San Diego’s Effector Therapeutics, a five-year-old cancer drug developer, has raised $38.6 million in new venture capital funding. The Series C financing, led by Pfizer Venture Investments, brings total funding for Effector to about $150 million, CEO Steve Worland said late Monday.
The company said it plans to use the new funding to advance testing of small-molecule drugs that target a select set of proteins that regulate an anti-tumor immune response at a fundamental level of gene expression known as translation. There are multiple ways that these drugs, known as selective translation regulators, can intervene in this process, Worland said.
Effector’s lead drug candidate, eFT508, targets two related signaling proteins that dampen an anti-tumor immune response. By blocking these specific proteins, however, Effector expects to unleash the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. By acting in multiple ways to activate the immune system, Effector says its selective translation regulators represent a new approach in the hot field of cancer treatments known as immunotherapies.
Effector has embarked on a broad program for eFT508 that includes combining the drug with avelumab (Bavencio) in a study of colorectal cancer with Pfizer (NYSE: PFE) and Germany-based Merck KGaA. The company also has been testing eFT508 in early stage clinical trials targeting multiple solid tumors and lymphoma. With the additional funding, Effector plans to move into Phase 2 clinical trials over the next year or so, Worland said.
Proceeds of the funding round also will enable Effector to advance another drug immunotherapy candidate, eFT226, into the clinic next year. The company, founded on research from UC San Francisco scientists Kevan Shokat and Davide Ruggero, now has about 40 employees, Worland said.
Other new investors, including Alexandria Venture Investments, joined Pfizer Venture Investments in the round. All existing investors also participated, including U.S. Venture Partners, Abingworth, Novartis Venture Fund, SR One, The Column Group, Altitude Life Science Ventures, Sectoral Asset Management, AbbVie Biotech Ventures, BioMed Ventures, and Astellas Ventures.