Olema Oncology has raised $54 million to advance its lead drug candidate into human tests, having been working in stealth since 2007 to develop a daily pill to treat women with breast cancer whose disease is driven by the hormone estrogen.
San Francisco-based Olema announced Wednesday that the Series B financing round will allow it to start a Phase 1/2 trial this year of OP-1250, an investigational treatment designed to block estrogen receptor activity.
President and CEO Cyrus Harmon (pictured) tells Xconomy that the company’s preclinical research revealed that the drug candidate “completely inactivates” the estrogen receptor and shrinks tumors in animal models of breast cancer.
The trial will initially study the small-molecule drug in women with recurrent locally advanced or metastatic estrogen receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer that is also negative for the protein human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2). Later the company plans to evaluate the drug in combination with other targeted breast cancer therapies.
“Using our deep expertise in the biology of the estrogen receptor, we’ve worked for many years to design an optimal drug that could completely inactivate the estrogen receptor and be taken as a daily, oral medicine,” he wrote in an email. “Because despite several advances in the treatment of women’s cancers over the past decade, the progress in endocrine therapies for breast cancer, which are safer than chemotherapy, has been slow, and there is a great need for safe and efficacious drugs that can be used prior to chemotherapy.”
For American women breast cancer is the most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death, trailing only lung cancer. This year the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that about 276,480 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women in the US, and that about 42,170 in the country will die from the disease.
Breast cancers that are hormone receptor-positive (HR+), meaning the tumors have proteins that are estrogen or progesterone receptors, tend to have a better short-term outlook than those that test negative for such hormone receptors. However, HR+ cancers can sometimes return many years after treatment, according to the ACS.
Olema, which has 12 employee as well as contractors, is developing additional programs designed to address cancer in women and plans to add to that headcount as it move into the clinic and expands ongoing R&D, Harmon says.
The company’s financing round was led by BVF Partners LP, Logos Capital, and Janus Henderson Investors. New investors Cormorant Asset Management, RA Capital Management, Wellington Management Company, Citadel’s Surveyor Capital, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, and Foresite Capital also participated. As part of the deal Logos Capital managing partner Graham Walmsley joins the Olema board of directors.
The company’s Series A financing, which closed in 2018, was also led by BVF; previously the company was funded by its founders and individual investors, Harmon said.
While the company’s latest financing round drew attention from a slew of crossover investors, whose participation often heralds a company’s intent to join the public markets, Harmon said while an IPO is “always a strategic consideration for a private company,” Olema’s current focus is on executing its business plan and advancing OP-1250.
Photo by Olema Oncology
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