MEI Pharma gains $27.5M as it takes another stab at cancer drug development

Just a few months after MEI Pharma ($MEIP) in-licensed a lead cancer program from S*Bio in Singapore, the drug developer put together $27.5 million in private financing to fuel an effort to push the HDAC inhibitor through a key mid-stage study. A pair of venture groups--Vivo Ventures and New Leaf Venture Partners--joined RA Capital Management and Three Arch Opportunity Fund in the raise.

A day after the money arrived early this week, San Diego-based MEI reported that a pilot Phase II study of Pracinostat in combination with azacitidine in patients with advanced myelodysplastic syndrome produced signs of a positive response in patients, setting up the randomized Phase II to come. The company added that it would highlight the data at an upcoming meeting of ASH.

"We are very encouraged not only by the response rates reported to date, but also by the rapid appearance of the responses with the combination of Pracinostat and azacitidine," said CEO Daniel P. Gold. "These data are particularly compelling given that most patients in the study had treatment-related MDS and expressed high-risk cytogenetic abnormalities, both of which carry a poor prognosis."

Gold has been working to regroup at the San Diego based biotech since it stumbled into some deep trouble with the late-stage failure of an ovarian cancer--phenoxodiol--back in 2010. The drug had been in-licensed from Australia's Novogen, which had a big stake in the company, at that time called Marshall Edwards. Soon after, the biotech changed its name to MEI Pharma.

Gold has evidently won some converts to the cause with its recent deal.

"We believe that Pracinostat has the potential to become a best-in-class compound and that MEI Pharma's management team is equipped with the drug development expertise to secure marketing approval and realize its significant market potential," said Albert Cha, a managing partner at Vivo Ventures.

- here's the press release on the financing
- here's the release on the Pracinostat abstract