Upstart Sapience raises $22.5M in Series A, with help from Celgene

New York
New York

New York preclinical cancer biotech Sapience Therapeutics has managed to gain a $22.5 million pot of cash in its first funding round as it looks to progress with its lead candidate ST-36.

The round was led by Eshelman Ventures, with extra cash coming from Celgene ($CELG), TaiAn Technologies Corporation and Healthlink Capital.

Columbia University--which out-licensed its lead drug’s IP to Sapience--is also a shareholder in the company.

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The funds will be used for the early-stage candidate ST-36, a compound that is designed to selectively target a protein that promotes the growth of a number of tumors. The biotech said that one of the first targets will be a type of brain cancer known as a glioblastoma (GBM), which currently has poor outcomes and few treatments.

Dr. Barry Kappel, CEO and founder of Sapience Therapeutics, said: “We are pleased to have the financial support of Eshelman Ventures, as well as a team of highly experienced advisors and directors, to guide us in the development of this potentially transformative cancer drug.

“Having this level of support speaks to the promise of the compound we licensed from Columbia University and the significant need for therapeutics to address some of the most serious and deadly types of cancer, such as GBM.”

ST-36 is a targeted inhibitor of activating transcription factor 5 (ATF5). This inhibition is believed to lead to direct tumor cell death and, according to the biotech, can potentially make cancer cells more prone to radiation treatment.

It’s all very early-stage, but the company said that there is “significant data” in several preclinical animal models of disease demonstrating ST-36 to be both efficacious and well tolerated.

Sapience believes ST-36 has the potential to treat additional tumor types, and should results in the clinic prove positive, the company said: “We intend to pursue additional oncology indications for which there is already in vivo and/or in vitro data suggesting activity, including, but not limited to neuroblastoma, leukemia, lymphoma and pancreatic cancer, amongst others.”

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