Hub-building MD Anderson partners with Theraclone on $9.5M biotech startup

Theraclone CEO Clifford Stocks

About a year ago, Clifford Stocks, the CEO at Seattle-based Theraclone, began pondering the idea of spinning out his platform antibody discovery engine into a new company focused on the burgeoning field of cancer immunotherapies. Today, he's unveiling the fruits of that process, launching a new biotech--OncoResponse--that will operate in Houston in partnership with the entrepreneurial researchers at MD Anderson, setting out with a $9.5 million Series A.

MD Anderson will commit some of its cancer and genomics experts along with a vital supply of patient tissue samples to the company and part of the first round, which also included Arch Venture Partners, Canaan, William Marsh Rice University and Alexandria Real Estate Equities.

The big idea here is that Theraclone, which has recently been focusing on infectious diseases like Ebola, has an I-STAR screening platform that can be used to hunt down the best antibodies spawned by patients which are most likely to effectively tackle cancer. Theraclone will commit the initial team to set up the company, handling the discovery end of the deal as it begins to set up OncoResponse in Houston.

"We don't need to build a discovery engine in Houston," says Stocks, who will supply that part of the company equation out of Theraclone. But they are going to land some office space and build a team of 5 to 10 staffers next year to operate OncoResponse.

The initial $9.5 million round will finance the biotech for the first couple of years, says Stocks, providing some time to start to line up corporate partnerships and new lines of financial support.

The upstart marks the latest in a series of entrepreneurial moves by MD Anderson, which has an R&D budget of around $750 million and plays a big role treating cancer in the U.S. In addition to partnering up with a full slate of big pharma companies on new drug programs, the cancer center recently partnered with Germany's Immatics to launch a T-cell spinout with a $60 million startup round. And the cancer center has its sights set on fostering a biotech hub in Houston.

With MD Anderson's involvement, "we'll gain access to data, information and the immune system memory cells from those patients who are elite responders to cancer immunotherapies," noted Arch Managing Director Steve Gillis.

Both Theraclone and Immatics have been named Fierce 15 companies.