NormOxys gets $17.5M to fund PoC work on new drug class

Wellesley, MA-based NormOxys has wrapped a $17.5 million Series B round, which the developer says should be enough to cover the tab for its crucial proof-of-concept work.

About a year from now the company should have PoC data for both cancer as well as heart failure, CEO Martin Tolar tells FierceBiotech, offering a much clearer picture of the full potential of its development platform. NormOxys is working on a new class of therapeutics-dubbed oxyrens-which essentially restores the needed level of oxygen in diseased "hypoxic tissues."

Anyone familiar with the way heart failure destroys the body can understand the concept in play here. A chronically weakened heart incapable of pumping enough red blood cells loaded with oxygen can inflict fatal damage. NormOxys' molecules are designed to deliver the payload right where it's needed, binding to hemoglobin and triggering the release of higher-than-normal levels of oxygen. By targeting the therapy, NormOxys believes it can avoid the side effects that have plagued other developers which have labored unsuccessfully in this field.

"The biggest problem is to deliver the oxygen just where it's needed," says Tolar, noting that over-oxygenation can be a big problem. The biotech is starting a clinical trial to determine safety in healthy volunteers to test OXY111A before moving on to sick patients.

While it's easier to understand the direct medical benefits a successful approach like this would have for cardiovascular tissue starved of oxygen, NormOxys is taking a counter-intuitive approach for cancer. When tumors are deprived of oxygen, says the CEO, they start to deploy a variety of survival mechanisms to keep blood and oxygen flowing to it. By normalizing the oxygen level, Tolar says the therapy can spur the tumor to stop struggling, essentially making it an easy target for apoptosis.

"Everybody generates cancer cells, but you clear it out," says Tolar. "We help clear it out."

As a former business development executive at Pfizer, you can believe that Tolar has thought long and hard about the development strategy for the developer. Eventually the company will look for partners, but it's still early.

It only makes sense to stay in charge of program development at this stage of the game, says Tolar. "This is the sweet spot for biotech," he says of early development, where a staff of about 30, including a dozen full timers, can execute on the biotech's development plan. Later, with data in hand from human trials, NormOxys can start to talk deals with Big Pharma companies at work in these disease categories.

NormOxys' has a distinctly international pedigree. The company chairman is Jean-Pierre Garnier, PhD, the former CEO at GlaxoSmithKline. And it's working on the science advanced by Nobel Laureate Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn in Strasbourg, and co-founder Claude Nicolau, PhD, now a visiting professor at Tufts.

NormOxys was officially launched in Massachusetts six years ago and has now brought in a total of $30 million from venture backers. New investor Care Capital, LLC, led this latest round with participation from Index Ventures. - John Carroll (twitter | email)