Tokai lands $35M venture round for triple-threat prostate cancer drug

Just a few weeks after bidding farewell to its longtime CEO, Cambridge, MA-based Tokai Pharmaceuticals has rounded up $35.5 million in Series E cash to push into an expanded mid-stage study of its triple-threat treatment for prostate cancer.

Apple Tree Partners and Novartis Venture Funds both came back for the funding, along with some unnamed angel investors. They're bankrolling a swelling mid-stage study for galeterone (TOK-001), which is being studied as a new treatment for castration-resistant prostate cancer, a fast-changing field. The aim here is to push galeterone on to a pivotal Phase III which could be used for possible approval.

A number of new prostate cancer drugs have come along in recent years. Johnson & Johnson's ($JNJ) Zytiga has been carving out a major place for itself while Medivation's ($MDVN) Xtandi follows up with its own fast-growing sales record. The big idea at Tokai is to hit CRPC from three angles, including two mechanisms covered by Zytiga and Xtandi. Prostate cancer cells are fueled by androgen, a hormone produced in the testes. CRPC cells become resistant to some traditional therapies by finding alternative means of spurring the development of androgen. Tokai's program is aimed at shutting down the three mechanisms involved in CRPC cases: preventing the body from synthesizing new androgen by inhibiting the CYP17 enzyme, blocking the androgen receptor and then degrading the receptor itself.  

"Based on its highly differentiated clinical profile, unique triple mechanism of action and the ARMOR2 clinical results to date, we believe that galeterone may be a promising new treatment option for all stages of CRPC," commented Reinhard J. Ambros, Ph.D., global head of Novartis Venture Funds.

Just a few weeks ago CEO Martin Williams left the company in search of "other opportunities." That turned out to be the top post at Yuma Pharmaceuticals, which is following the tau pathway in search of a new drug to fight Alzheimer's and other neuroscience diseases. Tokai's board followed up by appointing COO Jodie Morrison to the position. 

- here's the press release