Google Gets in on Bay Area Gritstone Oncology's $92.7 Million Series B Boost

Google Gets in on Bay Area Gritstone Oncology's $92.7 Million Series B Boost September 7, 2017
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

EMERYVILLE, Calif. – Two years after snagging $102 million in Series A funding, Gritstone Oncology has scored another $92.7 million in funding, backed by tech giant Google and pharma giant Eli Lilly .

The additional funding will be used to advance Gritstone’s tumor antigen identification platform and pipeline of personalized cancer immunotherapies. Its lead product targets tumor-specific neoantigens and is expected to enter the clinic by the middle of 2018. Gritstone said its lead product will initially be studied as a treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and gastric cancer.

Gritstone launched in 2015. It was co-founded by Andrew Allen, who was one of the founders of Colorado-based Clovis Oncology . Cancer tumors undergo mutations and create molecules that prevent the immune system from recognizing the danger and attacking the corruption. Those constantly mutating cancer cells create neoantigens. It’s the goal of Gritstone to destroy those mutations with its immunotherapy product.

Gritstone’s therapeutic approach sequences the DNA of cancer patients in order to identify specific mutations. Then, the company chooses the makers that will act as the best neo-antigens that will be synthesized in a lab for use as an immunotherapy. The personalized neoantigen immunotherapy is administered in combination with immune checkpoint inhibitors to improve immune responses, tumor response rates and patient survival.

Anthony Philippakis, venture partner at GV (formerly Google Ventures), called the Gritstone methodology revolutionary in scope and ambition.

“The company has made meaningful progress applying sophisticated deep learning technologies to create cancer therapeutics that are personalized for each patient. We’re looking forward to working with Gritstone’s experienced team as they continue to make significant steps towards developing a new class of cancer immunotherapies,” Philippakis said in a statement.

Not only will the $92 million be used to push its products into clinical trials, the company will also use the funds to support the ongoing construction and completion of Gritstone’s 43,000 square foot industrialized manufacturing facility in Pleasanton, Calif. The company said its facility is being built in compliance with current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) standards and will form the nucleus of Gritstone’s manufacturing program for personalized cancer therapeutics.

In addition to GV, the Series B financing round was also supported by Lilly Asia Ventures, Trinitas Capital (Beijing) and Alexandria Venture Investments. The round was also supported by original investors Versant Ventures, The Column Group, Clarus Funds and Frazier Healthcare Partners, the company said.

Allen, who serves as president and chief executive officer of Gritstone, said the company is excited about expanding its investor base in the latest financing round.

“Since the formation of the company two years ago, Gritstone has made significant progress leveraging extensive human tumor molecular analysis and machine learning to develop and optimize the proprietary Gritstone EDGE tumor antigen identification platform. We have matched our breakthrough accuracy in tumor neoantigen identification with an antigen delivery system that builds on human immunity insights from infectious disease experts, culminating in an extremely potent neoantigen delivery platform expected to drive best-in-class cytotoxic T cell responses,” Allen said.

Not only has Gritstone been successful in securing funding, the company has also pulled some known talent. In May, Gritstone tapped Raphaël F. Rousseau, who created and lead Genentech’s pediatric drug development group, as the company’s new chief medical officer. Rousseau, who has an extensive background in oncology and hematology R&D, spent eight years at Genentech.

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