Acrivon Therapeutics secures $100M to give Eli Lilly cancer drug another try, fund 2 solid tumor candidates

Prexasertib has been on a more than two decade journey, and that doesn't include commercialization. In the drug’s latest chapter, Acrivon Therapeutics hopes to get the investigational cancer treatment across the regulatory finish line, and the biotech has picked up $100 million to do so.

Array Biopharma discovered the CHK1/2 inhibitor in the late 90’s. Eli Lilly picked it up in the aughts and, after surviving one cancer program cut in 2017, the drug was put on the chopping block in 2019. The Indianapolis Big Pharma decided prexasertib was no longer worthy of its R&D efforts. 

The drug is listed in 18 studies—both as a single therapy and in combination with other cancer drugs—on the federal database of clinical trials. Eli Lilly dropped it in April 2019 after phase 2 studies didn't show enough promise. The drug has been tested in more than 1,000 patients across ovarian cancer, various squamous cell cancers and has orphan-drug designation from the FDA for anal cancer. 

In comes new biotech Acrivon, which publicly launched in June with equity and a license to the drug from Lilly. The company was founded in 2018, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Prior to Thursday's $100 million series B, the startup had raised $15.5 million as of the February filing.

RELATED: Lilly dumps phase 2 cancer drugs that survived previous cull

With backing from Wellington Management, Surveyor Capital and nearly a dozen other institutional investors, Acrivon plans to further investigate prexasertib in clinical studies in solid cancers as well as bankroll development of two undisclosed programs that target solid tumors, the biotech said Thursday.

Coupled with the drug, now dubbed ACR-368, is a predictive precision proteomics platform, named AP3. 

"We are excited to now leverage the broader potential of our AP3 platform, which enables us to decipher a drug’s true mechanism-of-action at high resolution and accurately match that with the disease-driving processes in a patient’s tumor. This allows us to not only predict individual patient response, but also identify new indications and rational drug combinations, as well as hurdles that block patient responses, such as resistance mechanisms," said Peter Blume-Jensen, M.D., Ph.D., CEO and founder, in a statement. 

Blume-Jensen co-founded Acrivon with Senior Vice President of Global Operations Kristina Masson, Ph.D. Masson previously founded OncoSignature, the diagnostics platform Acrivon is using. The CEO was previously chief scientific officer of XTuit Pharmaceuticals from 2014 to 2018 and CSO of Metamark Genetics from 2010 to 2014.

Also on the management team is Eric Devroe, Ph.D., SVP of business operations. Devroe previously founded Xione Therapeutics and Opsonix and was an executive director at MD Anderson's Institute for Applied Cancer Science.