Viracta nabs $18.4M, Soon-Shiong as vice chair in Series B

The cash boost has also come with a combo licensing deal with NantKwest’s NK cell therapies

Viracta Therapeutics has closed a $18.4 million Series B round, with lead investor NantKwest also setting up a new midstage licensing deal.

As part of the financing, under fire NantKwest chairman and CEO Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., joins Viracta’s board as vice chairman, and has also penned an exclusive license of Viracta’s phase 2 drug candidate, VRx-3996, to NantKwest for use in combination with NantKwest’s platform of natural killer (NK) cell therapies.

The candidate is deisgned to target Epstein Barr Virus (EBV)-associated malignancies through the biotech’s viral gene activation therapeutic approach, and works as a class 1 histone deacetylase inhibitor. Viracta in fact only got his hands on the drug last November in a deal with Chroma Therapeutics.

The biotechs also believe that it has the power to boost both the activity and potential efficacy of immunotherapeutic agents, such as NantKwest’s NK cell therapies.

The conmpany plans to move VRx-3996 into human tests in combo with its aNK, haNK and taNK NK cell therapy platforms, which the company believes “will synergistically enhance the efficacy of the company’s NK cell therapy programs.”

Joining NantKwest as a new investor in Viracta is Wicklow Capital, with its founding investors, Latterell Venture Partners and Forward Ventures, also involved in the round.

Billionaire doctor Soon-Shiong has not had a great start to the year, however, with a series of reports from medical news site Stat alleging that he had been giving out millions of dollars for philanthropic causes, but then saw this money come back to his company.

Its shares dropped around 20% after the report, and last week reported a $184 million loss for 2016.

Last month Soon-Shiong also released a bizarre new video called ‘New Breakthrough’ (and later ‘Promise of immunotherapy’) which touted his biotech’s NK cell therapy (not yet approved) as being part of the promise of cancer immunotherapy, and where the “breakthroughs” will happen.

Cue a patient, Lisa, crying and telling the camera how brilliant she thought this drug was, with logos of the company and references to the drug in question, NK-92, and a #solvecancer hashtag.

Questions from Stat and Adam Feuerstein at The Street mounted as to whether Soon-Shiong and his company had violated FDA promotion rules, given that its candidates are not on the market, yet Lisa said in the original piece that she had been “cured” by this therapy. A few days later, the video was heavily edited to take out the drug reference, the logos and the cure line from Lisa.