Mirna rallies major players for $42M round, hits the gas in immuno-oncology

Mirna Therapeutics hauled in a $41.8 million D round to get its RNA treatment into Phase II trials, assembling a big-name syndicate to back its ambitions in immuno-oncology.

Baxter Ventures ($BAX) led the Austin biotech's latest round, joined by new backers including Celgene ($CELG) and Morningside, and a group of repeat investors featuring New Enterprise Associates, Pfizer ($PFE), Sofinnova Ventures and others.

Mirna has earmarked its latest cash for MRX34, a micro-RNA treatment designed to mimic a naturally occurring tumor suppressant that helps the immune system better attack cancerous growth. The treatment is currently in an open-label Phase I trial, charting a dose-dependent effect on key oncogenes in interim results presented at this month's American Association for Cancer Research meeting.

Now the biotech is planning to roll MRX34 into a Phase Ib study with eyes on kicking off Phase II next year. Mirna plans to nail down an ideal indication for the treatment once it has final results from the Phase I study, which is examining the drug's effect on hepatocellular carcinoma, other solid tumors and hematological malignancies. The latest fundraise will also allow Mirna to get a second, undisclosed microRNA treatment into the clinic and mount a combination therapy program, the company said.

The microRNA field has long been fraught with setbacks and safety concerns, but investors have warmed up to the prospect in recent years. And Mirna, billing itself as a leader in the space, believes the future is bright for microRNA therapies.

"This successful financing further demonstrates the enthusiasm of the investment community for the Mirna opportunity and is an important validation of the therapeutic potential of our differentiated microRNA replacement therapy approach," CEO Paul Lammers said in a statement.

Mirna's round comes nearly three years after Mirna banked $34.5 million in Series C funds, cash that helped the biotech get its top prospect into the clinic in 2013.

- read the announcement (PDF)