The ex-Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) oncology executives now running SalvaRx (LON:SALV) have picked Intensity Therapeutics as the fund’s second investment. SalvaRx, which is backed by Jim Mellon, has taken a 9.2% stake in Intensity through a Series A round intended to support the advance of the company’s lead candidate into the clinic.
Intensity is the first investment SalvaRx has made since it snagged a listing on London’s AIM exchange through a reverse merger. With SalvaRx yet to secure the investment from institutional backers that it is reportedly planning, Mellon and fellow nonexecutive director Dr. Greg Bailey are bankrolling the Series A investment through a convertible loan. Such loans are typically used to tide over a company until it wraps up a planned round of investment.
The convertible loan has allowed SalvaRx to make its move for a stake in Intensity immediately. The AIM-listed fund has snagged a 9.2% stake in the business for $2 million (€1.8 million) in cash, positioning it to profit if Intensity’s technology platform can deliver on its promise. Intensity is using the platform to pair compounds designed to enhance cell penetration to existing anticancer drugs, an approach it thinks can enable more targeted treatment.
Instead of administering the drug intravenously, Intensity injects its formulations directly into the site of the tumor. The approach is intended to deliver higher intracellular concentrations of the drug without a corresponding uptick in exposure to healthy tissues. Intensity, a U.S.-based organization, has generated data in mice to back up the hypothesis as part of its collaboration with the National Cancer Institute.
For SalvaRx, a fund focused on immuno-oncology, what happened to the mice next is of particular interest. When mice that had experienced a complete response following treatment were exposed to the same cancer through reinoculation, 10% suffered a relapse. The remaining 90% were protected against the cancer for the rest of their lives. Intensity is presenting the data as evidence that tumors killed by its treatment elicit an immune response that protects the mice from the disease.
SalvaRx CEO Ian Walters, who used to lead oncology R&D at Bristol-Myers, has overseen some of this work in his capacity as CMO at Intensity, a position he has held since 2014. “I … have been impressed by the high quality of the pre-clinical data produced by its product candidates,” he said in a statement. “Intensity has worked with top-notch scientists to help create a highly selective, potentially low toxicity treatment with the ability to substantially impact many types of cancer.”
While Walters has gone across the Atlantic for SalvaRx’s second investment, he has previously expressed a belief that it may be possible to unearth better value opportunities in Europe. SalvaRx stayed local for its first investment, which saw it put money into University of Oxford spinout iOx Therapeutics. IOx secured a European Union grant this week.