Backed by Some Very Big Names, Cambridge Startup Surface Oncology Reels in $35 Million

Published: Jan 09, 2015

Backed by Some Very Big Names, Cambridge Startup Surface Oncology Reels in $35 Million
January 8, 2015
By Riley McDermid, BioSpace.com Breaking News Sr. Editor

The field of immuno-oncology is heating up Thursday, after Cambridge, Mass.-startup Surface Oncology announced it had closed a $35 million Series A round funded by heavy-hitters including Atlas Venture, Fidelity Biosciences, New Enterprise Associates, Lilly Ventures, Amgen Ventures and the Novartis Institute for Biomedical Research (NIBR).

As part of the deal, Elliott Sigal, the former head of research and development at Bristol-Myers Squibb, will now join the company’s scientific advisory board (SAB). Joining the board of directors are Robert Garland, managing director and partner at NEA, Armen Shanafelt, general partner at Lilly Ventures, and Robert Weisskoff, partner at Fidelity Biosciences.

Surface said it will use the money to ramp up its clinical of first-generation immune therapies to find tumor cells that have otherwise found a way to avoid detection by the immune system. So far, it has active pre-clinical programs including therapies designed around antigen presentation, as well as ones that can counter the impact of specific inhibitory cytokines and metabolites.

“By targeting novel areas of biology at the intersection of innate and adaptive immunity, we hope to expand the arsenal of immunotherapies, with the goal of treating a greater number of patients across a wider range of tumor types than are addressed by these agents today,” said Sigal.

Surface focuses on developing cancer immunotherapies and unlike other recent marquee-name cancer therapies from Juno Therapeutics , Novartis AG , Bristol-Myers Squibb Company , Amgen , it is setting it sights on curing solid tumors within their micro-environment. This is a departure from the much-hyped field of “checkpoint inhibitors” that are all the rage these days with researchers and investors alike, though Surface has said it hopes it therapies will be able to work in tandem to cure tumors that have not responded to other types of treatment.

"Immunotherapy is one of the most significant breakthroughs for cancer treatment in the past several decades, and while current approaches are transformative for the field, they remain insufficient,” said David Grayzel, managing director, chairman and acting chief executive officer at Surface Oncology, and partner at Atlas Venture. “By targeting novel areas of biology at the intersection of innate and adaptive immunity, we hope to expand the arsenal of immunotherapies, with the goal of treating a greater number of patients across a wider range of tumor types than are addressed by these agents today.”

Surface has attracted a lot of attention since its founding because its Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) members reads like a Who’s Who is cancer immunotherapy, including co-chairs Sasha Rudensky, the chair of immunology at Memorial Sloan Kettering and director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immunotherapy, and Arlene Sharpe, from Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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