Forma Therapeutics nets $100M to push sickle cell treatment

A $100 million series D round will bankroll Forma Therapeutics' development of treatments for sickle cell disease and leukemia as well as a suite of others. (Pixabay)

Genentech veteran Frank Lee landed at Forma Therapeutics as it aimed to transition from an early discovery and development company to one that was knocking on the door of approvals and commercialization. Now, Forma is reeling in $100 million to bankroll that growth. 

When Lee arrived, Forma had been operating for about 11 years, spending most of that time doing research for and with partners, he told FierceBiotech. Lee, along with the company’s board and leadership team, decided that the “future vision” of the company would be built on rare blood diseases and cancers. So, they reprioritized the portfolio, positioning the company’s sickle cell disease program as the crown jewel. 

The series D haul will advance that treatment, FT-4202, which could become a therapy that changes the course of sickle cell disease rather than addressing symptoms such as infection, inflammation and anemia. FT-4202 activates the enzyme pyruvate kinase-R (PKR), which combats the sickling of red blood cells and helps hemaglobin bind to and release oxygen more efficiently. Forma presented data from healthy volunteers at this year’s meeting of the American Society of Hematology and is enrolling patients with sickle cell into the phase 1/2 study. Though sickle cell is its first indication, Forma may test it in other diseases. 

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Next in line is olutasidenib, an IDH1 inhibitor that’s in pivotal studies for relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia. Lee expects that study to read out in mid-2020 and says it could lead to an NDA filing for the drug. Forma is also testing it in brain cancer and other solid tumors. 

“We are impressed with Forma’s seamless transformation over the past year, moving from an early discovery engine to a clinical-stage, asset-focused company,” said Peter Kolchinsky, Ph.D., managing partner of RA Capital Management, which led the financing, in a statement.

"While there are already many programs in development to help patients with sickle cell disease and the cancers we are targeting, Forma’s candidates represent a unique and likely complementary contribution to the future armamentarium, which is important both for patients and strategically for Forma," he added.

Cormorant Capital, Wellington Management, Samsara BioCapital and funds managed by Janus Henderson Investors also chipped in.