VentiRx banks $50M as it ramps up immuno-oncology research efforts in Seattle

Rob Hershberg

Back at the beginning of this month, Seattle-based VentiRx spread the news that it had raised a venture round for its newly fast-tracked TLR8 cancer vaccine research, but didn't disclose just how much it had in hand. A new filing at the SEC, though, puts the venture figure at $50.6 million, with another $2.4 million or so left to add in the planned raise.

This is a busy fall for VentiRx, a 2010 Fierce 15 company. The biotech has gained fresh funding from some A-list backers including Frazier, Arch, Domain, MedImmune and the prolific Celgene ($CELG) while working on its mid-stage program for VTX-2337. It's partnering with Ludwig Cancer Research and the Cancer Research Institute on a new immuno-oncology combo development effort with AstraZeneca's ($AZN) hot checkpoint inhibitor MEDI-4736. And CEO Rob Hershberg, an authority in immuno-oncology, is splitting his time with Celgene, setting up a new IO center in Seattle that will explore a full range of new therapies, including CAR-T drugs.

Already home to Juno, one of the leaders in CAR-T, Seattle's rich network of cancer researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and elsewhere has made the region one of the central crossroads for new development efforts in the field. Amgen's ($AMGN) recent announcement that it is pulling out of a large R&D complex in Seattle in favor of Boston and San Francisco has been offset by its quick strides in the cancer field.

"We are narrowing a few options for a site in the downtown area," noted a spokesman for Celgene recently in an email to FierceBiotech. "Proximity to UW and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center will be a definite plus. Rob (Hershberg) mentioned that he will look to start staffing immediately and that it would be a small number of researchers in the near term."

VentiRx's plans for combination studies follow a series of stinging setbacks in the clinic for cancer vaccines, which may be safe but repeatedly proved to be too weak to make a major difference for patients. Merck KGaA recently dropped its once-ambitious plans for tecemotide (Stimuvax) after reaching the conclusion that its Phase III studies didn't have a shot at success. And GlaxoSmithKline's ($GSK) MAGE A-3 has been a bust in late-stage studies. But Hershberg and others believe that combining vaccines with other agents, including the promising checkpoint inhibitors, could offer the best path forward.

With this latest round VentiRx wouild appear to be well positioned to fund the next step in their business plan.

- here's the SEC filing

Special Report: 2010 Fierce 15 - VentiRx Pharmaceuticals

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