Aura Biosciences Aims to Develop “Ballistic Missile” Drug to Beat Pancreatic Cancer, Deliver RNAi Therapies

3/12/09

[[Correction: see editor's note below]] It’s a difficult time for a brand new biotech firm to be drumming up interest in a novel approach to delivering drugs, with investors snubbing so many firms with drugs already in clinical trials. But the market conditions haven’t stopped Elisabet de los Pinos, a former fellow at the MIT Sloan School of Management, from raising more than $3 million in an initial financing in recent months for her new company Aura Biosciences.

Aura, which has an office at an incubator in Cambridge, MA, plans to commercialize drugs based on discoveries at European research institutions. The firm’s particles, made of nano-sized protein shells, could improve delivery of approved cancer drugs by limiting their affects on healthy cells. The startup also sees the ultra-tiny particles as potential carriers of RNA-interference treatments, which firms have had difficulty delivering to tissues deep in the body. The firm wants to license its technology for RNAi drug delivery and develop it internally for treating cancer.

The biotech firm, which still needs to complete animal studies before it can advance into human clinical trials, wants to put the targeting capabilities of its technology to the test in treating pancreatic cancer, says de los Pinos, the startup’s president and CEO. [[Editor's note: this paragraph and the headline have been corrected to say that Aura is developing drugs to treat pancreatic cancer, not prostate cancer, as was initially reported.]]

Aura’s nano-sized protein shell—which can be engineered to mimic how certain viruses can elude the immune system and attach to specific cells—may be able to carry cancer-killing drugs directly to pancreas tumor cells while avoiding healthy cells. The firm’s technology may also be applied to other types of cancer. Earlier this month the firm revealed that it licensed peptide technology from British biotech firm Cancer Research Technology, and de los Pinos says the peptides would be used on the surface of Aura’s particles to target specific cancer cells.

Aura chairman Edmundo Muniz, a former executive of drug giant Eli Lilly and the CEO of cancer drug developer Tigris Pharmaceuticals, compares Aura’s drug particles to long-range missiles.

“Aura’s technology mimics an intercontinental ballistic … Next Page »

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