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Pandion Raises $58M to Bring Cancer-Fighting Tactics to Immune Disorders

Xconomy Boston — 

Many drugs for inflammatory and autoimmune disorders work by suppressing the immune system, an approach that puts patients at risk of infection among other side effects. Pandion Therapeutics is developing antibody drugs that it says could instead work with the immune system, potentially offering a safer, more targeted treatment.

The Cambridge, MA, biotech has now raised $58 million to advance one, and perhaps two compounds into clinical trials in the next two years. Polaris Partners, the venture capital firm that founded Pandion last year and provided its seed funding, co-led the Series A round with Roche Venture Fund and Versant Ventures. Other investors participating in the Pandion investment were BioInnovation Capital and SR One.

Pandion is developing antibody drugs that are “bispecific,” which means they hit two targets on a cell instead of just one. So far, most of the research on bispecific antibodies has supported the development of new cancer drugs, says Pandion CEO Anthony Coyle. Tumors are able to survive and grow in microenvironments where they can disarm the immune system and evade detection. Some cancer biotech companies are developing bispecific antibody drugs to target these microenvironments as a way of freeing the immune system to fight tumors instead.

Cancer immunotherapy research has informed Pandion’s own work. Inflammation and autoimmune disorders have their own microenvironments, Coyle says. A bispecific Pandion drug would latch on to specific tissues at the site of inflammation. At this site, the drug works within the microenvironment. First, it tamps down disease cells that have been activated by the inflammatory or autoimmune condition, Coyle says. Then, it expands the activity of regulatory T cells, the cells that modulate the immune system. Coyle says this localized approach avoids the side effects that can come with systemic treatments whose effects are felt in tissues and organs throughout the body.

“Because we’re modulating the immune system only at the site of inflammation, we believe the safety profile of our drugs will be so much better than the drugs that currently exist,” Coyle says.

Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN) was the first company to win an FDA nod for a bispecific antibody drug, with the 2014 approval of blinatumomab (Blincyto), a treatment for a rare form of leukemia. A growing number of companies have bispecific antibody drugs for cancer in their pipelines, including Vancouver, BC-based Zymeworks (NASDAQ: ZYME). Outside of cancer, Roche subsidiary Genentech won FDA approval late last year for emicizumab (Hemlibra), a bispecific antibody drug meant to prevent bleeding in hemophilia A patients.

Pandion’s disease targets include inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune liver disease, kidney diseases, Type 1 diabetes, organ transplant rejection, and autoimmune skin disorders. It’s still early to identify a potential lead drug. Coyle says the startup’s technology platform came together in the last several months.

Coyle joined Pandion last August, bringing his experience in inflammation research to the startup. Before spending seven years as a Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) executive, he worked for MedImmune in senior autoimmune and inflammation posts. He also spent seven years as director of inflammation biology at Millenium Pharmaceuticals. Pandion’s chief scientific officer is Jo Viney, the former senior vice president of drug discovery and vice president of immunology research at Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB).

Coyle says Pandion will use the new cash to continue developing its technology, both in designing the antibodies as well as manufacturing them. Pandion is still developing its molecules, and optimizing what it hopes will become its first drug candidates. By taking one or two compounds into clinical trials, Coyle says Pandion aims to demonstrate that its drugs are modulating the microenvironment and treating disease.

T cell image by Flickr user NIAID via a Creative Commons license