Raising $56M, Revolution Medicines Drops Old Work and Turns to Cancer

Xconomy San Francisco — 

Revolution Medicines emerged three years ago to develop drugs from products found in nature and said its lead prospect would be an antifungal compound.

Redwood City, CA-based Revolution is now focused on cancer and has raised $56 million to bring a completely different drug into clinical studies.

The firm is targeting an enzyme called SHP2, which scientists have found plays a role in many diseases, including cancer. CEO Mark Goldsmith (pictured above) says SHP2 regulates a pathway that supports cancer growth. The firm is basing its new program on preclinical research that Revolution and the University of California, San Francisco, published last year in a so-called “preprint” format, meaning it has not yet been peer reviewed.

Researchers found that blocking SHP2 slowed the growth of cancer cells. This approach works only with cancers driven by certain genetic mutations, but Goldsmith says a Revolution drug could stand out because there are no cancer drugs that target this pathway.

“The SHP2 program has gone from being a concept two and a half years ago to a very sophisticated cancer drug discovery effort,” Goldsmith says.

It’s a different course than the one Revolution laid out three years ago after emerging from venture capital firm Third Rock Ventures. Revolution used technology licensed from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop the antifungal compound that it unveiled at the time, along with a $45 million Series A round of financing.

Goldsmith now says that Revolution had a long list of therapeutic areas it was pursuing, including cancer. The antifungal compound was declared the lead drug program in 2015 because it was the most advanced. But the company signaled a move toward cancer in late 2016, when it tacked on another $25 million to its Series A round. At the time, the company said it had been making progress with “multiple oncology drug discovery programs.”

Revolution’s cancer research has since made more progress. Compared to the earlier antifungal program, Goldsmith says the ability to develop a new cancer treatment offers the opportunity to have a greater impact on patients. Revolution is still using the technology that initially yielded the antifungal compound, but the platform is now focused on cancer. The intellectual property associated with the antifungal compound was returned to the Illinois scientist who discovered it, along with the advances that Revolution made with it.

Now a cancer company, Revolution will focus on non-small cell lung cancer, melanoma, and colorectal cancers. In those cancers, it’s possible to identify patients with the genetic mutation that could be targeted by Revolution’s approach, Goldsmith says. The company’s initial work will be in non-small cell lung cancer.

Goldsmith says an SHP2 drug could offer a number of advantages, such as treatment of cancers that have become resistant to other drugs. An SHP2 drug could also complement other treatments as part of a combination therapy. He said it’s too early to discuss specific combinations.

Nextech Invest led the Series B investment. Also participating in the round were Casdin Capital, Schroder Adveq, The Column Group, Third Rock, and other institutional investors that were not disclosed.

With the new capital, Goldsmith says Revolution is laying the regulatory groundwork for clinical trials that he expects will start later this year. Though he declined to say how far the cash would carry Revolution, he said it will support the company through “several near-term milestones.”

Photo by Revolution Medicines