Avstera receives funding for cancer programs

November 10, 2022 - 2 minutes
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Avstera Therapeutics Corp. has announced the completion of its seed round to advance its lead cancer programs geared toward targeting solid tumors. 

The company intends to use the $4.55 million proceeds to enable its lead highly specific HDAC6i for IND filing targeting locally advanced and metastatic solid tumors by the end of next year. 

“Tumor associated macrophages (TAMs) account for up to 50% or more of the cell mass of solid neoplasms. Our lead programs are geared towards new understanding that macrophage differentiation is a critical piece in maintaining overall anti-tumoral responses and stabilizing the tumor microenvironment,” said Karthik Musunuri, CEO and co-founder of Avstera Therapeutics.  

Avstera’s lead HDAC6i has been shown to significantly reduce tumor growth in preclinical in-vivo models, improve overall survival, and act as an immunomodulator in polarizing macrophages to the anti-tumoral M1 phenotype within the TME while inducing other mechanisms including downregulation of PD-L1 expression. 

The company also aims to leverage this approach in advancing its novel autologous macrophage cell therapy program for solid tumors; where T-cell based approaches have faced significant challenges.

Avstera Therapeutics has collaborations with investigators from Georgetown University and the University of Pennsylvania.  The company currently has three preclinical stage therapies, including a highly selective HDAC6i, an autologous ex-vivo HDAC6i activated macrophage-based cell therapy, and a mRNA TEM1 cancer vaccine. 

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The research behind the HDAC6i technology stems from Alejandro Villagra’s lab at Georgetown through licenses made with the George Washington University. Avstera is also engaged with the University of Pennsylvania via cancer researcher Andrea Facciabene through a joint development collaboration on a next generation mRNA cancer vaccine

“Current anticancer macrophage-based cell therapies have shown modest results in preclinical and clinical studies. Recent findings have shown that macrophages quickly switch their phenotype toward a protumoral phenotype after reaching tumors. Our technology aims to harness the power of HDAC6 inhibitors with the capacity to prevent the protumoral phenotype switching of macrophages and improve macrophage-based anticancer immune therapies,” said Alejandro Villagra, who serves on Avstera’s scientific advisory board.

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