Johnson & Johnson Innovation has led a $25 million Series A in targeted cancer radiotherapeutic startup Fusion Pharmaceuticals. The funding will support a phase 1a of Fusion’s antibody-targeted radiotherapy, beyond which the Canadian biotech plans to run a proof-of-concept trial in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).
The therapeutic concept being tested emerged from research at the Centre for Probe Development and Commercialization (CPDC), a Canadian organization that works with industry and academia on molecular imaging probes. CPDC’s idea, as manifested in lead candidate FPX-01, is to combine the hyperlocalized cancer-destroying power of alpha-particle emitting radiotherapeutics with molecules that deliver these payloads to tumors.
“Targeted delivery of medical isotopes that emit alpha particles can be used to kill tumor cells with remarkable precision and unprecedented potency, and it has the added potential of having complementary effects with treatments which activate the immune system,” John Valliant, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Fusion said in a statement. “Fusion is focused on combining our expertise in radiopharmaceutical development and production with the appropriate targeting molecules to create a new generation of therapeutics that can address the need for better cancer treatments.”
Vaillant, who founded CPDC in 2008, saw enough potential in the approach to spin it out to form Fusion. And he has persuaded some notable names he might be onto something.
The Series A was supported by HealthCap, a European VC shop that funded cancer radiotherapy player Algeta on route to its $2.9 billion buyout from Bayer before helping its founder get Nordic Nanovector started in 2009. Nanovector’s lead candidate is an antibody-radionuclide-conjugate. And Algeta was working on using monoclonal antibodies to deliver alpha-particle emitting radionuclide thorium-227 at the time of its takeover by Bayer.
TPG Biotech, Genesys Capital and FACIT also joined J&J and HealthCap in the round.
J&J’s role extends beyond just contributing cash. The Big Pharma’s VC wing has also fostered a deal with its Janssen Biotech unit to give Fusion access to a centyrin-based targeting molecule and a related platform. Fusion thinks Janssen’s centyrin-based protein targeting agents could deliver isotopes to multiple types of cancer, giving it the scope to expand its pipeline.
The near-term focus is on FPX-01, an antibody-targeted actinium-225 radiotherapy designed to seek out “a specific biomarker of resistance that is present on nearly all types of treatment refractory cancers.” Fusion is staying tight-lipped about exactly which biomarker FPX-01 goes after until later this year.
By then, Fusion should be nearing the start of a phase 1a. The goal is to start the test of the safety, tolerability, target engagement and pharmacokinetics of FPX-01 approximately one year from now. That trial will enroll up to 18 patients with a mix of solid tumors. Data are due in 2019, beyond which Fusion envisages running a phase 2 study in NSCLC. Fusion has also talked up the potential for FPX-01 to treat colorectal cancer.
The Series A cash will take Fusion up to the delivery of phase 1a data. Over that period, Fusion will also work to get a second program ready for an IND filing and grow its head count to 20. This internal team will be supported by the 80-strong operation at CPDC through a strategic partnership.