VentiRx Nabs $25M for Cancer, Allergy Drugs

1/12/10Follow @xconomy

VentiRx Pharmaceuticals has raised a venti-sized load of new cash. The San Diego and Seattle-based company that’s developing drugs to amplify the body’s innate immune system to fight cancer and allergies has pulled in $25 million through a new round of financing.

The deal is technically described as an extension of a $26.6 million Series A financing that VentiRx received in March 2007, meaning the company has now raised $51.6 million in the total round. The extension, which allows investors to buy VentiRx shares at the same price as they did before, was led by new investor MedImmune Ventures, while existing investors Arch Venture Partners, Frazier Healthcare Ventures, and Domain Associates all participated again. Maggie Flanagan LeFlore of MedImmune Ventures is joining the VentiRx board in connection with the deal.

The big idea at VentiRx, which I described in a detailed feature almost exactly one year ago, is to create conventional small molecule drugs that stimulate Toll-like receptors (TLRs), particularly one called TLR8. The family of TLRs are key components of the body’s innate immune system—the first-line defense that recognizes foreign invaders at their point of entry under the skin, in the mucus linings of the nose, and in the gut. VentiRx has developed one candidate for cancer that’s finishing an early-stage clinical trial, and another candidate for allergies that has passed an initial safety study. The new money is being used to move ahead with a pair of more rigorous, mid-stage clinical trials of both drugs this year which should establish whether they have proven this new concept of fighting cancer and allergies by stimulating TLR8.

“We view this as the last financing we’ll need before liquidity at VentiRx, whether it comes through an acquisition, an IPO, or a Big Pharma partnership,” says Michael Kamdar, the company’s executive vice president and chief business officer.

Michael Kamdar

Michael Kamdar

VentiRx hasn’t come out publicly with hard data to support its scientific approach, but the findings will be available this year, Kamdar says. The company was able to secure the new round of funding after seeing signs that its cancer drug appears to stimulate an effect known as antibody dependent cellular cytotoxicity, which means it could help improve upon with antibody drugs for cancer like rituximab (Rituxan) or cetuximab (Erbitux), Kamdar says.

He noted that AstraZeneca, the parent company of MedImmune Ventures, has a longstanding interest in TLR biology, and has internal programs that look at different TLRs, such as TLR7 and TLR9, but not the same target as VentiRx, Kamdar says. Flanagan LeFlore added … Next Page »

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