Cancers are adept at evading pharmaceutical attack. Cornered by a drug in one direction, tumors can mutate and shape-shift in another, staying one step ahead of doctors’ attempts to rein in their harmful growth and proliferation.
In response, researchers have frequently turned to drug combinations, pairing treatments together in hopes of stifling any cancerous escape, often by means of trial and error. Many widely used chemotherapy regimens are based on this principle, which drugmakers have incorporated in developing new types of medicines like immunotherapy as well.
A new startup launching Tuesday aims to improve on how companies go about this process, planning to design treatment combinations from the start. Dubbed IDRx, the company has raised $122 million to fund its idea, drawing the support of the well-known venture backers Andreessen Horowitz and Casdin Capital. It’s already equipped with two drugs, licensed from Merck KGaA and Blueprint Medicines, that it plans to develop for a type of cancer known as gastrointestinal stromal tumor, or GIST.
IDRx was founded last year by a team that includes Alexis Borisy, the venture capitalist and serial biotech entrepreneur, Ben Auspitz, the company’s current CEO and a former partner at F-Prime Capital, and Nicholas Lydon, a scientist who helped discover the molecule that became the cancer drug Gleevec.
A revolutionary treatment for certain kinds of leukemia, Gleevec was also proven to help treat GIST, blocking a gene that’s central the growth of those types of tumors.
IDRx thinks it can develop the drugs it’s licensed into a new “best-in-class” treatment that can counter both the main genetic drivers of GIST and mutations that help those tumors evolve drug resistance. The first, called IDRx-42, is already in Phase 1 clinical testing.
“IDRx’s approach offers the opportunity to develop more effective cancer medicines for patients through intentionally built treatment combinations, and we are starting with gastrointestinal stromal tumor, where tumor biology is well known but, at the same time, there remains a high unmet medical need,” said Auspitz, who worked together with Borisy at a previous company called CombinatoRx, in a statement.
IDRx was incubated at Borisy Labs, a new venture for the biotech veteran, who helped start a number of drug companies, including Blueprint, while at Third Rock Ventures. More recently, Borisy co-founded Relay Therapeutics, which aims to develop better medicines by studying how proteins move, and EQRx, a startup seeking to upend pharmaceutical drug pricing.