Houston’s M.D. Anderson, Theraclone Launch Immunotherapy Startup

Xconomy Texas — 

A Seattle biotech and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center announced the formation of a new company seeking to find personalized antibodies that help fight cancer.

The new company, OncoResponse, will be based in Houston and is a joint venture between the Houston cancer institution and Theraclone, a therapeutic antibody discovery company that is working on drugs related to HIV, ebola, and other diseases. OncoResponse also announced that it has raised $9.5 million in a Series A financing round co-led by ARCH Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, and M.D. Anderson. Other investors included Rice University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

“The immune system of patients who have responded exceptionally well to cancer immunotherapies may hold the key … as to what gives them an edge over other patients with less robust immune responses,” says Cliff Stocks, the CEO of both Theraclone and OncoResponse. “It could provide us with a way to increase success rates in treating cancer.”

Immunotherapy, which involves stimulating a patient’s own immune system to better attack and kill cancer cells, is currently a hot topic in cancer drug development, attracting minds and money alike. Recently, DNAtrix, a Houston biotech, announced a partnership with pharma giant Merck to collaborate in phase II clinical trials of an immunotherapy for gliobastoma, an especially deadly brain cancer for which there is no cure.

Any therapy that OncoResponse is able to develop would likely be used in combination with other drugs such as checkpoint inhibitors or cancer vaccines that could stimulate the immune system.

OncoResponse is, of course, in its early days. Stocks says animal studies will be conducted and evaluated with the idea of enrolling patients in clinical trials as soon as 2 ½ years from now. In the meantime, Stocks says that working with M.D. Anderson will be a key advantage for the company. Theraclone’s scientists had been collaborating with M.D. Anderson before the formation of OncoResponse.

“What they’re doing is incredibly impressive, treating 7 million cancer patients annually. They have Jim Allison,” he says, speaking of the immunotherapy expert who was recruited to Houston from Memorial-Sloan Kettering in New York in 2012.

“What started as a scientific dialog turned into a broader business relationship,” Stocks says.