Boosted by a fresh $30 million tranche of funding, Tarveda Therapeutics will start phase 2 trials of its lead drug for advanced neuroendocrine tumors and small cell lung cancer early next year, according to CEO Drew Fromkin.
Tarveda is focused on developing a new class of drugs called Pentarins that act like antibody-drug conjugates—combining tumor targeting that spares healthy tissues with a toxic payload—but are around 50 times smaller, in principle allowing them to penetrate more deeply into cancers. They are bigger than small molecule drugs, but this is another benefit—it stops them being cleared from the body too quickly, according to the biotech.
Tarveda said its latest Series D fundraising, led by new investor Versant Ventures, will help it advance lead candidate PEN-221, which targets somatostatin receptor 2 (SSTR2), through proof-of-concept.
"PEN-221 phase 1 dose escalation and safety data is expected to be available late this year, and we will be positioned to initiate phase 2a studies early in 2018," Fromkin told FierceBiotech, noting that the phase I trials will use an FDA-approved imaging diagnostic to select patients whose tumors express SSTR2.
Advanced neuroendocrine tumors and small cell lung cancer are the two malignancies linked most closely to SSTR2 and represent a market opportunity of around $1.5 billion for PEN-221 on their own, said Fromkin. "There is a deficit of curative treatments for these cancers and new and effective treatments are desperately needed."
Meanwhile, the cash injection will also help Tarveda advance its second Pentarin candidate—HSP90-targeting drug PEN-866—into phase 1 dose-escalation and safety studies due to start in the first half of 2017.
"PEN-866 will initially be focused on patients with topoisomerase-I inhibitor sensitive tumors," said Fromkin. Those tumor types are found in patients with small cell lung cancer, sarcoma, pancreatic cancer, and gastric cancer, to name a few.
As well as taking both PEN-221 and PEN-866 through early-stage clinical studies, the funding is giving the company scope to broaden its pipeline of Pentarin candidates beyond its two lead programs, both for "collaboration and internal development," according to Fromkin, who says news on additional candidates will be forthcoming during the course of 2017.
On the subject of partnerships, he told FierceBiotech that the augmented pipeline would allow it to attract potential collaborators.
"We have optionality around when and with which programs we decide to create value through collaboration with pharmaceutical and other partners, said Fromkin. "In any event, the platform is yielding opportunities for new, valuable Pentarins and this enables both proprietary and partnered development."
The fundraising is the first for the company since it rebranded from Blend Therapeutics to Tarveda last year, spinning out its former lead cancer drug BTP-114 into a new company called Placon Therapeutics in the process.
Versant partner Dr. Guido Magni will join Tarveda's board of directors, who said the company's "rapidly maturing pipeline, including two clinical-stage candidates, demonstrates the prolific nature of the Pentarin discovery and development engine."