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FogPharma’s $178M Funding Leads Way as 7 Biotechs Raise Cash for Cancer Drugs

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Cancer continues to be a big draw for biotech investors, and cancer research is well represented in the past week’s financing activity. Seven biotech companies announced financing rounds to support a range of tumor-targeting therapeutic approaches that include small molecules, oncolytic viruses, and peptide drugs.

Peptides are the focus of FogPharma, which raised the largest financing round of the Thanksgiving holiday-shortened week. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech is developing a new class of peptide drugs that address therapeutic targets deemed “undruggable.” FogPharma is led by CEO Greg Verdine, a former Harvard professor who has become a biotech entrepreneur. Verdine is also chief executive of LifeMine Therapeutics, a GSK-partnered startup that analyzes fungal genes to discover new drugs.

Arch Venture Partners and Invus are among the financial backers of LifeMine, and those firms also participated in FogPharma’s new $178 million round of funding. The Series D financing comes as the biotech prepares for its first clinical trial. The company says polypeptide drugs from its Helicon platform combine the targeting abilities of antibodies with the features of small molecule drugs: broad tissue distribution, intracellular target engagement, and oral dosing. Lead program FOG-001 is designed to block TCF-blocking beta-catenin to address a dysregulated signaling pathway found in an estimated 20% of all human cancers.

In preclinical research, FogPharma says FOG-001 stopped tumor growth and led to tumor regression. The company plans to submit an investigational new drug application and start Phase 1 testing by mid-2023. The new capital will also support development of FogPharma’s preclinical pipeline, which addresses other biologically validated but elusive cancer drug targets such as TEAD, NRAS, Pan-KRAS, and Cyclin E1.

Here’s a look at the other biotech financings for the past week:

—Nearly three months after Roche reached a deal to acquire cancer drug developer Good Therapeutics in a $250 million deal, a spinout from the biotech called Bonum Therapeutics has raised $93 million in Series A financing. Seattle-based Bonum is developing cytokine cancer therapies for cancer therapies. These drugs will be conditionally activated, meaning that they will activate only when the antibody sensor component of the therapy binds to its target, which is intended to reduce toxicity.

The technology that is the basis for Bonum’s drugs was validated by Good. Good’s financial backers, including Rivervest Venture Partners, Roche Venture Fund, Digitalis Ventures, 3×5 Partners, and Codon Capital, teamed up again for Bonum’s Series A financing, which added a new investor, Vivo Capital.

—Clinical-stage CG Oncology closed a $120 million Series E financing. The Irvine, California-based biotech’s lead drug candidate, CG0070, is an oncolytic virus that has reached Phase 3 testing as a monotherapy for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer that does not respond to Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, the most common intravesical immunotherapy used for treating early-stage bladder cancer. A Phase 2 study is also underway testing CG0070 in combination with Merck immunotherapy Keytruda. CG Oncology said it will use the new capital to advance its lead programs toward FDA review and broaden its drug pipeline to address other unmet needs in urologic cancer.

—CatalYM closed a €50 million Series C financing to expand Phase 2 clinical testing of its lead program, which is in development for treating solid tumors. The antibody drug candidate, visugromab, is engineered to neutralize Growth Differentiation Factor-15 (GDF-15), a tumor-produced protein that regulates immune cell activation and stops immune cells from infiltrating tumor tissue. Visugromab’s solid tumor test is evaluating the drug in combination with a type of immunotherapy that blocks the checkpoint protein PD-1. Preliminary data are expected in early 2023. Munich, Germany-based CatalYM’s new round of financing was co-led by Brandon Capital and Jeito Capital.

—Casma Therapeutics closed $46 million in Series C financing to bring its lead program for MYD88 mutant lymphoma through the preclinical research that will support an investigational new drug application. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company develops therapies that leverage autophagy, a mechanism for recycling old or damaged cellular components. A similar approach called targeted protein degradation focuses only on proteins and peptides. But autophagy can address larger cellular components such as organelles.

—Rezo Therapeutics, a University of California at San Francisco spinout that is developing new cancer drugs, launched with $78 million. The technology of the San Francisco-based company identifies how mutations rewire cancer-driving networks, using that insight to uncover tumor-specific drug targets. This tech platform comes from UCSF’s Quantitative Biosciences Institute. Rezo’s Series A financing was led by SR One, a16z Bio + Health, and Norwest Venture Partners.

—Opna Bio, a startup developing cancer therapies acquired from Plexxikon, unveiled $38 million in Series A financing. The company’s co-founders include Douglas Hanahan, a distinguished scholar in the Lausanne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and emeritus professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne. Opna’s launch and financing comes as research from Hanahan’s EPFL laboratory was published in the journal Science describing the role of fragile X mental retardation protein (FMPL) as an immuno-oncology target. Opna has licensed this FMPL technology. Longitude Capital and Northpond Ventures led the Series A round of Opna, which maintains operations in Lausanne, Switzerland, and South San Francisco.

—In non-cancer biotech funding news, MBX Biosciences raised $115 million to develop therapies in a new class of peptide drugs, including a lead program in early-stage clinical development for hypoparathyroidism. Carmel, Indiana-based MBX says its precision endocrine peptides, or PEPS, overcome limitations of traditional peptide drugs. In addition to supporting lead PEP product candidate MBX 2109, MBX said the new capital will support its preclinical drug pipeline. The Series B round of funding was led by Wellington Management.

—Bain Capital Life Sciences led a $107 million investment in Jnana Therapeutics as the biotech continues Phase 1 testing that could demonstrate clinical proof of concept for its lead program, a potential treatment for phenylketonuria. The inherited metabolic disorder leads to a deficiency of phenylalanine hydroxylase, an enzyme required to break down an amino acid called phenylalanine. Jnana’s drug, JNT-517, is small molecule designed to block phenylalanine reabsorption in the kidney, which in turn reduces blood levels of phenylalanine.

Separate from Jnana’s Series C financing, the biotech announced a second collaboration with Roche focused on the discovery of small molecule drugs for cancer, immune-mediated diseases, and neurological disorders. The Swiss pharmaceutical giant is paying Jnana $50 million up front; milestone payments could reach up to $2 billion.

Image by nopparit, Getty Images

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