Elevation raises $65M to turn serial failure into tumor-agnostic success

Elevation Oncology CEO Shawn Leland (Elevation Oncology)

Elevation Oncology has raised $65 million to complete enrollment in a registration-enabling phase 2 cancer trial. The study is assessing seribantumab, an anti-HER3 antibody that failed multiple trials at Merrimack Pharmaceuticals before being reborn as a tumor-agnostic candidate at Elevation.

Sanofi saw enough promise in seribantumab, then known as MM-121, to pay $60 million upfront to enter into a worldwide licensing agreement with Merrimack in 2009. Five years and three midphase failures later, Sanofi returned the rights to the drug. Merrimack began new studies of seribantumab after Sanofi split but ultimately chose to cut its losses. 

Elevation picked up the rights to the drug in 2019 and embarked on a new R&D strategy. Rather than run trials targeting cancers affecting certain organs, as Merrimack did, Elevation is developing the antibody as a treatment for patients with NRG1-fusion tumors, regardless of where in the body they are found. In recent years, the FDA has approved several tumor-agnostic cancer drugs.

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The potential for seribantumab to join the list of approved tumor-agnostic drugs has attracted VCs. In July, Elevation exited stealth with $32.5 million in series A funds from a VC syndicate led by Aisling Capital. Months later, Elevation has moved its total financing haul up toward $100 million.

New investors venBio Partners and Cormorant Asset Management led the series B round, which puts Elevation in a position to complete enrollment in its 75-subject phase 2. ClinicalTrials.gov lists the estimated primary completion date of the study as June 2022. 

The trial will show whether Elevation’s bet on seribantumab is likely to pay off. Elevation’s preclinical work suggests the antibody can prevent activation of HER3 signaling in NRG1-fusion models. As NRG1 gene fusions are rare oncogenic drivers that may be essential for tumor cell survival in multiple cancers, Elevation is running a basket trial to evaluate seribantumab in multiple solid tumor types. 

Elevation will use the rest of the money for “other corporate development activities.” The activities could see Elevation branch out beyond seribantumab, with Elevation saying it is “actively evaluating opportunities for pipeline expansion, prioritizing targeted therapy approaches in tumor types defined by genomic driver alterations.”   

Responsibility for overseeing the phase 2 trial and pipeline expansion will fall on Shawn Leland, who founded Elevation after holding positions at companies including Argos Therapeutics and Verastem Oncology. Leland initially served as chief business officer of Elevation, with Aisling Capital’s Steve Elms holding the CEO post on an interim basis, but he has now stepped up to the top job.

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