Top Q1 Series A Investments Highlight VC Rebound in Biopharma

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Pictured: Hands exchanging money for medical science objects/Taylor Tieden for BioSpace

Things are starting to look up for venture capital investment in biopharmaceuticals in the early part of 2024 following a post-pandemic slump. Following a 19% year-on-year decline in overall deal value in Q4 2023, Q1 saw four Series A rounds worth at least $150 million.

In an interview with BioSpace late last year, JLL Research Director Mark Bruso predicted that the first half of 2024 would see a slow rebound of VC funding flowing into biopharma, with more activity in deals of at least $150 million than in smaller investments. Bruso did not distinguish between funding rounds, but when looking at just early-stage Series A investments, he is largely correct so far.

Q1 2024 indeed produced three companies landing this exact value in Series A funding, plus one standout. In contrast, J.P. Morgan reported that Aiolos Bio was the only company to score more than $138 million in Series A funding in Q4 2023, closing a $245 million round in October.

The uptick in investment was partly fueled by new biopharma-focused venture funds, including from Earlybird Health, ORI Capital and startup Scion Life Sciences. This week, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals announced a $500 million venture fund for biotech innovation.

Here is a rundown of the six largest Series A rounds among U.S. biopharma firms in January–March 2024.

1. Mirador Therapeutics Emerges to Target Precision Medicines

Value: $400 million

Date: March 21

The largest Series A by far in the biopharma sector in Q1 belonged to Mirador Therapeutics, which emerged from stealth mode near the end of the quarter with a massive round led by ARCH Venture Partners. The San Diego-based startup, led by former Prometheus Biosciences CEO Mark McKenna, has built a development engine called Mirador360 to leverage human genetics and data science to advance multiple therapeutic programs targeting immune-mediated inflammatory and fibrotic diseases. The company has not yet detailed its development pipeline or timelines.

2. Eyconis Launches to Develop, Commercialize TransCon Ophthalmology Assets

Value: $150 million

Date: Jan. 29

Though it is based in Denmark, Ascendis Pharma set up ophthalmology spinoff Eyconis in Redwood City, Calif., capitalizing it with a Series A led by Frazier Life Sciences. Eyconis has received exclusive worldwide rights to develop, manufacture and commercialize Ascendis’ TransCon ophthalmology assets; TransCon is the Danish firm’s technology platform for drug development. Eyconis executives suggested that the new company will be looking at biologics for conditions including wet age-related macular degeneration, diabetic macular edema, retinal vein occlusion and geographic atrophy.

3. Clasp Therapeutics Launches to Advance T Cell Engagers

Value: $150 million

Date: March 20

Another company to come out of stealth mode in late March with a big VC haul was Clasp Therapeutics, a Cambridge, Mass.–based developer of T cell engagers (TCEs) that will target hard-to-treat tumors with advanced immunotherapies. Founded by ex–Surface Oncology CEO Robert Ross and backed by the likes of Novo Holdings, Third Rock and Catalio, Clasp is looking to set itself apart with TCEs that target cancer-associated peptides to bring T cells into contact with the tumor cells, triggering an immune response. 

4. Flush With New Investment, Avenzo Pursues Licensing Strategy

Value: $150 million

Date: March 26

Technically a Series A-1, Avenzo Therapeutics closed an oversubscribed round it originally envisioned at $45 million to pursue a strategy of licensing clinical-stage assets rather than building its own drug discovery operation. Avenzo paid $40 million in January to license a CDK2 inhibitor from Allorion Therapeutics. The compound, now dubbed AVZO-021, is in a Phase I/II study that includes patients with HR+/HER2- metastatic breast cancer and other advanced solid tumors. The company is planning on licensing at least two more trial-ready assets in the next two years ahead of a potential initial public offering.

5. Latigo Launches into Non-Opioid Pain Medicine Space

Value: $135 million

Date: Feb. 14

Four-year-old Latigo Biotherapeutics felt the love on Valentine’s Day, announcing itself to the world with a nine-figure Series A raise, led by the investor that incubated the company, Westlake Village BioPartners. Latigo is developing non-opioid-based therapeutics against genetically validated targets for pain, putting it in competition with Vertex Pharmaceuticals and others. Like Vertex’s VX-548, Latigo’s lead program, LTG-001, is a selective NaV1.8 inhibitor. The Latigo compound is currently in Phase I trials.

6. Cour Wins Backing From Big Pharma to Advance Multiple Candidates

Value: $105 million

Date: Jan. 30

After a dozen years in business, Cour Pharmaceuticals landed a Series A round, led by Lumira Ventures and Alpha Wave Ventures, with participation from Big Pharma investors including Bristol Myers Squibb, Pfizer Breakthrough Growth Initiatives and Roche Ventures. Cour’s autoimmune-focused clinical program includes a Phase IIa study in myasthenia gravis for its CNP-106 candidate as well as in type 1 diabetes for CNP-103. The company also has a candidate in a Phase II study in celiac disease as well as a program in primary biliary cholangitis.

Neil Versel is the business editor at BioSpace. You can reach him at neil.versel@biospace.com. Follow him on LinkedIn or X.

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