Ideaya Biosciences

Fierce 15

Bringing small molecules to the fore in immuno-oncology

CEO: Yujiro Hata
Based: South San Francisco, CA
Founded: 2015
Clinical focus: Immuno-oncology

The scoop: Ideaya aims to be among the first to bring small molecules to the fore in an increasingly combination-focused immuno-oncology field, as well as synthetic lethality agents targeting cancer mutations that go beyond BRCA. It’s also focused on the induction of DNA damage to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies.

“We’ve spoken to our investors and potential pharma partners; they are very interested in the intersection between DNA damage and immunotherapy,” Ideaya co-founder and CEO Yujiro Hata told FierceBiotech.

Ideaya had a trio of strategic investors in its $46 million Series A that dates back to May: Celgene, Novartis and WuXi. Celgene CSO Robert Hershberg has a board observer seat at the startup and offers input to it, Hata said.

What makes Ideaya Fierce: Although not yet in the clinic, Ideaya is already in “soft” talks with potential partners. Hata expects that in about a year the conversations are likely to take a more serious turn. Currently, the company is moving toward candidate selection with a half-dozen diversified programs across immunotherapy and synthetic lethality.

Hata noted that research is starting to accumulate that cites DNA damage as a predictor of immunotherapy response, adding that the observation that smokers with increased DNA damage have at times responded better to PD-1 inhibitors helps support the notion of DNA damage as a potential precursor to enhanced efficacy due to increased immunogenecity.

He expects Ideaya to figure prominently in the next immuno-oncology wave. “If you look at immunotherapy, the predominance of work has been done in large molecule checkpoints--70% to 80%,” said Hata. “And then there’s the cell-based therapy space, like Kite and Juno. But there’s a gap in small molecules; it’s an area that pharma is starting to focus on. … This is the tip of the iceberg; we hope to be one of the key players in that area.”

Ideaya looks to be on track, so far, to follow in the footsteps of Hata’s last company, Flexus Biosciences, which was acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) for $1.25 billion in early 2015 after less than two years. Celgene was also an investor in Flexus.

The company started out incubating at 5AM Ventures for about a year before Hata, who was an executive-in-residence at the VC firm, joined in August 2015. At that point, 5AM made a seed investment.

Ideaya expects to get two small molecule candidates into the clinic with its Series A financing, which is slated to last the company into 2019.

Ideaya isn’t disclosing its targets yet, but Hata said it’s focused on targets that are of high research interest but with known liabilities in the effort to hit them. He cited Tesaro’s recent Phase III clinical success with a PARP inhibitor in ovarian cancer patients with a germline BRCA mutation.

“Tesaro doubled on their recent clinical data, adding over a billion in valuation. In these synthetic lethality targets, the opportunity is even greater; we expand beyond BRCA,” he said.

Investors: 5AM Ventures, Canaan Partners, Celgene, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and Alexandria Real Estate

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Ideaya Biosciences