Deerfield leads oncology startup Dracen Pharma’s $40M series A

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Dracen Pharma has an exclusive agreement with Johns Hopkins and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences to license the immuno-metabolism tech and develop drug candidates. (pasja1000)

Deerfield Management will put up $36 million of Dracen Pharma’s $40 million series A round. The funds will propel the startup’s cancer programs into clinical trials.

The Baltimore-based company came to life in 2017 and is working on cancer treatments based on research from Barbara Slusher and Jonathan Powell, M.D., at the Johns Hopkins University. The company signed an exclusive agreement with JHU and the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the Czech Academy of Sciences to license the technology and develop drug candidates.

The Baltimore Business Journal reported in January that the startup was on the hunt for office and lab space and hopes to have programs in clinical development by 2019. Slusher and Powell will serve as close advisers to the company, which was looking to hire a core team of 12 staffers, CEO Tom Estok told the BBJ.

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Dracen is working on drugs targeting immuno-metabolism, an approach that combines immuno-oncology and cancer metabolism. It is developing a platform of glutamine antagonists that simultaneously trigger a patient’s immune response to fight cancer and disrupt the energy sources on which tumors rely to stay alive. The company is developing its candidates for use as monotherapies, as well as in combination with other meds, including checkpoint inhibitors. The tech may also have applications in autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.

Although it seems like everyone and their mother has been diving into immuno-oncology, merging it with cancer metabolism is relatively new.

“We believe immuno-metabolism is the next big area for immuno-oncology therapeutics, as it has the potential to generate broad-spectrum immune stimulation either alone or in combination with checkpoint inhibitors,” said Kyn Therapeutics CEO Mark Manfred in December, when his company emerged from stealth.