Madison Vaccines has closed an $8 million Series A financing round that will fund development of two DNA vaccines intended to fight prostate cancer, the University of Wisconsin-Madison spinoff announced Monday.
The round was led by Madison-based Venture Investors, joined by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, Madison-based Venture Management, and others. It marks the company’s first funding round, said Paul Weiss, Venture Investors managing director.
The round will finance completion of an expanded Phase 2 clinical trial for one of Madison Vaccines’ DNA vaccines, MVI-816, as well as pre-clinical and Phase 1 safety studies for a second DNA vaccine under development, MVI-118.
The vaccine currently in Phase 2 testing is designed for patients with prostate cancer that hasn’t yet spread to the bone or other organs, but is at high risk of doing so after initial cancer therapy, Madison Vaccines said. The goal is to provide another treatment option that avoids surgical or chemical castration, which is currently the standard next step for such patients.
“Our goal in developing MVI-816 is to significantly delay both the onset of metastases and the initiation of [castration] for these patients,” said Richard Lesniewski, Madison Vaccines president. “This $8 million financing will allow [us] to advance our efforts to establish a safe and approvable immune activation therapy for men with early malignant prostate cancer.”
The startup’s second vaccine, MVI-118, targets the human androgen receptor, which causes prostate cancer to worsen and can cause resistance to current treatments, the company said.
Both vaccines are made out of plasmids, or tiny pieces of circular bacterial DNA, that induce an immune response to the cancer, Madison Vaccines said. Compared with protein or peptide vaccines, plasmid DNA vaccines are cheaper and faster to manufacture, avoid solubility issues, and are more stable in storage, according to Madison Vaccines.
Madison Vaccines was founded in 2012 by Lesniewski and Douglas McNeel, an oncologist and professor of medicine at University of Wisconsin-Madison. McNeel developed the technology around which Madison Vaccines was formed at UW-Madison, and the startup obtained exclusive licenses on the patents from WARF. Lesniewski has spent more than three decades in the biopharmaceutical industry, including in various leadership positions with Abbott Laboratories near Chicago and GlaxoSmithKline in Philadelphia. McNeel has researched prostate cancer immunology for more than a decade. The two are the startup’s only staffers so far.