Novartis-partnered Eureka rounds up $21M round for immuno-oncology drug research

Eureka CEO Cheng Liu

Eight months after partnering with Novartis ($NVS), Emeryville, CA-based Eureka Therapeutics has landed a $21 million round led by a Chinese private equity firm. Beijing-based Yuan Capital led the round, with Majuven and all the current major investors, including Acorn Campus Ventures, Suma Venture and Harbinger Venture Capital, joining in.

The San Francisco Bay Area biotech has been developing new antibody cancer therapies that are engineered to mimic the functions of a T cell receptor, putting it in with a group of companies out to incite a revolution in immuno-oncology. CAR-T and TCR research has emerged as a high-profile field in cancer R&D, and Eureka has close ties to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, one of the leaders in this field.

The company also has close ties with Chinese investors as well as Novartis. Its CEO, Cheng Liu, was a principal scientist in antibody drug discovery at Chiron, which was bought out by Novartis. Eureka, though, has been largely flying under the radar until now.

The biotech started out this year with a licensing deal from Novartis. The pharma giant picked up the development and commercialization rights to ESK1, a preclinical antibody in development for leukemia and a whole range of cancers. The drug--which was being developed in collaboration with scientists at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center--targets WT1, a protein found inside cancer cells.

According to the biotech, ESK1 was engineered to mimic a T cell receptor, whacking cancer cells when the protein travels to the surface of the cell and offering to tackle a target that had once been considered "undruggable."

None of the exact terms of the deal were disclosed, though upfronts at a preclinical level are typically relatively small. Eureka's new C round should pay for the next big lap in R&D.

"This new funding will allow us to expand and advance our drug pipeline, as well as explore the synergistic effects of our drug candidates with other immunotherapies and immune modulators," said Liu in a statement. "This moves us closer to our goal of providing cancer patients with safer and more effective treatments through novel immunotherapies."

- here's the release