Aragon Pharma readies first cancer trial after $22M B round

Aisling Capital has joined the crew of investors backing San Diego-based start-up Aragon Pharmaceuticals, leading a $22 million Series B that will fuel its pursuit of a clinical trial on a new therapy for hormonally-driven cancer.

Aragon was launched a little less than a year ago to test the commercial potential of the research work being done by Charles Sawyers, M.D., a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and Michael E. Jung, Ph.D., professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCLA. The biotech says that their discoveries demonstrate that "castration-resistant prostate cancer can be overcome with new classes of small molecule therapeutics that target the androgen receptor, thereby offering new anti-endocrine therapies for the treatment of prostate cancer." And Aragon has built a platform to develop drugs that signal via the androgen and estrogen receptors.

Standard therapies for breast and prostate cancer are designed to block the effect of the hormones, acting like "glue in the lock" of hormone receptors, Aragon President Rich Heyman tells FierceBiotech. But over time, patients become treatment resistant and the therapy can wind up actually fueling the cancer. Aragon's lead therapy, the preclinical ARN-509, "is super glue," he adds. "It truly blocks the receptor in this resistant state." ARN-509 is bound for the clinic this summer. A second program, which Heyman says goes a big step further and actually destroys the receptor lock, is scheduled to begin a clinical trial in 2011.    

Both breast and prostate cancers offer a huge potential market opportunity, and Aragon has quickly scaled up with close to 20 employees. That number is expected to grow somewhat more this year, says Heyman, as the company burns through its venture funds into early 2012, when the biotech can determine if it needs another round or will look to a Big Pharma company to step up with a licensing pact.

Aragon has raised a total of $30 million so far, with OrbiMed Advisors and The Column Group signing on as the original backers.

- check out Aragon's press release for more