DiCE gets its ‘library’ card ready as it speeds development of DNA database-derived molecules with more investor cash

Investors like to see big plans, and Kevin Judice has plenty. The DiCE Molecules CEO is plotting a clinical trial launch for the biotech’s lead small molecule for psoriasis and wants to double the staff in the next year and a half.

On Friday, those big plans landed him an $80 million Series C round.

“We’re very excited about it,” he said of the raise led by RA Capital Management.

The round comes around two years after a $50 million Series B. While the B round was used for optimizing technology and building a pipeline, Judice says the Series C will propel the biotech’s IL-17 antagonist to the clinic and fund the development of two other undisclosed programs.

“This new capital allows us to expand our reach and get at more targets and have more opportunities to make high impact,” Judice said.

DiCE’s development process revolves around its DNA-encoded library. Such libraries allow researchers to screen millions — even billions — of compounds in parallel, using DNA tags that Judice compared to barcodes, which tell you what the constituent pieces of a molecule are.

“Usually you do some kind of screen, like a high-throughput screen, or a DNA-encoded library screen, something like that, and you get a few hits. And then there’s a long phase of just lab chemistry, where you’re making individual compounds and trying to progress those hits, those initial binders, to something that’s closer to a drug,” Judice said.

That hit-to-lead phase is typically labor-intensive and slow, the CEO said. But DiCE’s approach accelerates that work by using a smaller DNA-encoded library — much smaller but richer in information, Judice said — to screen in different ways after getting a hit.

“What we’re actually looking for is the difference between just binding and something that is functional,” Judice said.

DiCE’s lead program is an agonist for cytokine receptor IL-17, which is implicated in diseases like psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis. Current antibody treatments targeting IL-17 are quite effective at treating psoriasis, but they are injectable and lack in convenience. DiCE’s candidate would be oral, and the biotech is hoping to top the efficacy of Amgen’s already approved oral PDE4 inhibitor Otezla.

“What we’re working on is an oral that will work as well as the anti-IL-17 antibodies. So it combines the convenience and safety of something like Otezla with the efficacy of an antibody like Cosentyx,” Judice said. “The antibodies tell us that IL-17 is exactly the right target.”

Since 2017, DiCE has grown from a seven-person, “peanut-sized” company to a 29-person staff. And in the next 18 months, Judice is looking to bring that number to 58. The biotech inked a $2.3 billion discovery pact with Sanofi years ago, and is currently partnering with them on an I-O small-molecule program that Judice says isn’t far behind the IL-17 candidate.

“We should be ready to go public with more data on earlier programs over the course of the next 12 months. And then I’m really excited about the opportunity to grow the pipeline by adding new programs to it,” he said. “That’s one of the things that is particularly great, from my perspective, about having RA Capital lead this round.”

In addition to RA, Eventide Asset Management, New Leaf Venture Partners, Soleus Capital, Driehaus Capital Management, Osage University Partners and Asymmetry Capital Management, Northpond Ventures, Sands Capital, Sanofi Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, Altitude Ventures and Agent Capital also chipped into the Series C.