Ex-Pharmacyclics CEO Banks $33.5 Million for Startup Corvus Pharma

Published: Jul 07, 2015

Ex-Pharmacyclics CEO Banks $33.5 Million for Startup Corvus Pharma
July 6, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

Analysts and investors have high hopes for Corvus Pharmaceuticals, which raised $33.5 million in a Series A round in December led by OrbiMed Advisors.

Corvus was started in 2014 by Richard Miller, former chief executive officer of Pharmacyclics, Inc. , which sold to AbbVie for $21 billion. Miller began a treatment program for Imbruvica, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for blood cancer in 2013. Analysts hope Miller can do it again with Corvus.

In 1984 Miller co-founded IDEC, which integrated an existing company, Biotherapy Systems, that had been founded by some of his co-founders. In 1997 the company launched rituximab, the first monoclonal antibody approved by the FDA for cancer treatment. It is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. In 2003 IDEC merged with Biogen, Inc..

Miller left IDEC in 1991 and co-founded Pharmacyclics.

Corvus works in the area of immuno-oncology, which essentially works to create molecules and monoclonal antibodies that program the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells. Corvus has a checkpoint inhibitor A in Phase Ib clinical trials, and a checkpoint Inhibitor B and T cell reprogramming drug in preclinical studies.

Other companies working in this area include Juno Therapeutics , CytomX Therapeutics, Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb Company and Merck & Co. .

Bristol-MyersSquibb’s Opdivo and Merck’s Keytruda are both checkpoint inhibitors, blocking PD-1. Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Yervoy is also a checkpoint inhibitor, blocking protein CTLA-4. However, those drugs are taken intravenously, and Corvus’s experimental therapeutic would be taken orally.

Merck’s Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is a treatment for advanced or unresectable melanoma that doesn’t respond to other drugs. The FDA provided accelerated approval because preliminary clinical studies showed significant improvement over other available treatments. The drug costs about $12,500 per patient per month, oro about $150,000 annually.

Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Opdivo was approved for use in the U.S. in December 2014 and received approval in Europe in June 2015. It’s approval by the European Union makes it available in all 28 member countries. In the first quarter of 2015 Opdivo hit sales of $40 million.

Another aspects of onco-immunology that has been receiving attention is CAR-T therapy, which involves removing particular white cells from the body, T cells, attaching a fragment of an antibody that recognizes and targets specific cancer cells, and reinfuse them back into the patient. In April Novartis reported disappointing data in a Phase I study. Juno Therapeutics, Kite Pharma, Inc. and ZIOPHARM Oncology, Inc. are working in this area.

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