Houston—OncoResponse, a biotech startup formed jointly with the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, announced Tuesday it has raised a $40 million Series B round of funding.
RiverVest Venture Partners led the round, which included new investors Redmile Group and the Qatar Investment Authority, as well as existing investors Alexandria Venture Investments, Arch Venture Partners, HT Family Office, Canaan Partners, Helsinn Investment Fund, and Rice University. The company had previously closed on a $22.5 million Series A round of funding last year.
The funding will be used to advance five different therapy programs based on antibodies derived from cancer patients who are in remission, says Cliff Stocks, OncoResponse’s CEO. “This funding will take us into 2021,” he says.
The drug candidates were derived from OncoResponse’s technology, which mines the immune systems of patients who have responded exceptionally well to cancer immunotherapies. The company is part of a growing cohort of biotech companies developing immunotherapies, which involve stimulating a patient’s own immune system to attack and kill cancer cells.
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 in the cancer patients, Stocks said in an interview.
Stocks says he expects that by the fourth quarter of 2020, the company will be doing clinical trials for an antibody targeting cells that suppress the immune response in the tumor microenvironment. Trial data could be ready to disclose in early 2021, he says. This antibody could enhance the response rate of checkpoint inhibitors in the treatment of gastric, colorectal, and non-small cell lung cancers, as well as melanoma, he adds.
OncoResponse was founded in 2015 when Theraclone Sciences, a Seattle biotech company, and M.D. Anderson announced the formation of a new company seeking to find personalized antibodies that help fight cancer. The company is based in both Seattle and Houston. Scientists at the company had been working with counterparts at the Houston hospital. Theraclone continues to operate as a therapeutic antibody discovery company that developed an antibody for the treatment of HIV, ebola, and other diseases.
Stocks says OncoResponse’s close relationship with co-founder M.D. Anderson has been crucial in the development of its therapies. In addition to the “almost unlimited” number of samples from cancer patients shared by M.D. Anderson, he says working with the cancer institution has given the company a direct pipeline to the expertise of its oncologists and other experts.