Massachusetts Startup Neon Therapeutics Rakes in $70 Million for Personalized Cancer Vaccines

Published: Jan 05, 2017

Massachusetts Startup Neon Therapeutics Rakes in $70 Million for Personalized Cancer Vaccines January 5, 2017
By Mark Terry, Breaking News Staff

Cambridge, Mass.-based Neon Therapeutics announced today that it had completed a $70 million Series B financing. It was led by Partner Fund Management and joined by existing investors Third Rock Ventures and Access Industries. Additional new investors included Fidelity Management & Research Company, Wellington Management Company, Inbio Ventures and Nextech Invest.

The company plans to use the funds to advance its lead program, NEO-PV-01, a fully personalized neoantigen vaccine, through its currently ongoing Phase Ib clinical trial. It will also be used in support of preclinical development of NEO-PTC-01, a personalized adoptive T cell program, and the Shared Neoantigen Program.

“The investor quality in this financing reflects the promise of the neoantigen biology platform, as well as our leading position,” said Hugh O’Dowd, the company’s chief executive officer, in a statement. “This capital is a testament to our strong team and our approach to neoantigen-based therapeutics, and will provide important resources to bring potentially life-changing medicines to cancer patients in need.”

Neon is working in the area of cancer vaccines. It was founded in late 2015. Cancer vaccines haven’t made it to the market yet, but neoantigens have given venture capitalists and some scientists hope for a new angle on the problem.

“This is the first bespoke (made to suit) vaccine,” O’Dowd told Endpoints News. “When I was looking at a variety of opportunities earlier, I frankly looked down on the vaccine opportunities of the past. I don’t think anyone could spell neoantigens five years ago. And we’re learning every day.”

Cancer antigens—molecules found on the surface of cancer cells that can be identified by the immune system—are a notoriously difficult problem. O’Dowd said to Endpoints, “One of the most recent patients with non-small cell lung cancer had 2,400 unique mutations in their tumor. If you take a number of lung cancer patients, there’s no similarities in mutations from patient to patient. We call them non-small cell lung cancer, but mutations are driving their disease.”

Which makes the problem of a vaccine even more complicated. How do you create a vaccine for a type of cancer if the antigens are unique to each patient, not the cancer type? The answer, so far, has been you don’t. Or you personalize the process for each individual patient, which becomes very labor-intensive and expensive.

Neoantigens are a possible solution. They are biomarkers that are consistent across cancer types, but totally absent on healthy cells, at least within each patient.

Neon is developing the vaccine based on research from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Broad Institute. Currently part of a Phase Ib clinical trial, it is focused on patients with melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and bladder cancer.

O’Dowd told the Boston Business Journal, “Right now we’re setting the pace and we believe we have the potential to be first in class in this space. In many ways, (the financing) is a validation of not only the science but our leadership in the space.”

The company’s NEO-PV-01 vaccine is being evaluated in combination with Bristol-Myers Squibb ’s Opdivo.

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