Oncologie kicks off trans-Pacific operations with $16.5M in seed funding

Immuno-oncology startup Oncologie has formally launched its operations in Boston and Shanghai following $16.5 million in seed funding, with the goal of delivering new cancer therapies in the U.S. and Chinese markets simultaneously.

Founded by Eli Lilly’s former VP of oncology, Laura Benjamin, the biotech aims to advance a pipeline of novel, clinical-stage drug candidates through licensing and partnering, including multiple phase 2 and 3 programs designed to combine with checkpoint inhibitors.

Oncologie believes it can leverage recent regulatory changes in China to allow the use of foreign clinical trial data in new drug submissions in order to conduct parallel development on both sides of the Pacific.

“We think these coordinated efforts will shorten the time between launching innovative drugs in the U.S. and China,” said Jimmy Wei, managing partner of the Pivotal bioVenture Partners China Fund, which led the seed financing. Other investors included Nan Fung Life Sciences, China Merchant Bank Investments and Volcanics Ventures.

“Since there are too many undifferentiated PD-1/PD-L1 programs in China with very few combination trials ongoing, Oncologie has positioned itself as the leader in immune combination therapies,” Wei said.

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Oncologie has been building out its pipeline since its inception in January, said Benjamin, who serves as president and CEO. That includes bavituximab, acquired from Avid Bioservices, and lefitolimod, a TLR-9 agonist picked up from Mologen.

Bavituximab, which blocks tumor-signaling that reduces the immune system’s ability to recognize cancers, is being studied in combination with chemotherapy and radiation in both glioblastoma and liver cancer.

Lefitolimod, meanwhile, is paired with Yervoy (ipilimumab) in a trial in solid malignancies, and is also being studied as a single maintenance therapy following chemotherapy in first-line metastatic colorectal cancer.

“Oncologie has built an all-star team of creative drug developers committed to revealing the full potential of our exciting pipeline that is positioned to maximize the benefits cancer immune therapy can bring,” Benjamin said in a statement.

Last month, Pivotal bioVenture Partners, a member of Nan Fung Life Sciences, raised $150 million for a venture capital fund to support early-stage companies in China. The fund focuses on in-licensing products and technologies for unmet medical needs in the country. The year before, Pivotal announced a $300 million fund for biotechs in the U.S. and Europe.