NEA pitches in on a $27M gamble on Tracon's mid-stage cancer drug program

New Enterprise Associates has stepped up to back San Diego-based Tracon Pharmaceuticals, joining a syndicate that is betting $27 million on the company's two cancer therapies, including a mid-stage drug now in the clinic for soft tissue sarcoma.

Tracon has been taking a combo approach with a pair of drugs in the pipeline. TRC105, its lead therapy, is an anti‐endoglin antibody under development for multiple tumors while TRC102 is directed against lung cancer and glioblastoma. The biotech is also partnered on a program for age-related macular degeneration.

Just a few days ago Tracon launched a Phase II study of TRC105, an angiogenesis drug that aims to starve tumors by blocking the formation of new blood vessels. That's a well-worn strategy in biotech. Tracon is dosing the drug in combination with Votrient, recruiting 60 patients with soft tissue sarcoma.

Charles Theuer

"Soft tissue sarcoma is an angiogenesis‐driven tumor with limited treatment options available for patients," said Tracon CEO Charles Theuer at the time. "Based on our experience in the Phase 1 portion of the clinical trial, where the combination of TRC105 and Votrient was well‐tolerated, we are moving forward into the Phase II portion of the clinical trial and look forward to working closely with our investigators and collaborators."

Last spring Tracon forged a partnership with Japan's Santen to study TRC105 and other anti-endoglins for combo studies with anti-VEGF drugs for wet, age-related macular degeneration.

In addition to NEA, BioMed Ventures also stepped in as a new investor, joining JAFCO, Nextech Invest, Brookline Investments, Arcus Ventures and BHP. The new money follows a $22 million round in 2011.

The NEA's Paul Walker is joining the board at Tracon, which has been keeping a low profile in the industry. The biotech also named Patricia Bitar as CFO. She recently completed a stint at Nuvasive.

- here's the release (PDF)