Many of the cancer drugs in development are targeted therapies that address a particular genetic signature. While those drugs can treat the tumors at their origin, they aren’t much help when cancer metastasizes, or spreads. Yet it’s metastasis that is responsible for the vast majority of cancer deaths.
Volastra Therapeutics aims to stop cancer metastasis. The New York-based startup has discovered a pathway that drives metastasis, and it is using that insight to develop new therapies for patients with advanced cancer. Now the company has an additional $32 million in financing to fund its work along with a research partnership with Microsoft. The new capital announced Tuesday extends a seed round the startup announced last year.
The biological pathway at the heart of Volastra’s research is called chromosomal instability. When cells divide, chromosomes usually separate in an orderly fashion. In chromosomal instability, that process becomes less orderly, leading to genetic material that is duplicated, mutated, or even lost. According to Volastra, high levels of chromosomal instability drive cancer metastasis and resistance to cancer therapies. Consequently, patients face a higher risk that their cancer will return, perhaps fatally.
So far, Volastra has developed technologies to identify chromosomal instability at scale. Based on that insight, the biotech is now developing compounds to block metastasis. Microsoft’s expertise could accelerate that research. The partnership with the technology giant aims to develop algorithms that identify biological indicators correlating with tumor metastasis. The companies will then develop machine-learning tools that glean insights by analyzing data from sources such as pathology slides and tumor-derived organoids. No financial terms for the partnership were disclosed.
Volastra was founded by Polaris Partners, which provided its initial $12 million seed financing last year. The startup’s science is based on the research of scientific founders Lewis Cantley and Olivier Elemento of Weill Cornell Medicine, and Samuel Bakhoum of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
The additional financing announced Tuesday added new investors Vida Ventures and Catalio Capital Management. They joined earlier investors Polaris, Droia Ventures, ARCH Venture Partners, and Quark Venture.
Public domain image by Stuart S. Martin via the National Cancer Institute