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eTheRNA’s €34M series B to support different take on COVID-19 vaccine, build out core cancer pipeline

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The series B round for eTheRNA will fund the Belgian company’s core immuno-oncology pipeline as well as its different mRNA approach to combat the threat of coronaviruses.

eTheRNA immunotherapies N.V. said Tuesday it raised €34 million ($38.2 million) in a series B round. The deal included new investors Grand Decade, a subsidiary of China Grand Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Holdings Ltd. (HKEX:512); Yijing Capital; BNP Paribas Fortis Private Equity; and Novalis LifeSciences LLC. Existing investors Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund, Fund+, LSP, PMV and Omega Funds also participated.

According to CEO Steven Powell, the majority of the fresh capital is earmarked for advancing the company’s core pipeline of mRNA-based immuno-oncology programs; however, the company will also be starting an mRNA-based coronavirus vaccine program that isn’t limited to COVID-19.

There are two mRNA vaccines in the clinic, according to BioCentury’s COVID-19 Resource Center, mRNA-1273 from Moderna Inc. (NASDAQ:MRNA) and BNT162 from BioNTech SE (NASDAQ:BNTX). These vaccines target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, which has regions that differ from other coronavirus spikes, whereas eTheRNA is developing a preclinical pan-coronavirus vaccine that seeks to stimulate T cell responses against epitopes conserved across the coronavirus family.

“One of the potential advantages of T cells is that you invoke a longer-lived response than is often seen with antibody-mediated neutralization,” Powell told BioCentury. “We’re constructing antigen designs using a variety of different regions of the virus and then looking to put that together as a conserved sequence-based antigen.”

The pan-coronavirus vaccine, dubbed A006, is expected to enter the clinic next year.

The new investment should also take eTheRNA to readouts from three of its other immuno-oncology programs. The programs are based on the biotech’s TriMix technology, which combines therapeutic mRNA molecules that encode CD70, CD40L and TLR4 to stimulate antigen-specific T cell infiltration into tumors.

The biotech’s lead in-house program is A001, a TriMix therapeutic that is in Phase I/II testing to treat metastatic melanoma with data expected next year. A second program in breast cancer is in clinical testing; the Free University of Brussels is conducting the trial and data are expected YE21.

Powell added that the B round will also fund another internal program, A002 targeting HPV-positive cancers, through to first-in-human data.

In parallel with the financing, eTheRNA agreed to initial terms on a deal with China Grand Pharma that would include manufacturing of mRNA in China and grant the Chinese pharma rights to certain as yet undisclosed eTheRNA programs in Greater China. Powell said details of the deal and financial terms were still being finalized.

Targets

CD40L (CD40LG; CD154) - CD40 ligand

CD70 (CD27L)

TLR4 - Toll-like receptor 4

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