Opna Bio Raises $38M in Series A Financing
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Opna Bio, an Epalinges, Switzerland and San Francisco, CA-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, raised $38M in Series A funding. The round was led by Longitude Capital and Northpond Ventures, with participation from Menlo Ventures.
The proceeds will be used to develop novel fragile-X mental retardation protein (FMRP) inhibitors in oncology as well as a diverse portfolio of clinical and preclinical oncology programs acquired from Plexxikon Inc.
Opna was co-founded by Gideon Bollag, PhD, who was appointed chief executive officer; Douglas Hanahan, PhD, distinguished scholar in the Lausanne Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and emeritus professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL); and Joseph Schlessinger, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Yale University School of Medicine.
“We are thrilled to be a lead investor in Opna and to support this top-tier team of drug discovery and development experts who bring a strong track record of paradigm-changing cancer drug innovation and value creation,” said Patrick Enright, managing director of Longitude Capital.
“I’m very excited about our rich drug candidate portfolio, which is focused on targeting immune suppression and other hallmarks of cancer,” said Dr. Bollag. “As a new company, Opna offers that rare combination of a compelling novel drug target as well as a diverse pipeline of preclinical and clinical programs, some of which have shown combinatorial activity in our FMRP models.”
Novel FMRP Oncology Discovery Program Suggests Potential for Both Single Agent Use and Combination Therapy
Opna’s launch coincides with a Science* publication from the Hanahan Laboratory EPFL about FMRP’s emerging role as an immuno-oncology target. In the paper, “Aberrant hyperexpression of the RNA binding protein FMRP in tumors mediates immune evasion,” Dr. Hanahan showed for the first time that knocking out or knocking down the FMRP gene in cancer cells enables the body to launch an immune response against tumors that are otherwise resistant to immune attack. Opna has an exclusive license for technology associated with FMRP from EPFL.
Previous research has shown that FMRP expression is elevated in certain cancers, including pancreatic, colon, breast, prostate and lung cancer. Importantly, some of these cancers are largely resistant to immune checkpoint therapy, potentially because of suppression of proinflammatory signals associated with elevated FMRP. Data from the Hanahan Laboratory demonstrate that upregulated expression of FMRP in cancer cells suppresses the recruitment and capability of T cells to attack and kill tumors. Consequently, blocking FMRP expression resulted in T cell activation leading to anti-tumor immunity. The data also showed additional anti-tumor benefit when FMRP depletion was combined with immune checkpoint inhibitors.
Acquisition of Plexxikon’s Oncology Assets Rounds Out Diversified Portfolio with Strong IP
As part of Opna’s formation, the company acquired a portfolio of small molecule oncology therapeutics from Plexxikon Inc.
Source: Press Release