Boehringer's VC fund leads Series A investment in cancer vaccine startup

Boehringer Ingelheim Venture Fund has led a Series A investment intended to propel peptide-based cancer vaccine startup Amal Therapeutics toward clinical trials. The startup landed the investment on the strength of technology it thinks can address some of the historic failings of cancer vaccines.

Amal Therapeutics CEO and Founder Madiha Derouazi

Geneva, Switzerland-based Amal tapped Boehringer's fund, VI Partners and High-Tech Gründerfonds for €3 million ($3.4 million) in the Series A round, which comes a little more than two years after it turned to some of the same sources for its initial seed money. The fresh financial injection will allow Amal to build on the progress it has made since spinning out of the University of Geneva in 2012, in which time it has picked out a colorectal cancer vaccine as an initial proving ground for its approach. Amal thinks the approach can overcome the historic shortcomings of peptide-based cancer vaccines.

The belief is underpinned by the characteristics of the mix of components that make up Amal's technology. "Our KISIMA technology is based on a chimeric protein which is comprised of three functional parts," Amal CEO and Founder Madiha Derouazi told FierceBiotech. One of these, a cell penetrating peptide, is seen by Derouazi as critical to the technology's potential to outperform previous generations of cancer vaccines. "[The cell penetrating peptide] promotes efficient epitope cross-presentation to cytotoxic T cells, the main weakness of protein vaccines," Derouazi said.

The other two functional parts are a multiantigenic chimeric cargo and a toll-like receptor (TLR) peptide agonist. Amal is loading its cargo with "a large amount of various epitopes from different antigens and for different HLA restrictions," Derouazi said. The cargo approach is intended to ensure that epitopes are shown by both HLA I and HLA II. Finally, Amal has included a TLR peptide agonist to act as an adjuvant to the chimeric protein. Derouazi is tipping this approach to prove more effective than simply mixing a peptide-based vaccine with an adjuvant.

Amal is still years away from starting to generate clinical trial data to back up such claims. But, having secured the Series A round, it now has a pathway into the clinic. "The funding will allow us to finalise lead optimization of our colorectal vaccine, including early toxicity data and in vivo studies … enabling us to be ready to start clinical trials in early 2018," Derouazi said.

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