GSK, Roche, Novo back I/O startup Tioma in $86M Series A

Tioma Therapeutics plans to use part of the massive infusion of cash from its Series A round to jump into the Bay Area from St. Louis, MO. The addition of a Brisbane, CA headquarters was sparked by the hire of experienced biotech exec John Donovan to head the company.

Donovan’s last endeavor, viral disease play Alios BioPharma, was sold to Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) for about $1.75 billion near the end of 2014. He founded that company and served as its CBO and CFO. Donovan remained with J&J through the end of 2015. He started out as a Wall Street banker, before transitioning to the corporate side with a job at InterMune prior to its acquisition by Roche ($RHHBY).

Tioma started out as Vasculox in 2006 and until now has survived on some small seed rounds. It plans to use its $86 million Series A to advance it lead candidate, an anti-CD47 immune checkpoint inhibitor, through advanced proof-of-concept clinical trials.

The financing attracted a trio of strategic players: It was co-led by RiverVest Venture Partners, Novo Ventures, Roche Venture Fund and GlaxoSmithKline’s ($GSK) corporate venture arm S.R. One.

“We find CD47 to be an extremely interesting target in the evolving cancer immunotherapy landscape,” said Novo Ventures Partner Peter Moldt in a statement. “Tioma Therapeutics, with its portfolio of diverse, functionally heterogeneous antibodies, is well positioned to test the CD47 hypothesis in the clinic.” 

Tioma aims to treat solid and hematologic cancers. The startup expects that its anti-CD47 antibody approach could have the potential to promote two different aspects of the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune response. The innate response is an initial, non-specific defense mechanism that is activated by the chemical properties of an antigen, but the adaptive immune response is antigen-specific and, therefore, more complex.

The company counts William Frazier, a professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biophysics, Cell Biology, and Biomedical Engineering at Washington University School of Medicine, amongst its scientific founders. He was key in the discovery that CD47 is a receptor for thrombospondin-1. Tioma will keep its St. Louis research labs.

- here is the release

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