Arno banks $30.7M with billionaire backing and promising cancer drug

New Jersey's Arno Therapeutics has nailed down a $30.7 million private placement, cash that'll help the biotech get its treatment for hormone-dependent cancers through Phase I and on the path to FDA approval.

Arno will put the majority of its proceeds toward onapristone, an oral hormone blocker that fights tumors tied to breast, endometrial and prostate cancers. And while the drug is yet to enter the clinic, its promise was enough to convince three billionaires to pitch in: Arno's latest raise unites George Soros, TPG co-founder David Bonderman and Opko Health ($OPK) CEO Phillip Frost with its previous investors.

Now, with fresh money in hand, Arno plans to kick off a Phase I study in the coming weeks to test onapristone on progesterone receptor-positive breast cancer, followed by a second Phase I involving men with androgen-independent prostate cancer, CEO Glenn Mattes told FierceBiotech. Finally, Arno expects to launch a Phase II trial testing onapristone's ability to treat endometrial cancer--affecting the uterine lining--and, if all goes according to plan, that'll serve as a registration study fueling an FDA approval in 2017, Mattes said.

But the interest from big-name investors hardly came overnight, Mattes said. Arno raised $14.9 million late last year through a sale of convertible debentures and, realizing it would need another cash infusion to push its programs forward, the company sat down with its investors over the summer to gauge their interest. Their enthusiasm helped Arno make its case to new benefactors, thus ballooning a hoped-for $20 million raise into an over-subscribed $30.7 million, Mattes said.

"The feedback from that meeting was so positive that we realized we had the genesis of a round that would not require involving any outside help with just existing investors," he said. "That helped us build up momentum to bring in some outstanding, blue-chip new money."

Arno is hoping it can snag an FDA orphan drug designation for onapristone's endometrial cancer application, something that could hit the gas on the drug's eventual approval once Phase II data comes around in 2016. And, while the company is keeping its ears open to potential partners and acquirers, Mattes said Arno's success is hardly contingent on any third party.

"It's really important to focus on the endpoint," Mattes said. "We have to operate as though we're going to take it to the finish line by ourselves. We'll be opportunistic; we'll listen to offers if they come, but the focus is on developing onapristone to conclusion."

- read the announcement

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