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TP Therapeutics Names New CEO, Gets $80M More for Cancer Drug Push

Xconomy San Diego — 

Five-year-old biotech TP Therapeutics has raised an $80 million mezzanine financing round and promoted its chief medical officer, Athena Countouriotis, to CEO.

The San Diego-based biotech, which is developing targeted cancer drugs for people whose tumors resist other precision therapies, announced the changes Friday.

TP Therapeutics is developing a drug called repotrectinib that targets a group of genetic alterations to the enzymes ALK, ROS1, and TRK, which are implicated in lung cancer and other solid tumors. Targeted cancer drugs exist for these patients; people with lung cancer and an ALK mutation, for instance, can get the Pfizer drug crizotinib (Xalkori). Loxo Oncology (NASDAQ: LOXO) is nearing FDA approval of a drug, larotrectinib, that targets TRK fusions in patients with a variety of different cancer types.

Patients can develop resistance to these types of drugs, however, and that’s where TP Therapeutics hopes repotrectinib can come in. It will use the new cash to start a Phase 2 study next year testing the drug in genetic subsets of patients with non-small cell lung cancer patients and other solid tumors. Those patients have either already failed a drug like crizotinib, or haven’t been treated with one yet.

Last May the company raised a $45 million Series C round—the largest venture deal that quarter in San Diego—co-led by Lilly Asia Ventures (LAV), OrbiMed Advisors, and SR One. Cormorant Asset Management and SV Tech Ventures also participated. That round brought the total TP Therapeutics had raised at that time to more than $64 million. Its backers include a number of crossover investors that back both public and private companies, typically a sign that a biotech is nearing an IPO.

Countouriotis has previously been an executive at a number of public biotech companies. She joined TP Therapeutics in May from Adverum Biotechnologies (NASDAQ: ADVM), a Menlo Park, CA-based gene therapy developer, where she was serving as chief medical officer.

She previously served in the same role at Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: ticker[[HALO]]), and at Ambit Biosciences (NASDAQ:AMBI), both San Diego-based companies. At Ambit, she led development of quizartinib, a drug for acute myeloid leukemia (AML) through the company’s IPO in 2013 and acquisition the following year by Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo.

Countouriotis has also worked in clinical development at drug giants Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY).

TP Therapeutics’ co-founders, Peter Li and Jean Cui, have also moved into new roles. Li, who has been chairman and CEO since the company was founded, is now head of its operations in Asia. Cui, the company’s president and chief scientific officer, has become chairman.

The company’s latest financing round was led by Foresite Capital and venBio Partners. Two new investors, both Swiss, also participated: HBM Partners (via its HBM Healthcare Investments fund) and Nextech Invest. So did existing investors Cormorant, LAV, OrbiMed, and SR One.

A managing director from each of the firms that led the round—Foresite’s Brett Zbar and venBio’s Robert Adelman—has joined the TP Therapeutics board as part of the deal. So did Countouriotis.