OncoNano, Maker of Tumor Imaging Technology, Raises $11.7 Million

Xconomy Texas — 

Dallas—OncoNano Medicine, which is developing an imaging agent to help surgeons better remove tumors, has raised $11.7 million in Series A funding.

OncoNano’s lead product, ONM-100, is an injectable imaging agent that targets the acidic pH within tumors to better distinguish cancer cells from healthy ones during surgery.

OncoNano said the new funding was arranged by Salem Partners, which also participated as a principal investor. The round included institutional and individual investors that the company did not name. The new investment follows a $6 million grant the company received from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

Ravi Srinivasan, OncoNano’s co-founder and CEO, says the new funds will be used to pay for an ongoing Phase 1-2 clinical trial of ONM-100 in about 30 patients, which is scheduled to end in November.

“This is a proven, robust biomarker that is well-known,” he says. “Unlike proteins, which are overexpressed in tumors but vary by patient to patient or tumor to tumor, or by stage of disease, pH is a very simple but broadly applicable biomarker.”

OncoNano says imaging eliminates the guesswork often associated with the removal of tumors by providing surgeons real-time information during surgery.

The Texas company isn’t the only one seeking to innovate in this arena. Blaze Bioscience in Seattle is developing “tumor paint” to help surgeons differentiate healthy tissue from tumors that should be removed. Last October, the Seattle-based company raised a $16.1 million Series B-1 round of funding from existing investors, bringing its total to $33 million, according to a story written at the time by David Holley, Xconomy’s national correspondent.

The company’s lead product candidate, BLZ-100, is made up of a genetically engineered peptide that Blaze says binds to and enters numerous tumor types. The peptide, which is chemically linked to a fluorescent beacon, is injected into tumor tissue in a surgical site. Delineating exactly where the tumor is helps surgeons avoid leaving behind bits of the tumor, which could cause relapse.

OncoNano is a spinout company from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, with technology invented by Jinming Gao, a professor of pharmacology and otolaryngology, and Baran D. Sumer, an associate professor of otolaryngology. The company, which is based in the Fort Worth suburb of Southlake, was founded in 2014.

In addition to the new funding, OncoNano announced half a dozen new board members, including Al Guillem, chairman of the Board and former president of ZS Pharma, a biotech firm that was founded in neighboring Coppell, TX. In late 2015, British drugmaker AstraZeneca announced it was buying ZS Pharma in a $2.7 billion deal. The Texas company had moved to California following its $107 million IPO in 2014.

Srinivasan says he is not setting the goal for a similar outcome for OncoNano yet. “Our goal would be to stay independent and grow,” he says.