Immuno-oncology startup locks in $18M Series A
- Newly minted cancer biotech Fortis Therapeutics has secured $18 million in Series A funding to further development of antibody drug conjugate technology first identified by Dr. Bin Liu of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
- Avalon Ventures led the financing round, which also included Bregua Corporation, Lilly Asia Ventures, Osage University Partners and Vivo Capital. Fortis plans to target metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and multiple myeloma.
- Fortis is based out of Avalon's bioincubator COI Pharmaceuticals, which supports startups transitioning from academic labs into standalone companies. According to COI, Fortis' antibody drug conjugate could begin clinical testing as soon as 2018.
Fortis licensed its technology from UCSF through a licensing deal negotiated by the university's Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances. Liu, a professor in the Department of Anestheisa, identified a receptor which Fortis says is over-expressed in late-stage prostate cancer. The genes which encode that receptor are also seen in patients with multiple myeloma, leading to Fortis' plans to go after both types of cancer.
Castration-resistant prostate cancer is a difficult form of cancer to treat. Many patients develop resistance to both Johnson & Johnson's Zytiga (abiraterone) and Medivation/Astellas' Xtandi (enzalutamide), two drugs commonly used to treat the disease.
Fortis hopes its antibody drug conjugate could prove useful as either an add-on or follow-on therapy.
"While therapies, like abiraterone and enzalutamide, which target the amplified androgen receptor have significantly improved the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer, the vast majority of patients will develop resistance to these therapies, leading to disease progression and eventually death," said Eric Small, professor of medicine and urology at UCSF and newly appointed head of Fortis' scientific advisory board. "We need therapeutic options after androgen receptor directed therapy that could substantially improve survival."
Antibody drug conjugates are targeted drugs which carry toxic payloads directly to the tumor site, reducing systemic side effects.
The promise of better targeted treatments has attracted the attention of Big Pharma companies. Bayer's anetumab ravtansine in Phase 2 for mesothelioma is based on Morphosys' HuCAL technology, and AbbVie's Rova-T, picked up as part of the acquisition of Stemcentrx, is in early clinical studies in small cell lung cancer (SCLC).
- Fortis Therapeutics Statement
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