TetraLogic Pharmaceuticals Corp. raised $36 million in a Series B round of financing to move its lead oncology program closer to the clinic.
"With these drugs," President and CEO John Gill told BioWorld Today, "we'll be able to remove a fundamental block at the end of the apoptosis pathway that cancer cells use to survive."
The Malvern, Pa.-based company's research is based on decreasing excess levels of a protein called XIAP, which gets up-regulated by cancer cells, through a new class of small molecules that mimic Smac, the second mitochondria-derived activator of caspase.
The drugs are being developed to overcome high XIAP levels in tumors to essentially unblock apoptosis, activating caspases to kill the cancer cells.
TetraLogic, which has raised $44 million in private equity backing to date, plans to invest its most recent proceeds into its Inhibitor of Apoptosis Proteins (IAP) antagonist program. In addition to XIAP, other IAPs "act as sponges for soaking up" Smac, Gill said. "We're correcting an imbalance in this pathway."
At present, more than one series of compounds are approaching candidate selection, with two scheduled to enter the clinic in the second half of next year. "We're targeting something that's very fundamental for cancers," Gill said, later adding that such underlying research "is viewed as one of the most promising areas of drug discovery."
The company's venture capital backers agree. The latest funds are expected to take a pair of still undetermined lead compounds through clinical proof-of-concept studies.
One is being designed as a systemic treatment for colorectal, ovarian and hematological malignancies, though preclinical tests have demonstrated effectiveness "against a wide array" of cancers, Gill said. The other is being developed for bladder cancer via delivery with the bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine that is used for tuberculosis. It is designed to overcome resistance to bladder cancer therapies.
Both programs are expected to produce compounds suited for combinations with other targeted cancer therapies, which leads Gill to envision a synergistic reason for future partnerships "at the right time."
Other apoptosis-related drug discovery programs are at an earlier stage of development.
The company's underlying science stems from research conducted at Princeton University by George McLendon and Yigong Shi. TetraLogic, which was founded three years ago, has an exclusive license to the school's patents on the research.
These days, the company employs 17 people: two executives, as well as a chemistry and biology team. Management will be expanded with a portion of the latest funding.
The round was led by a new investor, Latterell Venture Partners in San Francisco. Other new backers are Quaker BioVentures, of Philadelphia; the Vertical Group, of Summit, N.J.; and Amgen Ventures, the investment arm of Amgen Inc. in Thousand Oaks, Calif. Returning investors are HealthCare Ventures LLC, of Princeton, N.J.; PA Early Stage Partners, of Wayne, Pa.; and Kammerer Associates LLC, of Sante Fe, N.M.