[Updated 4/16/15, 10:56 am. See below.] Innocrin Pharmaceuticals is moving forward with a prostate cancer drug that it believes could better target the cancer while also causing fewer side effects compared to existing treatments. Now the company has some additional cash to try and make its case.
The Durham, NC, company has raised $28 million in a Series D round that will finance Phase 2 clinical trials already underway. Eshelman Ventures led the investment in Innocrin. The round also included participation from existing investors Novartis Venture Fund, Lilly Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, Intersouth Partners, and A&B Equity Holdings.
Innocrin formed last year, spun out from Viamet Pharmaeuticals, a clinical-stage drug developer also based in Durham. While Viamet’s lead drug is an antifungal, that company’s research also led to the discovery and development of compounds with potential applications in cancer. The compound VT-464, originating from Viamet labs, is now Innocrin’s lead drug.
The Innocrin drug targets an enzyme called CYP17 lyase, which is required for androgen production and is a validated target in prostate cancer that doesn’t respond to hormone-blocking drugs The company is trying to stake ground in the crowded field of prostate cancer drugs. Johnson & Johnson’s abiraterone (Zytiga) also targets CYP17 lyase. The Astellas Pharma/Medivation (NASDAQ: MDVN) drug enzalutamide (Xtandi) works by blocking the way androgens connect with receptors. Meanwhile, Cambridge, MA-based Tokai Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: TKAI) is developing its drug, galeterone, which combines those approaches in a single pill. [An earlier version of this paragraph confused the descriptions of abiraterone and enzalutamide. We regret the error.]
But Innocrin says that current prostate cancer drugs have limited benefits and come with the risk of side effects. While the Innocrin drug, like the Johnson & Johnson drug, is a CYP17 lyase inhibitor, Innocrin says it represents the “second-generation” of such treatments that won’t have the same side effects. The company says its drug could also become a treatment alternative for patients who don’t respond to other prostate cancer treatments.
The new capital will finance two parallel Phase 2 studies of the drug in such patients. One of the studies will be done by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the other by the National Cancer Institute. In blocking CYP17 lyase, the Innocrin drug blocks the production of estrogen as well as androgen. Therefore, the company believes its drug could also have applications in estrogen receptor positive breast cancer and androgen receptor positive breast cancer, as well as in non-cancer conditions associated with excess androgen production.
Innocrin plans to use some of the financing to start a Phase 1/2 trial in breast cancer, studying the compound in woman who have resistant breast cancer that either expresses the estrogen receptor or is “triple-negative”—a form of breast cancer in which the tumors lack the three key receptors targeted by existing cancer drugs.
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