Merck Spinout Bags €15M Series A to Tackle Cancer and Fibrosis

iOnctura, a spinout from Merck KGaA, has raised €15M to take its cancer and fibrosis drugs to phase I clinical trials.  

The Series A round was co-led by new investors INKEF Capital and VI Partners. The founding investor of iOnctura, M Ventures — the corporate venture arm of Merck — also contributed to the round, as did Swiss investor Schroder Adveq, which was new to iOnctura.

iOnctura was founded in 2017 by former Merck executive Catherine Pickering. The company picked up its lead drug for cancer after Merck dropped its development for the autoimmune disease Lupus.

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The Swiss biotech will use part of the money to start a phase I trial of its lead drug candidate for the treatment of a range of solid tumors. The small molecule drug works by blocking a protein called PI3K delta, which is activated in many types of cancer. While there are several blockers of PI3K proteins approved and in development, such as the cancer drug Duvelisib, iOnctura’s lead candidate is one of the first to target solid tumors. The company believes that the drug could both kill tumor cells and block the action of immune cells that restrain cancer-hunting T-cells from attacking the tumor. This means the tumors are attacked on two fronts.

iOnctura will use the rest of the money to complete the preclinical development of the company’s second candidate, a first-in-class drug designed to treat solid tumors and reduce cancer-associated scarring. The drug is designed to work by blocking a protein called autotaxin that causes the proliferation of tumor cells in some types of cancer such as breast cancer.


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