Cancer therapies that harness the immune system don’t work for all patients. Verseau Therapeutics aims to bring cancer immunotherapy to more people by targeting a type of immune cell present in the vast majority of tumors and directing it to fight the disease.
Verseau launched Monday backed by $50 million in financing. The Bedford, MA-based company says it will use the cash to advance its experimental cancer immunotherapies toward clinical testing.
Immunotherapies that enlist T cells, the frontline defenders of the immune system, show clinical benefit in approximately 25 percent of cancers, according to Verseau. Rather than targeting T cells, Verseau says it’s focusing on macrophages, a type of immune cell present in 75 percent of tumors. Macrophages adopt different functions in response to signals from their environment, according to Verseau. These responses include the ability to direct inflammatory and anti-inflammatory immune responses. Verseau says its drugs will reprogram macrophages, marshalling these immune cells into mounting an anti-cancer response.
Verseau says its lead program reprograms macrophages by targeting P-selectin glycoprotein ligand-1 (PSGL-1), a molecule that research has found plays a role regulating these immune cells. The company says that by targeting this molecule, its experimental therapy reprograms macrophages to a pro-inflammatory state. It adds that this approach also attracts other immune cells “to generate a coordinated and powerful antitumor response.” The company calls its drugs macrophage checkpoint modulators.
So far, Verseau says it has validated more than two dozen targets that could be hit with different types of therapies, including antibody drugs. The company says these targets are exclusively found on immune cells, which could mean that its drugs cause fewer side effects. The company’s PSGL-1-targeting drug is being developed for solid tumors. In addition to cancer drugs, the Verseau pipeline also includes potential therapies for inflammation and immunology. Verseau’s experimental therapies use a lipid nanoparticle drug delivery technology licensed from the MIT laboratories of Dan Anderson and Bob Langer, Verseau’s co-founders.
Investors in Verseau’s Series A round of financing include 20/20 HealthCare Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments, Highlight Capital, InHarv Partners Ltd., The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research, Yonghua Capital, and 3SBio. 3SBio, a biotech based in China, also has an agreement that grants it a license to develop and commercialize Verseau antibody drugs for all cancers in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. In addition to the new capital, Verseau announced that former Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) executive George Golumbeski has been appointed chairman of the company’s board of directors.
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