Tokai lands new CEO, $23M venture round for PhIIb cancer study

Cambridge, MA-based Tokai Pharmaceuticals has rounded up a $23 million venture round to push its lead treatment for prostate cancer into mid-stage trials. And its board has tapped an experienced biotech business development hand to helm the company. Tokai turned to its two current investors--Novartis Venture Fund and Apple Tree Partners--for the fresh injection of cash.

Originally led by Apple Tree partner Seth Harrison, Tokai will now rely on Martin D. Williams for leadership. Williams was the business chief at Dicerna when it struck a $1.4 billion deal with Kyowa Hakko and earlier had taken the lead on business development for Synta. Tokai raised $22 million in 2009 and now has taken in a total of $57 million in venture cash.

The top priority for Williams now is a planned Phase IIb study of galeterone (TOK-001) for prostate cancer. The drug relies on a triple mechanism to fight cancer, acting as an androgen receptor antagonist, inhibiting CYP17 lyase and reducing androgen receptor levels in prostate tumors.

Tokai's Jodie Morrison, the COO and VP of clinical affairs, tells FierceBiotech that the Phase I study did offer some encouraging efficacy data regarding PSA and tumor reduction, but the biotech is keeping the data quiet for now until it can discuss the details at an upcoming scientific meeting. Morrison did offer that the Phase IIb study should get underway next year and run for 12 to 18 months. Tokai is completely focused on this one program, she adds.

"Potent antiandrogen therapy is proving to be more and more critical to the treatment of prostate cancer, which can become resistant to currently available therapies," said Williams, in a statement. "Galeterone's novel triple mechanism of action against the growth and survival of prostate cancer cells differentiates it from other CRPC therapies and has tremendous potential. I look forward to working with the Tokai team to build upon efforts achieved thus far with galeterone and to advancing this innovative approach further into clinical development."

- here's the Tokai release