Cancer Immunotherapy Startup Fortis Therapeutics Launches With $18 Million Series A

Published: Sep 27, 2016

Cancer Immunotherapy Startup Fortis Therapeutics Launches With $18 Million Series A September 27, 2016
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Fortis Therapeutics launched today with an $18 million Series A financing round. It was led by Avalon Ventures and joined by Bregua Corporation, Lilly Asia Ventures, Osage University Partners, and Vivo Capital.

Fortis was founded on technology developed by Bin Liu, a professor in the Department of Anesthesia at the University of California San Francisco. The company will focus on identifying and developing antibody drug conjugate therapies to treat late-stage metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and multiple myeloma.

Jay Lichter, managing director at Avalon Ventures and the president and chief executive officer of Fortis, indicates that the technology will target a molecule found on specific cells of interest and carry whatever drug is being utilized with the antibody-drug conjugate into the cell. He says that the cellular receptor they are focused on is functionally involved in cancer cells’ defense mechanisms. “We also have data for colorectal cancer and mesothelioma,” Lichter told the San Diego Union Tribune, “and we expect it to work on some other cancers as well.”

“Dr. Liu has identified a novel and unique target for an antibody drug conjugate therapy that could help patients with prostate cancer or multiple myeloma where other treatments have failed,” Lichter said in a statement. “We are pleased to be working with an enterprising and diverse syndicate of investors, who have shown a dedication to investing in innovative ideas for important unmet medical needs.”

Lichter indicates he hopes to start clinical trials of its lead product within 18 months. The antibody drug conjugate (ADC) won’t require new technology. “We’re not investing anything on the ADC,” Lichter told Xconomy. “We’re going with what’s well-known and well-established in terms of putting it together.”

“We have found a target that is not only over-expressed in late-stage prostate cancer but is further up-regulated under selective pressures of androgen deprivation therapy,” said Marc Nasoff, chief scientific officer of Fortis and COI Pharmaceuticals. “This target could provide a way to attack the ubiquitous problem of androgen therapy resistance in metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer.”

Fortis will be located at the offices of COI Pharmaceuticals, which was formed by Avalon to manage its early-stage companies. The companies there share equipment and management.

“If you were to start it in the Bay Area,” Lichter told the San Diego Union Tribune, “you’d have to recruit a team, find space, and probably lose six months. Now we’re off and running, we’ve hired people, we’ve got a lot of experiments going. And the researchers at UCSF are an hour away, and we talk all the time.”

At this time, Fortis has three employees, not including staffers affiliated with COI. Lichter indicates the company is planning to hire a few more people in the upcoming months.

Eric Small is also joining the company’s scientific advisory board. Small is a clinical professor of medicine and urology at UCSF, and chief of the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the UCSF Department of Medicine.

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