Startups, BioPharma

Bicycle Therapeutics picks up speed with $52M Series B

With a fresh financing from a Series B, Bicycle Therapeutics needs to begin translating its high-potential peptide-based platform into a portfolio of clinically-proven drugs.

A young man riding a bicycle outdoors

You can’t not include puns in a story about a startup called Bicycle Therapeutics. The best you can do is pick ones that are relevant. So without further ado:

Cambridge, U.K.-based Bicycle Therapeutics is trying not to pedal too fast.

It’s a very real risk as excitement builds around its novel peptide-based technology. Over the last seven years, the company has fine-tuned and industrialized the platform, explained CEO Kevin Lee, and many doors are now opening up.

“In that time it has prosecuted over 80 different targets, which I think is a real testament to the power of the drug discovery engine that is now in place,” he said via phone.

It’s now time for the next stage.

To that end, Bicycle announced a new £40 million (US$52 million) Series B funding round on Thursday. The money is earmarked for early clinical development of multiple drug candidates, including its lead molecule, BT1718. According to Lee, the company also wants to deepen its roots in Cambridge, Massachusetts, straddling the Atlantic to access talent on both sides.

The drug candidates, called bicycles, are peptides shaped around a small molecule scaffold. While they act like big boy antibodies, bicycles’ small size allows them to penetrate the tumor environment more directly and more rapidly.

They’re also (theoretically) precise. As Lee describes it, “the bicyclic structure places a constraint on the molecule,” thereby increasing their affinity and selectivity when they home in on target proteins. Many features are adaptable and tunable, including the pharmacokinetics.

The end result is a malleable platform that can generate countless therapeutic combinations targeting different disease areas.

The first asset to reach the clinic will be BT1718, a bicycle drug conjugate designed to target a protein found on certain solid tumors. Lee believes the design has a number of benefits over traditional antibody drug conjugates (ADCs). Both carry toxic payloads that are individually delivered to the patient’s tumor cells. But bicycles use Amazon Prime: The toxin is delivered shortly after dosing and they’re rapidly eliminated from the system. This minimizes the risk of a payload being dropped near healthy tissue.

But of course, it’s a lot more complicated than that — which is why the company is being careful to not pedal too fast. A misstep could forever scar the safety record of this peptide-based approach or take the company down a path with no real avenues for success.

BT1718 is expected to enter the clinic in the second half of 2017 through a partnership with Cancer Research UK. It targets Membrane Type 1 Matrix Metalloproteinase (MT1- MTP), a novel protein target that adds both potential and extra variability to the work.

“One of the things we have to do is find a balance between novelty; novel targets, novel technology, novel mechanisms of action and then a bit more non-novelty,” Lee said, to begin proving the feasibility of the technology. There’s no precedent with this molecule design

If Bicycle can pull it off, platform-based oncology companies can command some pretty impressive funding rounds, IPOs, and licensing deals.

Vertex Ventures HC, a new investor, led the financing round with participation from Cambridge Innovation Capital (CIC) and Longwood Fund. Existing investors Novartis Venture Fund, SROne, SVLS and Atlas Venture have also stayed on for the ride.

Photo: PeopleImages, Getty Images