FogPharma collects $66M to advance cell-penetrating cancer inhibitor

A stethoscope and paper money.
FogPharma’s lead product, a first-in-class beta-catenin antagonist designed to access the cell interior, aims to block activation of the Wnt pathway, which can allow tumors to evade the immune system. (Getty/utah778)

Drug discovery startup FogPharma raised $66 million in series B financing as it looks to bring its first product to the clinic by the end of next year. The startup was established in 2016 by Harvard professor and entrepreneur Gregory Verdine, whose lab invented cell-penetrating miniproteins.

Following series A and seed funding, this brings the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company’s total up to $77 million.

FogPharma’s lead product, a first-in-class beta-catenin antagonist designed to access the cell interior, follows a stream of first-in-class candidates addressing other difficult drug targets, with a focus on cancer and modulating immune response.

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“One of the most important challenges of our time is making actionable the enormous, inactionable trove of biological data on human disease targets,” said Verdine, who serves as CEO and chief scientific officer.

Verdine has also founded and currently leads LifeMine Therapeutics, which develops new drugs from fungi. Additionally, he founded Wave Life Sciences, Enanta, Eleven Bio, Variagenics, Tokai, Aileron and Gloucester Pharmaceuticals, which was acquired by Celgene in 2010.

The latest financing round was led by 6 Dimensions Capital, alongside new investors Blue Pool Capital, Horizons Ventures, Nan Fung Group, Leerink Partners and GV, formerly known as Google Ventures. Previous investors also participated, including Deerfield Management, Boyu Capital, WuXi AppTec Corporate Ventures and others.

In conjunction with the funding, FogPharma announced new appointments to its board of directors: Leon Chen, CEO of 6 Dimensions Capital; GV general partner Krishna Yeshwant; and former NCI director Rick Klausner, founder and director of Juno Therapeutics, Grail and Mindstrong.

RELATED: Biotech entrepreneur, Harvard prof Verdine adds WuXi startup player to CV

The proceeds will help advance FogPharma’s beta-catenin inhibitor program into phase 2 development for cancer indications involving the Wnt pathway, which plays a role in allowing tumors to evade the immune system. The pathway is activated by mutations in nearly all colorectal cancers, as well as some cancers of the liver, breast, prostate, endometrium and lung, the company said.

The funding will also advance preclinical development of a first-in-class Cbl-b inhibitor and a third, undisclosed program, as well as drug discovery work in an additional three distinct forms of cell-penetrating miniproteins.

“There is substantial and persistent interest in tackling targets like beta-catenin and Cbl-b, which are clearly important biologically and medically, but untouchable by conventional therapeutics,” said Klausner, who formerly served as executive director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I was captivated by the FogPharma team’s unprecedented ability to go after these and other intractable targets.”