A simple name with a powerful idea: To erase cancer. (Erasca)


Erasing cancer by shutting down one of its favorite pathways 

CEO, chairman, co-founder: Jonathan Lim, M.D. 
Founded: 2018 
Based: San Diego 
Clinical focus: Attacking the RAS/MAPK pathway on multiple fronts to not just treat but cure cancer.

The scoop: Erasca’s mission—in case it wasn’t clear in the name—is to erase cancer. The company has kept the specifics under wraps for a couple of years while raising nearly $280 million in venture capital. 

Two years after launching, the company revealed a multi-pronged strategy to attack the RAS/MAPK pathway, one of the most commonly mutated pathways in cancer. It is developing treatments that target RAS itself, treatments that target proteins upstream or downstream of RAS, and treatments that target escape routes used by RAS-driven cancers to evade drugs and develop resistance. 

What makes Erasca fierce: Through internal discovery and licensing deals, Erasca has built a pipeline of 11 therapies that target various nodes in the RAS/MAPK pathway. Although others have taken aim at individual components of the pathway such as KRAS and BRAF, Erasca believes it has the industry's most comprehensive arsenal to shut down this pathway. 

CEO Jonathan Lim, M.D., co-founded Erasca in July 2018, alongside KRAS pioneer Kevan Shokat, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco. 

“I was wrapping up my time at Roche after its acquisition of Ignyta when I came across some work being done by Kevan Shokat,” said Lim, formerly the CEO of Ignyta, which Roche snapped up in 2017 for $1.7 billion. 

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In 2013, Shokat’s lab published a landmark paper showing that KRAS G12C mutations could be targeted by covalent inhibitors, laying the groundwork for drugs like Amgen’s Lumakras (sotorasib) and Mirati’s adagrasib. But G12C mutations only make up a small fraction of the broader world of RAS mutations. 

“[Shokat] continued his work to be able to figure out a way to target the other 88% of RAS mutations... When I came across that paper where he had identified a novel binding site, I thought it would be a really transformative finding that could help a lot of patients,” Lim said. 

Erasca was born. 

“We felt the best way to shut down RAS-driven tumors was to take a comprehensive approach to targeting multiple nodes of the RAS/MAPK pathway, not just with single agents, but also with combinations,” Lim said. 

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Erasca’s lead assets are a pair of in-licensed programs that target nodes upstream and downstream of RAS itself. It raised $300 million in its July IPO to push these programs through the clinic, as well as advance its earlier-stage pipeline. 

The proceeds will support multiple phase 1b/2 studies for ERAS-007, an ERK inhibitor it picked up from Asana Biosciences, in blood cancers, non-small cell lung cancer, colorectal cancer and other solid tumors. The funds will also bankroll ERAS-601, a SHP2 inhibitor licensed from NiKang Therapeutics through a phase 1 data readout. ERK is the end of the line in the RAS/MAPK pathway, while SHP2 is upstream of RAS. 

“We think various combinations of ‘601 and ‘007 with our direct RAS-targeting agents would be the best way to drive novel therapies for patients,” Lim said. 

One of those programs is ERAS-3490, a homegrown molecule slated to enter the clinic in the second half of 2022, Lim said. Another is ERAS-801, an EGFR inhibitor that can get into the central nervous system. The company plans to file an IND in the first half of 2022 to study the treatment in a brain cancer called glioblastoma multiforme that does not respond to treatments. 

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In the past 13 months, Erasca has licensed or acquired six programs, thanks to Lim’s connections to venture capital funds. He is a part-time venture partner at Arch Venture Partners and is a managing partner at City Hill Ventures. 

“I get a lot of deal flow from various venture capital funds and we also get a lot of inbound inquiries from entrepreneurs that are seeking investment,” Lim said. “That, in addition to proactive outreach from our corporate development team, has provided us with access to a lot of interesting ideas.” 

These connections are important as Erasca acknowledges it can’t discover every new drug that could work on the RAS/MAPK pathway on its own. The company has its hands full with its 11 programs, but is open to discussions with potential partners on new assets. However, there's a “very high science bar” to bring new programs in, Lim said. 

Series A and B investors: City Hill Ventures, Colt Ventures, Cormorant Asset Management, EDBI, Invus, LifeSci Venture Partners, OrbiMed, Partner Fund Management, Terra Magnum Capital Partners.