Armed with $48M bankroll, Aileron sets sights on p53 tumor target

Aileron Therapeutics has gone back to the well of investor cash and drawn up another $18 million in fresh support for its soon-to-launch, early-stage study of a p53 targeting cancer therapy.

The biotech announced last fall that it had gained $30 million in commitments for its Series E, with $15 million of that in the bank. Over the following 6 to 9 months, says CEO Joe Yanchik, "new investor interest started to build." And Korea's AJU IB Investment group stepped in, along with some other private investors who are keeping their involvement mum for now. The total Series E now amounts to $48 million.

The Cambridge, MA-based Aileron, a 2009 Fierce 15 company, has already drawn in a big group of corporate venture arms belonging to Roche ($RHHBY), GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Eli Lilly ($LLY) and Novartis ($NVS). Apple Tree Partners and Excel Venture Management are also backers.

Their money will be earmarked for clinical work on ALRN-6924, designed to reactivate p53, a tumor suppressor protein that plays a big role with a range of liquid and solid tumors. Yanchik says that ALRN-6924 will be the first drug--using its stapled peptide technology--that can target both the MDM2 and the MDMX suppressor proteins, which should help it succeed where many predecessor p53 programs have failed in the clinic.

"We're in the final changes of initiating that (maiden) trial," says Yanchik. "We will be announcing something shortly on that." 

Like a lot of startups in the cancer field, Yanchik isn't thinking about a classically structured Phase I, II, III approach to development. Lines between trial stages are blurring fast, especially in oncology, and Aileron now is more interested in using an adaptive trial model that can "answer the questions we're trying to ask here."

To get those answers Aileron has also recruited a pair of biotech professionals to help with the development effort. Dr. Manuel Aivado, has joined the company as chief medical officer and Donna Jarlenski was recruited as vice president of clinical operations and project management.

As of now, Aileron has a staff of 20, which is set to grow to about 30 next year.

Special Report: 2009 Fierce 15 - Aileron Therapeutics

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