Ribon Therapeutics

Ribon Therapeutics is looking to find new treatments for cancer. (Ribon Therapeutics)

Ribon Therapeutics

Ribon is investigating the connection between stress and disease

CEO: Victoria Richon, Ph.D.

Founded: 2015

Based: Cambridge, Massachusetts

Clinical focus: Finding stress pathways that affect solid tumors, inflammatory diseases.

The scoop: Ribon’s work connecting stress and disease has not gone unnoticed. Some of the biggest names in pharma—AbbVie, Bristol Myers Squibb, Johnson & Johnson—have shelled out money to support the small biotech in its early days. These companies don’t throw around cash lightly.

Then there’s CEO Richon herself: a cancer researcher who got her start at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. She built Aton Pharma (later acquired by Merck) and Epizyme, then headed up oncology drug discovery and translational medicine at Sanofi before being lured away by Ribon.

The leadership team at Ribon is stacked with accomplished women, including at the board level, which has long been a tough glass ceiling for women to break.

What makes Ribon fierce:

Researchers have long known that stress can have a major impact on disease, but what could drug developers do about it? Enter Ribon Therapeutics, a Fierce 15 winner for 2021.

Led by President and CEO Victoria Richon, Ph.D., Ribon is targeting a class of enzymes that are activated when a cell gets stressed, particularly PARP7 and PARP14. Prior to Ribon’s work, Richon says no one has studied these enzymes. 

“We've made enormous progress in immunotherapy and targeted therapies, but most patients still do not have a therapy for their cancer,” Richon said. “We're really intensely pursuing these novel approaches and therapies for patients that don't have [treatment options].”

Ribbon’s lead program is the PARP7 inhibitor RBN-2397, which is currently in a phase 1 trial for solid tumors.

When PARP 7 is expressed by a tumor, the cancer cells cannot tell they are damaged so they continue to proliferate and spread the disease. RBN-2397 inhibits PARP7 and allows the immune system to recognize and kill the damaged cells.

“Your body needs a way to say a cell is damaged and stressed, and when a cell gets stressed you need to be able to have medication to fix the stress and … communicate to your immune system that that cell needs to be removed,” Richon explained.

Ribon’s PARP7 inhibitor was recently profiled at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting and in the journal Cancer Cell. Interim data from a phase 1 study found the therapy safe and well-tolerated when given alone. Anti-tumor activity and target activation were also seen according to the early data.

The biotech is now working on an expansion cohort of the trial narrowed down to patients who are most likely to respond to RBN-2397, those with squamous cell carcinoma of the lung and head, and neck cancer, according to Richon. The drug is also being examined in amplified tumors and a type of breast cancer.

Ribon is also starting some combination trials, which will pair RBN-2397 with checkpoint inhibitors including Merck & Co.’s well-known blockbuster cancer med Keytruda.

Also in pre-clinical development is a PARP14 inhibitor called RBN-3143 for inflammatory diseases. PARP14 is known to be expressed in those conditions including atopic dermatitis.

Ribon’s science has caught the eye of some big names. The investment arms of Johnson & Johnson, Bristol Myers Squibb, Novartis and Takeda are a few that have chipped in on Ribon’s fundraising rounds. Richon was mum on any potential for the investments to turn into something bigger but did say the biotech is “continuing to build those relationships.”

She also would not say whether an IPO was in the offing after wrapping a $65 million financing in July.

“We will always explore all opportunities for financing for the company and we'll make the decision as to how to move forward based on our ability to bring our agents forward and to the most patients possible,” Richon said.

The Ribon team of 35 people is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts—one of the major U.S. biotech corridors. Richon said the COVID-19 pandemic has required a massive shift in terms of flexibility, but her team has kept the company’s progress on track despite the circumstances.

Richon said she was lucky to have great mentors along the way in her career. In her executive role, she does what she can to empower other women in the earlier part of their careers. She is involved in the American Association of Cancer Research, previously serving as chair of the Women in Cancer Research Council. One key initiative was ensuring women were getting noticed for their achievements.

Investors: Deerfield Management, U.S. Venture Partners, Avego BioScience Capital, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Monashee Investment Management, Peregrine Ventures, AbbVie Ventures, Bristol Myers Squibb, Euclidean Capital, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., Novartis Venture Fund, Osage University Partners, Takeda Ventures and The Column Group.

Ribon Therapeutics