Fueled with a fresh cash injection, Cullinan expands its pipeline with a bid to develop a new combination drug for the checkpoint class

Fresh off of a $98.5 million raise, Patrick Baeuerle’s team at Cullinan Oncology has a new subsidiary they’re bringing into the pack.

This one, their 8th drug development operation, is called Cullinan MICA, named after a target they believe has broad applicability against multiple cancers, quite likely in a potential combination with the checkpoints that have been changing up the practice of medicine for cancer patients.

As CSO and co-founder Baeuerle explains it, the MICA ligand plays a key role in allowing NK and other killer T cells to mount an attack on cancer cells. And patients with high levels of MICA have a particularly poor prognosis.

Their new drug — an antibody dubbed CLN-619 — prevents cancer cells from shedding MICA, or at least it has in preclinical tests. And that could prove effective in enhancing the efficacy of the checkpoint class now in play — a popular strategy in cancer R&D these days.

Cullinan, which works with a hub-and-spoke model much like BridgeBio, reserving individual assets in separate entities operating under the flagship company, struck a deal to collaborate on the drug with PDI Therapeutics, a subsidiary of Avalon Ventures incubated by COI Pharmaceuticals.

Now the new sub has a $26 million launch round to work their way into Phase II, with Cullinan Oncology LLC, Avalon Ventures, Bregua Corporation and the Myeloma Investment Fund, a venture philanthropy fund for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, contributing cash.

Owen Hughes, the CEO of Cullinan Oncology, says his company now has 2 drugs in the clinic, with plans to quickly ramp that up to 4 as they “keep their heads down and execute” on the plan. Not bad for just 3 years of operations.

Baeuerle is perhaps best known for his work directing the Micromet BiTE platform, acquired by Amgen, which completed the development on the first BiTE. And after helping launch a series of biotechs in the cancer space, he’s also been helping Cullinan come up with a slate of home-grown drugs to add to the pipeline.