapeutics platform that generated fusion proteins that downregulate complement activity specifically in disease-affected tissues. The company’s most advanced program is ADX-914, a fully human anti-IL-7R antibody licensed from Bristol-Myers Squibb that re-regulates adaptive immune function. It is advancing plans for its first-in-human trial of ADX-914 by late 2020. As part of the deal with Bristol Myers Squibb, BMS became a minority shareholder of Q32 Bio. The company’s lead program in innate immunity, ADX-097, focuses on tissue-targeted regulation of the complement system. The company hopes to begin dosing a Phase I trial in the second half of 2021.

Points: 12 Launched: 2019 Location: Seattle, WA Notable: Technology platform includes RNAskip, a suppressor tRNA technology that allows premature stop codon readthrough; RNAfix, a precision RNA editing technology using endogenous Adenosine Deaminase Acting on RNA (ADAR); and AAVid, a next-generation engineered AAV platform to specific, tissue-tropic AAVs. Apparently focused on Parkinson’s disease. In December 2020, unveiled its AAVidTM capsid discovery platform and confirmed the identification of novel liver-tropic AAV5 variants.

Points: 11 Launched: 2020 Location: San Diego, CA Notable: Launched June 26, 2020, with $78 million Series A. Focused on allogeneic off-the-shelf NK cell therapies for oncology. Entered an exclusive collaboration agreement with Affimed N.V. to assess the feasibility of combinations of Artiva’s AB-101 product and Affimed’s ICE® molecules.

Points: 11 Launched: 2020 Location: South San Francisco, CA Notable: In March 2020, raised $73 million in Series A financing which completed the company’s direction from a technology licensing company to an oncology drug discovery and development organization. Focuses on novel T-cell engagers (XPATs) and cytokines (XPACs) in oncology. The company will use funds to advance its lead development candidate, AMX-818, into the clinic. Recently relocated to South San Francisco to take advantage of talent opportunities.

Points: 11 Launched: 2020 Location: South San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA Notable: Sonoma Biotherapeutics launched in February 2020 with a $40 million Series A financing round. In September 2020, the company raised an additional $30 million for its Series A financing, bring the total to $70 million. Investors include Lyell Immunopharma, ARCH Venture Partners, 8VC, LifeForce Capital, Lilly Asia Ventures Biosciences, Octagon Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, the JDRF T1D fund and additional undisclosed investors. Sonoma is focused on developing adoptive Treg therapies for autoimmune and degenerative diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and multiple sclerosis, along with degenerative diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and Alzheimer’s.

Points: 11 Launched: 2020 Location: Alameda, CA Notable: Came out of stealth mode in October 2020. It’s a spinout from Jennifer Doudna’s laboratory, at U of C-Berkeley. Focuses on “engineering, delivering, and developing novel, custom CRISPR molecules.” Its tech platform is X-Editing (XE), which is another improvement in CRISPR editing. Collaborated with Biogen in a deal that could hit $400 million--$15 million upfront.

Points: 11 Launched: 2019 Location: South San Francisco, CA Notable: CODA Biotherapeutics closed a Series A financing round worth $34 million in November 2019. The company is focusing on its lead candidates in chronic neuropathic pain and focal epilepsy. CODA’s two approaches include gene therapy and a chemogenetic platform. The gene therapy is designed to be tunable, durable and highly selective, with fewer off-target effects. The chemogenetic platform hopes to modify a target cell population using gene therapy to express a tunable “switch” protein. In May 2020, the company announced a research collaboration with the Facial Pain Research Foundation (FPRF) with the goal of using CODA’s chemogenetic gene therapy platform to identify and develop potential new therapies and cures for trigeminal neuralgia and related neuropathic pain.

Points: 10 Launched: 2019 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: Werewolf Therapeutics launched in November 2019 with a $56 million Series A financing. The company’s focus is on novel immuno-stimulatory therapeutics to act within the tumor microenvironment to improve the body’s immune response to cancer. Similar approaches have run into problems with severe systemic toxicities. The company’s PREDATOR protein engineering platform engineers potent biologics that can be delivered systematically in an inactivated format to prevent unwanted effects on non-target tissues.

Points: 10 Launched: 2020 Location: San Diego, CA Notable: Aspen Neuroscience closed on its Series A funding round in April 2020, raising $70 million. The company is focused on developing a restorative, disease-modifying autologous neuron therapy for Parkinson’s disease. Aspen’s lead product, ANPD001, is in IND-enabling studies for the treatment of sporadic forms of Parkinson’s disease, while its second product, ANPD002 combines gene correction and autologous neuron therapy for genetic forms of Parkinson’s disease.

Points: 10 Launched: 2020 Location: Menlo Park, CA Notable: Hexagon Bio launched in September 2020 with a $47 million Series A financing round. The company’s molecule discovery platform leverages data science, genomics and synthetic biology to identify potent, evolutionarily refined secondary metabolites and their protein targets from fungal genomes.

Points: 10 Launched: 2020 Location: Berkeley, CA Notable: Kyverna Therapeutics raised $25 million in Series A in January 2020. One of its founding investors is Gilead Sciences. The company is a cell therapy endeavor engineering a new class of drugs for serious autoimmune diseases. The strategy combines advanced T-cell engineering and synthetic biology to suppress and eliminate autoreactive immune cells at the root cause of inflammatory disease. The company has a strategic collaboration and license deal with Gilead Sciences to develop engineered T-cell therapies for autoimmune disease based on Kyverna’s synthetic Treg platform and Kite, a Gilead company’s, synNotch technology. Gilead paid Kyverna $17.5 million upfront with a potential $570 million in development and commercialization milestones.

Points: 9 Launched: 2020 Location: Grove City, OH Notable: Forge Biologics launched in July 2020 with a $40 million Series A financing round. The company is referring to itself as a viral vector contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO) and therapeutics developer. Its lead program is FBX-101, a novel AAV and umbilical cord transplant combination approach to treat infantile Krabbe disease, a deadly neurodegenerative disorder. On January 4, 2021, the FDA granted approval for the company to initiate a Phase I/II trial of FBX-101. The company’s manufacturing facility, known as The Hearth, will host end-to-end cGMP AAV manufacturing services at the 500L scale, which will enable biotech and pharma clients to accelerate their gene therapy programs from preclinical development through clinical and commercial stage manufacturing.

Points: 9 Launched: 2020 Location: Cambridge, MA Notable: MoMa Therapeutics launched and closed on an $86 million Series A financing in April 2020. The company is focused on so-called “molecular machines,” which are enzymes that create force, work and motion. There are more than 400 proteins in the molecular machine family, and they have a wide range of processes within cells, including DNA replication and repair, biomolecular transport and protein homeostasis. Although the company hasn’t specified any indications, their blog does suggest an interest in cancer and rare diseases—the intention is to identify molecular machines using genomic data and then using small molecules to intervene, possibly fixing malfunction in rare diseases and tumors.


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