Tvardi, Co-Founded by Former MD Anderson Leader DePinho, Raises $9M

Houston—Tvardi Therapeutics, a Houston biotech co-founded last year by the former chief of the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, has raised $9 million to support clinical trials of an experimental cancer drug developed through research at the medical center.

Ron DePinho, past president of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, co-founded the company with David Tweardy, head of internal medicine at M.D. Anderson, who discovered compounds that can block a molecule, STAT3, that appears to play a key role in the development of cancer.

DePinho also says that STAT3 inhibitors might someday be deployed to treat disease other than cancer.

“STAT3 is an important regulator of genes that are integral to cancer,” DePinho, co-founder of Tvardi, said in an interview. “The inhibiting of STAT3 genes has been shown in preclinical models to cause cancer regression, reverse cystic fibrosis, and block inflammation.”

Tvardi executives declined to identify the investors in the company’s  Series A fundraising round. The funds will be used to pay for the completion of the company’s currently ongoing Phase 1 clinical trial for Tvardi’s lead compound, TTI-101, in solid tumor cancers, and for an upcoming Phase 1b trial, DePinho says.

STAT3 is an active area of exploration for developing cancer drugs. Searching the term brings up nearly 100 clinical trials on clinicaltrials.gov, with 23 of them active or recruiting. DePinho says Tvardi’s STAT3-inhibiting compounds, if approved as cancer drugs, might work well with immunotherapy treatments.

Tweardy found a compound that prevents STAT3 from binding to a peptide that could lead to the development of cancer and other diseases such as fibrosis and inflammation.

Prior to the Series A round, the effort raised $15 million in grants, including funds from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. (The company is named for Tweardy’s grandfather George Tvardi, who emigrated to New York in 1916 from eastern Slovakia. As he made his way to Pennsylvania, where he ultimately settled, the name’s spelling was changed to Tweardy, the company says.)

Neil Warma, former CEO of Houston biotech Opexa, is currently serving as interim chief executive of Tvardi. The company is conducting a search for a permanent CEO, DePinho says.

DePinho, who came to Houston in 2012 to run M.D. Anderson, left that top post last year after a somewhat rocky tenure. While he developed acclaimed programs like the Cancer Moonshot, which raised the profile of the Houston institution, M.D. Anderson was also the subject of a scathing audit by the UT system on its $62 million partnership with IBM Watson.

Though he stepped down from the president’s role, DePinho remained at the institution as a professor of cancer biology. “I rarely get involved [with young companies] directly; I usually just give advice,” DePinho says. “But in recognizing that STAT3 is one of the most important molecules in medicine and, given my interest in impacting cancer in particular, I realized this was a good place to place some of my time and effort.”

 

Angela Shah is the editor of Xconomy Texas. She can be reached at ashah@xconomy.com or (214) 793-5763. Follow @angelashah

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