Bellicum, Molecular Templates Granted $32M for Immuno-Oncology Work

Xconomy Texas — 

Austin — The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded about $32 million in grants to two Texas immuno-oncology drug developers working on blood cancer treatments.

Bellicum Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: BLCM) has been awarded $16.9 million to work on developing its T-cell therapy called BPX-501 for acute myeloid leukemia, says CPRIT, the cancer research institute. Houston-based Bellicum went public in 2014, raising almost $140 million in an IPO that it used for new hires, its facilities, and clinical trials. It has four ongoing clinical trials for BXP-501.

As Xconomy has previously reported, Bellicum’s BPX-501 can be used in stem cell transplants, and is designed to make other potentially risky cancer treatments safer for patients by preventing graft-versus-host disease—when the body thinks a transplanted cell is foreign.

Meanwhile, Molecular Templates, which is based just north of Austin in Georgetown, TX, is receiving $15.2 million for its treatment for multiple myeloma. The private company is developing antibodies that use the immune system to find and kill cancer cells that express a glycoprotein, CD38. The treatment is listed as preclinical on Molecular Templates’ Website.

Former employees of ImClone Systems now lead Molecular Templates, including its president and chief financial officer, Jason Kim, and its CEO and chief scientific officer, Eric Poma. The company raised a $12 million Series C funding round in 2014 from AJU IB Investment, Excel Ventures, and Santé Ventures.

The new grants were funded through CPRIT’s product development research program. CPRIT also gave out $53 million in other early stage research grants to various Texas academic institutions.

Those grants include studies looking at areas of cancer such as large B-cell lymphoma and genetic mutations in breast cancer at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, as well as cancer imaging, DNA repair, and advanced uveal melanoma (among many others) at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. (You can read about all the grants here.)