Startup Surface Oncology Brings in Ex-AstraZeneca PLC (AZN) Exec to Lead Next-Gen Immuno-Oncology Plan

May 8, 2015

By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

Up and coming Cambridge, Mass.-based startup Surface Oncology is bringing in some heavy hitters to steer its early course, saying Friday it had hired the former head of the oncology strategy at AstraZeneca PLC (AZN), Detlev Biniszkiewicz, to become its new CEO.

"Surface is building on the recent breakthrough success in immuno-oncology creating the next generation of immunotherapies beyond checkpoint blockade," said David Grayzel, chairman of the board for surface oncology and a partner at Atlas Venture, one of the startup's main backers. "Detlev brings proven research, development, and business leadership to Surface's world-class scientific foundation, and we are extremely excited to have him join the company."

The field of immuno-oncology has been heating up in 2015, with Surface Oncology saying in January it had closed a $35 million Series A round funded by heavy-hitters including Atlas Venture, Fidelity Biosciences, New Enterprise Associates, Lilly Ventures, Amgen Ventures and the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR) .

As part of the deal, Elliott Sigal, the former head of research and development at Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY), will now join the company's scientific advisory board (SAB). Joining the board of directors are Robert Garland, managing director and partner at NEA, Armen Shanafelt, general partner at Lilly Ventures, and Robert Weisskoff, partner at Fidelity Biosciences.

Surface said it will use the money to ramp up its clinical of first-generation immune therapies to find tumor cells that have otherwise found a way to avoid detection by the immune system. So far, it has active pre-clinical programs including therapies designed around antigen presentation, as well as ones that can counter the impact of specific inhibitory cytokines and metabolites.

"By targeting novel areas of biology at the intersection of innate and adaptive immunity, we hope to expand the arsenal of immunotherapies, with the goal of treating a greater number of patients across a wider range of tumor types than are addressed by these agents today," said Sigal.

Surface focuses on developing cancer immunotherapies and unlike other recent marquee-name cancer therapies from Juno Therapeutics (JUNO), Novartis AG (NVS), Bristol-Myers Squibb Company (BMY), Amgen (AMGN), it is setting its sights on curing solid tumors within their micro-environment. This is a departure from the much-hyped field of "checkpoint inhibitors" that are all the rage these days with researchers and investors alike, though Surface has said it hopes it therapies will be able to work in tandem to cure tumors that have not responded to other types of treatment.

"Immunotherapy is one of the most significant breakthroughs for cancer treatment in the past several decades, and while current approaches are transformative for the field, they remain insufficient," said Grayzel at the time. "By targeting novel areas of biology at the intersection of innate and adaptive immunity, we hope to expand the arsenal of immunotherapies, with the goal of treating a greater number of patients across a wider range of tumor types than are addressed by these agents today."

Surface has attracted a lot of attention since its founding because its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members reads like a Who's Who is cancer immunotherapy, including co-chairs Sasha Rudensky, the chair of immunology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy, and Arlene Sharpe, from Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Suggested Articles

Cancer biotech Zentalis Pharmaceuticals priced its IPO at $165 million, eclipsing the $100 million goal it laid out in early March.

The agreement gives Innovax access to a GSK adjuvant to enhance the immune response triggered by its recombinant protein-based vaccine.

Johnson & Johnson is paying Fate Therapeutics $50 million upfront to collaborate on up to four CAR NK and CAR-T cell therapies.