With $86 million, a name change, and a new corporate office in the Bay Area, Tioma Therapeutics is pushing forward in its effort to bring an immuno-oncology drug into human clinical trials.
The Brisbane, CA-based biotech plans to use the $86 million Series A to fund a trial that could start as soon as 2017 for its lead candidate, a checkpoint inhibitor that targets a protein called CD47.
The $86 million will be used for investigations into several cancers, as well as to potentially fund development of other antibodies Tioma has in its portfolio, Donovan wrote in an e-mail. How the company uses the money, which investors will parcel out as the company hits undisclosed milestones, will be determined by clinical results as its drugs move ahead, Donovan wrote. Tioma is focused on both solid and blood-based cancers.
Tioma, previously known as Vasculox, was founded in St. Louis, MO, in 2006 by William Frazier, a professor at the Washington University School of Medicine. The company is keeping its lab in St. Louis.
Tioma has developed a portfolio of antibodies targeting tumor cells that produce a protein on their surface called CD47. That protein sends out a “don’t eat me” signal to macrophages, a type of immune system cell that eats dead or harmful cells. By blocking CD47, Tioma’s drugs aim to recruit macrophages to get rid of cancer cells.
Tioma says that it is planning to combine its anti-CD47 antibodies with other similar immune-oncology therapies, such types of checkpoint inhibitors, according to Donovan. That could include drugs that targets a protein known as PD-L1, the company said in a statement.
Checkpoint inhibitors aim to activate the immune system against tumor cells that are able to mask themselves as normal cells and avoid attack. They typically draw the attention of T cells—another type of immune system responder—and aim to release the brake that the tumors put on the immune system. Four checkpoint inhibitors have been approved by the FDA since 2011 targeting a couple different proteins.
“Developing these CD47 antibodies as therapeutics used in combination with other agents is central to our thesis,” Donovan wrote. “That said, it’s quite possible we see benefit as a monotherapy in certain settings also. Our clinical program is designed to shed light on these questions specifically.”
Tioma joins a growing list of firms exploring anti-CD47 immunotherapy. Another Palo Alto, CA-based company, a Stanford University spinout called Forty Seven, announced a $75 million Series A funding in February to target CD47. With the help of $30 million from California taxpayers, it had two Phase 1 trials underway when it launched, with plans to begin more later this year and next year.
Trillium Therapeutics (NASDAQ: TRIL) announced earlier this year that it filed a request with regulators to begin a Phase 1 trial of its lead CD47 candidate, TTI-621 for solid tumors. Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG) already has two Phase 1 studies ongoing in both solid and liquid tumor types for its candidate, CC-900002.
“We think CD47 holds promise as an emerging (immune-oncology) target, although clinical proof-of-concept is still outstanding,” Leerink Partners analyst Michael Schmidt wrote in a research note.
Before he joined Tioma in February, Donovan was co-founder and chief business officer of Alios BioPharma. Alios, an antiviral drug developer, sold to Johnson & Johnson for $1.75 billion in 2014.
The Tioma Series A funding was led by RiverVest Venture Partners, Novo Ventures, Roche Venture Fund and SROne, the venture capital arm of GlaxoSmithKline.
John McKearn of RiverVest is chairman of the company’s board of directors, while Peter Moldt of Novo Ventures, Carole Nuechterlein of Roche Venture Fund, and Jill Carroll of SROne are joining the board. Donovan is also a board member.