Third Rock Ventures Leads Formation of Neon Therapeutics with $55 Million Series A Round
October 1, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Boston-based Third Rock Ventures led a funding round today in the formation of a new immune-oncology company, Neon Therapeutics. Third Rock was joined by Israel-based Clal Biotechnology Industries and New York-based Access Industries in gathering $55 million in Series A financing.
Founding members of the company include James Allion of MD Anderson Cancer Center, Ed Fritsch, Neon Therapeutics, Nir Hacohen and Eric Lander from the Broad Institute of MIT, Robert Schreiber of Washington University, Ton Schumacher of Netherlands Cancer Institute, and Catherine Wu of the Broad Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Cary Pfeffer, a Third Rock partner, is interim chief executive officer of Neon, and Robert Tepper is interim chief scientific officer.
Immune-oncology, a relatively hot new field typically focuses on two aspects of cancer treatment. Tumors produce chemicals that allow them to hide from the body’s immune system. So researchers work to block those immune system cloaking molecules. They also simultaneously attempt to better able the body’s immune cells to identify and target cancer cells.
Neon Therapeutics will focus on the nascent field of neoantigens. Neoantigens are a form of mutated protein that is observed in tumors. They aren’t found on normal, healthy cells. Neon’s lead candidate, NEO-PV-01, is a vaccine that, according to the press release, “builds upon initial clinical trials developed collaboratively by the Broad Institute and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute under the leadership of Dr. Catherine Wu, and philanthropically funded in part by the Blavatnik Family Foundation.”
The vaccine, which will be individually programmed to respond to each patient’s unique neoantigens, will be combined with a checkpoint inhibitor, which is a type of brake to the immune system created by tumors.
There are at least some concerns about the difficulty of broadly commercializing a personalized vaccine, but if effective, could be the first on the market for cancer. “If the science is right,” said Tepper to Bloomberg Business, “and you’ve got a process you believe in and it creates a barrier of entry, that’s not a bad situation.”
However, a prominent example of the difficulty of creating personalized cancer treatments is Seattle-based Dendreon Corporation , which filed for bankruptcy in 2014. It created a personalized prostate cancer treatment, Provenge (sipuleucel-T), but ran into reimbursement concerns, a $93,000 price tag per patient, and at least some accusations of business mismanagement.
Other companies studying tumor neoantigens include Kite Pharma, Inc. , Adaptive Biotechnologies, and Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. .
Neon also plans to develop personalized T-cell therapies utilizing its platforms in epitope prediction and immune monitoring.
“Recent advances in immuno-oncology place us at a point that is unprecedented in the history of cancer drug development,” said Pfeffer in a statement. “We have a completely new understanding of the immune system’s role in unlocking powerful mechanisms to induce immune attack of tumors, representing an enormous opportunity for precision therapies for cancer patients. These insights enable Neon Therapeutics to develop therapies that are complementary to current immunomodulatory therapies and may significantly enhance the specificity and potency of existing approaches.”