Cyteir Therapeutics Nabs $29 Million and a New CEO

Cyteir Therapeutics CEO

Cambridge, Mass.-based Cyteir Therapeutics snagged $29 million and a new chief executive officer as the company pushes forward to develop small-molecule inhibitors in the fight against cancer.

The infusion of cash will be used to support Cyteir’s lead program, which is focused on inhibitors of the protein RAD51. The proceeds will be used to accelerate preclinical development of synthetic lethality therapeutics for autoimmune diseases. Cyteir has its eyes set on taking its asset into clinical trials sometime next year.

Cyteir is focused on fighting cancer using synthetic lethality. As the company describes it, “synthetic lethality is based on the premise that diseased cells, such as those in many cancers or autoimmune disorders, have much greater levels of DNA damage than healthy cells, and therefore more acutely rely on DNA repair for their survival and growth.” By reducing the ability of diseased cells to self-repair, those cells can become overwhelmed by their own DNA damage and undergo cell death, which Cyteir said results in synthetic lethality.

Cyteir noted that its synthetic lethality approach is in contrast to other approved therapies that use a similar tactic, such as PARP inhibitors that target cancers with DNA mutations. In its announcement, Cyteir said it is the only company to date that is pursuing a "gain-of-function" approach to synthetic lethality. Cyteir is targeting diseases with a gain-of-function in the protein AID. The advantages of this gain-of-function approach include potentially broader applicability, reduced side effects, and simpler, sensitive companion diagnostics for patient selection, the company said.

In order for RAD51 to repair AID-induced DNA damage, Cyteir said it must be moved from the cytoplasm of the cell into the nucleus. Once there, RAD51 repairs the DNA damage caused by AID and thereby protects diseased cells and tissues from death. The company said its preclinical work has shown that inhibiting this RAD51 transport cycle in AID-positive cancer cells is effective in cancer cell death. So far there are also minimal side effects, the company added.

The $29 million Series B was led by Venrock and supported by Celgene. Other investors in the financing round included Lightstone Ventures and DROIA Oncology Ventures.

But not only did Cyteir receive the financial backing of Celgene, the company also selected a former Celgene executive as its new CEO. Cyteir tapped Markus Renschler, Celgene’s former head of Hematology and Oncology Medical Affairs as its new president and CEO. While at Celgene Renschler was responsible for strategy surrounding the launch of some of Celgene’s blockbuster therapies, including Revlimid, Pomalyst/Imnovid and Abraxane. Not only was Renschler responsible for the launch of Abraxane, he also led the clinical development of Abraxane for worldwide registration in pancreatic cancer and lung cancer.

Renschler said the Series B participation by multiple financing partners reflects the “growing excitement” around the company’s approach to synthetic lethality. He added that the financial support also recognizes the company’s “leadership in the biology of DNA repair.”

“We are applying synthetic lethality in a new way to treat a wider range of cancers and, for the first time, autoimmune diseases. With this financing in hand, we will quickly advance into the clinic with our lead candidate and hope to demonstrate meaningful benefit for patients with high unmet medical needs,” Renschler said in a statement.

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