Upstream Bio Dives into Severe Asthma Space with $200M in Series A Financing

Boston Financial District

Upstream Bio is the latest player to enter the biotech hotbed of Waltham, Massachusetts. Launching with $200 million in funding, the new company is focusing on an experimental treatment for severe asthma licensed from Astellas Pharma.

In late 2020, Astellas closed down several of its internal programs. Rather than wasting the research, however, the company saw a profitable opportunity to auction off the drugs for licensing opportunities. Astellas set up a webpage entitled "Contact for Potential Acquisition of Astellas’ R&D programs" where companies could apply for licensing.

One of the experimental drugs auctioned off was ASP-7266. The experimental treatment for severe asthma is a monoclonal antibody that targets thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), a molecule that the body releases in response to airway irritation from smoke, infections or allergens. When the molecule pairs with TSLP receptors, it causes several inflammation responses. ASP-7266 blocks TSLP molecules from reaching the TSLP receptors, circumventing inflammation responses.

"Astellas had pursued both preclinical and clinical data with the program. They had already run a single ascending dose in healthy human volunteers and shown that the monoclonal antibody is safe and effective," Samantha Truex, CEO of Upstream said. "The mechanism is actually validated in that there is already a drug approved that targets the TSLP protein, where we're targeting the receptor for the protein. By targeting either, we can interrupt the signaling cascade that leads to inflammation."

The validated mechanism and preclinical work made the drug a safe bet for investors. When ASP-7266 went on the market, OrbiMed and Decheng Capital put together a bid for the drug and won in late 2021.

With the new drug acquired, OrbiMed and Decheng organized Upstream, thusly named because the experimental asthma drug uses an upstream approach to stop inflammation before it happens, rather than treating it after. The company hopes to use the same approach as it develops new therapies.

It is off to an impressive start with a solid $200 million in Series A funding, co-led by OrbiMed and Maruho Co., Ltd. with participation from Access Biotechnology, Decheng Capital, HBM Healthcare Investments, TCG X, Omega Funds, Samsara BioCapital and Altshuler Shaham Provident Funds Ltd.

Upstream is set up for success with its launching leadership team. CEO Truex has experience at Atlas Venture. Aaron Deykin, the chief medical officer and head of R&D, spent 15 years at Biogen and chief commercial officer Jen Beachell comes from Janssen’s autoantibody drug team. Additionally, Adam Houghton, Upstream’s chief business officer, spearheaded search and evaluate for inflammation at AbbVie.

Upstream will not be without competition in the severe asthma space. In May, AstraZeneca and Avillion released full results from a positive Phase III trial showing that their candidate PT027 (albuterol/budesonide) reduced the risk of severe exacerbation compared to albuterol in 27% of patients with asthma.

AstraZeneca is also working with Amgen on an asthma drug called Tezepelumab. In a Phase III, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, participants with severe asthma saw improvements with Tezepelumab therapy. Tezepelumab received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December 2021 as an add-on maintenance treatment for severe asthma.

Upstream also plans to test ASP-7266 in other immune diseases related to the TSLP protein and Truex told the Boston Business Journal that the company is looking to acquire a second drug in the inflammation space.

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