By Kim Coghill
Most of the $36.5 million raised in a private financing by Therion Biologics Corp. will be used to advance the company¿s prostate cancer vaccine to Phase III studies.
Located in Cambridge, Mass., Therion is a 10-year-old company focused on therapeutic and preventive vaccines for diseases such as cancer and AIDS.
In its Series B financing back in 1999, the company raised $10.5 million.
Dennis Panicali, president and CEO, called the success of this most recent round a validation of Therion¿s science. ¿We¿ve made a lot more progress on the clinical front,¿ Panicali told BioWorld Today. ¿I think the difference is we have moved beyond the proof-of-concept phase and a lot of the skepticism surrounding cancer vaccines has waned over the last year or two, as well as there are more companies involved in cancer vaccines. People are generally more accepting of this approach to treatment.¿
The vaccine is called ProstVac-VF and it targets prostate-specific antigen, a protein produced by prostate tumor cells. It consists of two components, one designed to generate an initial immune response while the other works as a booster to enhance and sustain that therapeutic response.
ProstVac-VF currently is the subject of four Phase II clinical trials focused on safety and efficacy. Panicali expects to enter Phase III trials in early 2003. ¿That¿s a fairly conservative projection,¿ he said. ¿We¿ve been in the clinic with a first-generation vaccine for several years and now we really have an improved version that we will take into the clinic.¿
Panicali said through previous trials, Therion has learned how to elicit more potent immune responses against cancer. ¿And we¿ve incorporated components of what we¿ve learned over five years to increase the potency of the second-generation vaccine. We¿ve made the decision strategically, if we are going to go forward with Phase III clinical trials and we have the second generation available, we should use it even though it is slowing down our Phase III program by about 12 months.¿
Compared to conventional chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Therion¿s vaccines are safe, well tolerated and nontoxic, Panicali said. ¿Our particular vaccines are applicable for a broad patient population, so they are not patient specific. We can use them for any patient with colorectal or prostate cancer.¿
He also said one goal of the company is help cancer patients enjoy a better quality of life. ¿A lot of drugs can extend life, but the quality is poor,¿ he said. ¿It would be an advancement if we could improve the quality.¿
Therion also is conducting trials of vaccines for melanoma and colorectal cancer.
Panicali said the company has enough cash for two and a half to three years.
The financing was led by Hans-Werner Hector, one of the founders of the German software company SAP. Hector also was named to Therion¿s board.
Other participants in the round were Sofinov, of Montreal; S.R. One Limited, of New York; H&Q Healthcare Investors, of Boston; H&Q Life Sciences Investors, of Boston; Loeb Investors, of New York; and other prior investors.
Legg Mason Wood Walker Inc., of Baltimore, was the placement agent.
In other business, Therion is collaborating with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, of New York, to develop AIDS vaccines for developing countries.