OncoResponse raises $40M for cancer patient-sourced antibodies

Texas biotech OncoResponse has raised $40 million in second-round financing to develop drugs based on antibodies taken from cancer survivors.

The three-year-old startup—founded by Theraclone CEO Clifford Stocks—says the cash will be used to bring five programs from OncoResponse’s antibody-mining R&D, which is currently focused on melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, prostate cancer, gastric cancer and chronic myeloid leukemia, into human testing.

OncoResponse raised $9.5 million in its series A round in 2015, with a $3 million top-up from Baxalta (now part of Shire) the following year. Its I-STAR technology platform is built on research developed in partnership with MD Anderson that uses tissue samples and blood taken from "elite" disease responders to find therapeutic leads from the tens of thousands of antibodies made by the human immune system.

In the case of cancer, that includes patients who have been treated successfully with immuno-oncology drugs, says the Houston biotech, and this could help scientists understand why some patients respond to this type of treatment and others don’t. It’s an approach also being pursued by other research groups, including California biotech Atreca, which presented preclinical data on one of its candidates at the World Preclinical Congress in June.

“We now have several antibodies from our cancer patient-derived platform that are directed at modulating immunosuppression of the tumor microenvironment,” according to Stocks, who told Xconomy its first candidate should be in the clinic by the fourth quarter of 2020.

“This new capital will allow us to advance our programs through pre-clinical development and enable us to move our lead programs into clinical studies," he added, and should keep the company in operating cash until 2021.

The series B adds RiverVest Venture Partners, which led the round, plus Qatar Investment Authority and Redmile Group to OncoResponse’s list of backers, which also includes Canaan Partners, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Helsinn Investment Fund, HT Family Office and William Marsh Rice University.

“We believe that their portfolio of unique drug candidates has the potential to help cancer patients, expanding the promise of immunotherapy,” commented RiverVest Managing Director John McKearn, Ph.D.