Verseau Therapeutics Launches with $50 Million to Reprogram Immune Cells to Treat Cancer

Verseau’s lead product targets PSGL-1 (P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-1), which is an adhesion molecule involved in immune cell trafficking in response to tissue injury or inflammation, according to the company.

With $50 million in financing, Verseau Therapeutics launches with an aim of improving immunotherapy treatments in cancer by focusing on macrophages to boost immune responses through the modulation of macrophages.

Verseau’s lead product targets PSGL-1 (P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-1), which is an adhesion molecule involved in immune cell trafficking in response to tissue injury or inflammation, according to the company. Verseau’s lead program reprograms macrophages by targeting PSGL-1. By doing so, this reprogramming turns the molecule toward a “pro-inflammatory state” and activates T-Cells and other immune cells to respond to the cancer. In patient-derived primary tumors, PSGL-1 antibodies demonstrate a greater inflammatory response compared to current immunotherapies in both PD-1 responsive and non-responsive tumors, the company added.

As Verseau puts it, macrophages adopt different functional roles depending on the signals from their environment, including the ability to direct pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory immune responses. Verseau licensed an siRNA delivery technology, a lipid nanoparticle, from the laboratories of Dan Anderson and Bob Langer, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the co-founders of Verseau. With the siRNA technology in hand, Verseau will use it to discover and validate novel macrophage targets and create an expansive pipeline of macrophage checkpoint modulators, the company said this morning.

Christine Bunt, chief executive officer of Bedford, Mass.-based Verseau, pointed to the current immunotherapy space and noted that drugs aimed at boosting responses from T-cells, the frontline defenders of the body’s immune system, are only effective in treating about 25% of cancers. Macrophages, Bunt said, are present in 75% of tumors. By targeting macrophages, Bunt said in a statement this morning that “we believe we can offer potential clinical benefits of immunotherapy to a large, underserved patient population. Macrophage modulation as monotherapy and in combination with other therapies could provide enhanced clinical benefit for patients.”

Tatiana Novobrantseva, co-founder and chief scientific officer of Verseau, said the discovery and validation platform was used to identify PSGL-1, “an adhesion molecule that is highly expressed on tumor-associated macrophages across most tumor types” as the target of its first program. The antibody is designed to reprogram inhibitory tumor-associated macrophages into anti-cancer immune response stimulators, Novobrantseva said.

“Verseau has validated more than two dozen targets amenable to different therapeutic modalities, including monoclonal antibodies,” Novobrantseva added.

The $50 million in financing will be used to drive Verseau’s research into the clinic. The funding was supported by 20/20 HealthCare Partners, 3SBio, Alexandria Venture Investments, Highlight Capital, InHarv Partners Ltd., The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research and Yonghua Capital.

Celgene veteran George Golumbeski has been named chairman of the board of directors at Verseau. In a brief statement, he said Verseau is positioned to become a leading player in the space focusing on myeloid cells as a means to improve immunotherapy treatment in cancer patients.

“The early data are impressive and suggest that macrophage-targeted therapeutics may become a significant advance in immunotherapy. I look forward to working with the Verseau team to build the company and to advance the pipeline of drug candidates,” he said.

In addition to the $50 million in financing, Verseau forged a strategic collaboration with one of its financiers, China-based 3Sbio. Under the agreement, 3SBio will receive an exclusive license to develop and commercialize a select number of MCM antibodies for all human oncology indications in greater China.