Moving at the pace of a busy bartender, CombinatoRx Inc. raised $40.3 million in its Series C round of financing and is poised to enter the clinic less than three years after officially opening its doors in March 2000.
Joanna Horobin, executive vice president and chief operating officer at CombinatoRx, said there were certain elements of the company that allowed for the round of notable size.
"One of the first keys is that we are doing something that is really novel and different," she told BioWorld Today. "The second thing is the speed with which the company has done what it set out to do two years ago."
Two years ago, Horobin said, CombinatoRx's platform was "an idea." Now, the company has an open investigational new drug application in the U.S. for an oncology product and has raised nearly $58 million to date - $2.5 million in an initial seed round, $15.1 million in its Series B, plus the $40.3 million just closed.
Horobin said that, like many companies, if the initial public offering window opened up in the next two or three years, CombinatoRx would like to take advantage. But for now, CombinatoRx will use its funds prudently.
"In general, we are cautious people, in terms of how we use our resources," she told BioWorld Today. "We've [raised the money] and we want to make sure we use our resources wisely."
The company's platform is based on its Combination High Throughput Screening (cHTS) technology, which is designed to create a type of drug cocktail - new drugs with new biological activity made by the combination of other molecules. The process screens known compounds, so they have established efficacy and safety profiles and should reduce the inherent risk in drug development, Horobin said.
"The core of our technology is that we take things that wouldn't necessarily have activity in their own right in a disease, or not much, and we come up with a startling new biology," she said.
For example, the oncology product on the cusp of Phase I trials (patients are expected to be recruited before year's end) is a combination of two drugs "that would never be used in oncology and, in fact, would not even have any activity in animals in oncology by themselves," Horobin said. That's a surprise, she said, but that is what CombinatoRx does - it uncovers novel pathways.
In May, CombinatoRx signed a three-year agreement with Sosei Co. Ltd., of Tokyo, to discover combination drugs and validate indications in a range of disease areas. The collaboration is aimed at re-evaluating Japanese compounds for which development or active marketing in Japan has been suspended for reasons other than toxicity.
"Sosei is a very natural partner for us," said Daniel Grau, vice president, corporate development and strategy, adding that the agreement would give CombinatoRx an "infusion of chemical diversity" and access to drugs that have been sold only in Japan.
There could be more deals like the Sosei agreement on CombinatoRx's horizon.
"Going forward, what you'll see, ideally, is partnerships with the large U.S. pharma companies," Grau told BioWorld Today. "It's fair to say we are in advanced discussions with a number of these companies."
Forming pharmaceutical partnerships is just one of the three goals CombinatoRx has for itself in the next year, the other two being to have at least two products in the clinic and to spread its technology across other disease areas.
With the $40 million-plus to fuel it, CombinatoRx can turn to the science.
"[The financing round] means we are able to execute clinical development plans," Horobin said.
The Series C was led by Flagship Ventures, of Cambridge, Mass., and included existing investors Canaan Partners, of Rowayton, Conn.; TL Ventures, of Wayne, Pa.; Bioventures Investors, of Cambridge, Mass.; and Foundation Medical Partners, also of Rowayton. New investors were Adams Street Partners, of Chicago; Novartis BioVentures Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland; Global Life Science Ventures, of Munich, Germany; POSCO BioVentures Ltd., of Carlsbad, Calif.; Private Life Biomed AG, of Bach, Switzerland; CDIB BioScience Ventures Inc., of Taipei, Taiwan; and China Development Industrial Bank, also of Taipei.