New York City started the year outlining a $500 million plan to build a biotech hub to rival Boston and South San Francisco. And the biotechs are biting—Quentis Therapeutics is setting up shop there, with immuno-oncology research out of Weill Cornell Medicine and $48 million in the bank.
According to CEO Michael Aberman, Quentis is part of the “next generation” of companies working on new and improved immunotherapies that will be effective in more patients.
“Despite advances with the first generation of immunotherapy, many patients still don’t get the benefits of those treatments,” said Quentis CEO Michael Aberman. “There are specific tumor types that don’t respond well, and even among those that do, those response rates can be less than 50%.”
The company is developing therapies that modulate endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response pathways in the tumor microenvironment. Chronic activation of this stress response is linked to poor outcomes in multiple cancers, such as ovarian cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, pancreatic adenocarcinoma and glioblastoma.
The series A funding—gathered from the likes of Versant Ventures, Polaris Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments and New York Ventures, the investment arm of Empire State Development—will advance Quentis’ lead candidate, a small molecule that inhibits the enzyme IRE1α. The company plans to bring the candidate into the clinic in 2019 and through clinical proof of concept. The funds will also support a pipeline of preclinical programs and expand the Quentis team.
“We haven’t specifically decided which specific tumor types will be part of clinical development,” Aberman said. “We will disclose that as we get closer to a phase 1 study. There are a number to choose from that are correlated with elevated ER stress.”
In addition to cancers where ER stress is correlated with poor outcomes, Quentis is also looking at using biomarkers that show high levels of ER stress.
As for its location, Quentis has multiple reasons to call New York home. Its founding science came from a New York institution, and it was seeded by a number of New York investors, Aberman said.
“I’ve been in biotech now for almost 20 years. I think [New York] really has reached a tipping point—it has all the ingredients to make it a successful biotech cluster similar to Boston and San Francisco,” Aberman said.
New York boasts a number of academic institutions putting out world-class research as well as status as a financial center. But, Aberman points out, some ingredients are missing, namely space and people.
The city’s $500 million plan includes $100 million earmarked for a life science campus, as well as $300 million in tax incentives to promote investment in commercial lab space.
When it comes to the people, Aberman is hoping to contribute to that: Quentis currently has four full-time and three part-time employees, and the company hopes to grow to between 20 and 30 full-time employees in the next 12 to 18 months, Aberman said.