Vivace Therapeutics Comes Out of Stealth With $25M for Cancer Drugs

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Vivace Therapeutics, a San Mateo, CA-based biotech that has kept quiet about its research until now, has reached across the Pacific Ocean to close $25 million in financing to support its work developing drugs to target two different mechanisms of cancer biology.

New investor Cenova Capital, based in China, led the Series B round of funding, which included Sequoia Capital China as well as earlier investors Canaan Partners, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, and Mission Bay Capital. The latest investment round for Vivace brings the company’s total funding to $40 million. Vivace says Canaan and WuXi led a $15 million Series A round two years ago that was not disclosed until today.

Vivace is developing drugs that act on a signaling pathway key to cell development. This Hippo-YAP pathway regulates tissue regeneration and the size and shape of organs. But Vivace says that Hippo-YAP mutations can lead to cancers in the breast, colon, skin, and more. Vivace is researching small molecule drugs that would either block or activate the Hippo-YAP pathway. Kun-liang Guan, a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Vivace’s scientific co-founder, has recently discovered potential cancer treatment applications by activating the pathway, the company says.

In addition to its work in small molecules, Vivace is also developing therapies based on antibodies. Biological drugs that can bind to two target sites on a cancer cell at the same time are called bi-specific antibodies. Vivace calls its antibody drugs “BINspecific,” short for bi-specific irreversible non-covalent cell-type specific antibodies. The company says that these drugs can hit cancer targets in a very specific way and bind to them irreversibly. Vivace’s antibodies were discovered in the lab of Bin Liu of the University of California, San Francisco, another scientific co-founder of the company.

Vivace says its research capabilities stretch from California to China. The company is led by CEO Sofie Qiao, who was previously managing director of WuXi Ventures. The company’s chief scientific officer is Leonard Post, who previously worked with Qiao at San Bruno, CA-based LEAD Therapeutics, where he was also CSO.

Metastatic melanoma cells image by the National Cancer Institute.