With Deep Scientific and Executive Bench and $53 Million in Series B Funds, ORIC Pharma Ready to Hit A Home Run

Published: Dec 03, 2015

With Deep Scientific and Executive Bench and $53 Million in Series B Funds, ORIC Pharma Ready to Hit A Home Run
December 2, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

South San Francisco-based ORIC Pharmaceuticals announced today that it had closed on a Series B financing round worth $53 million.

Investors included The Column Group, Topsin Partners, OrbiMed Advisors, EcoR1 Capital, Foresite Capital and Kravis Investment Partners. The Column Group was involved in the company’s founding and along with Kravis Investment Partners participated in the Series A round.

“We are pleased to have the support of such a distinguished group of biotechnology investors, who share our excitement about the opportunity to solve the pervasive problem of cancer-treatment resistance,” said Richard Heyman, interim chief executive officer and board member in a statement. “With our world-class co-founders and leadership team, robust discovery platform and focus, we believe we are uniquely qualified to tackle this challenge and develop next-generation therapies that will help people with cancer live longer.”

The company’s lead product, still in preclinical development, focuses on prostate cancer that can’t be treated any longer with enzalutamide (Xtandi), sold by Medivation, Inc. and Astellas Pharma Inc. of Japan.

Enzalutamide was discovered by ORIC’s founder and board member, Charles Sawyers, while at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is currently at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. The drug was spun out of UCLA in 2005 and sold to Medivation. In 2009, another group of cancer compounds designed to treat prostate cancer were picked up by Heyman at San Diego’s Aragon Pharmaceuticals.

As a result, Medivation sued Aragon and UCLA, arguing that it should have owned the rights to Aragon’s ARN-509 because of how similar it was to enzalutamide. Medivation lost the case in 2013. Shortly after, Johnson & Johnson acquired Aragon for $1 billion.

As part of that deal, J&J picked up Aragon and ARN-509, but left Heyman with a research program for hormone-driven breast cancer, with which he founded Seragon Pharmaceuticals. In 2014, Heyman sold Seragon to Roche ’s Genentech for up to $1.7 billion.

ORIC and Heyman have licensed research from Sawyers’ laboratory at Sloan Kettering that highlights tumor vulnerabilities when they are otherwise resistant to enzalutamide. Sawyer also provided a drug target on tumors called a glucocorticoid (GC) receptor.

In addition to Heyman and Sawyers, Scott Lowe, also faculty at Memorial Sloan Kettering, is involved. Lowe identified BRD4 as a drug target in acute myeloid leukemia. Drugs for that are currently in clinical trials. Lowe is chair of MSK’s Cancer Biology & Genetics Program, and of the Geoffrey Beene Cancer Research Center.

Also joining ORIC as its chief scientific officer is Valeria Fantin. Prior to ORIC, Fantin was vice president of tumor cell biology at Pfizer . She also was senior director of molecular oncology at Agios Pharmaceuticals and principal scientist at Ariad Pharmaceuticals, Inc. .

“Treatment-resistant cancer is an area of tremendous unmet clinical need,” Fantin said in a statement. “We are confident that the internal and external expertise we have cultivated—in addition to the systematic scientific approach we are employing—will enable ORIC to unlock key mechanisms of resistance and develop next-generation therapies that transform cancer treatment.”

The funds from the Series B round will be used to advance ORIC’s first drug candidate into initial clinical trials and to continue to develop its pipeline. ORIC stands for “overcoming resistance in cancer.”

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