The French startup Phost’in Therapeutics has raised €10.3M to take its cancer immunotherapy drug against solid tumors into clinical trials within a year.
Led by the US-Japanese venture capital firm Remiges Ventures, the Series A round also included contributions from Japanese investment firm ANRI and French private equity investor Irdi Soridec Gestion.
The cash injection will be partly channeled into the first in a new class of agents that aim to expose tumor cells hiding from the immune system. The rest of the money will be used to improve the capacity of the Phost’in drug discovery technology.
Phost’in’s oral cancer immunotherapy drug targets a layer of sugar molecules called the glycocalyx that is found on the surface of the cell. In some tumors, an abnormal glycocalyx can help the tumor to grow and also form a shield against immune cells, making the cancer hard to treat.
Several other companies are also targeting the abnormal glycocalyx of the tumor, such as the US company Palleon Pharmaceuticals, the Portuguese startup CellmAbs, and the German companies Tacalyx and Glycotope. According to Phost’in’s CSO, Ludovic Clarion, the French company is unusual in its approach to targeting the aberrant glycocalyx: blocking a process involved in building the glycocalyx called glycosylation.
“Our competitors mainly try to address the situation by targeting these abnormalities at the surface [of the] cell,” he told me.
“Our glycocalyx modifiers target the aberrant glycosylation directly at the source, through the selective inhibition of a specific glycosylation enzyme, thus inducing simultaneously an anti-cancer immune response and the downregulation of the main receptors implicated in cancer proliferation and invasiveness.”
He added that few side effects were anticipated as only tumor cells depend on the activity of the targeted enzyme.
Phase I and IIa clinical trials will investigate the use of the cancer immunotherapy to treat aggressive, solid tumors such as glioblastomas and triple-negative breast cancers.
Phost’in was set up in 2014 as a spin-off following 10 years of academic research led by a consortium of French institutes and universities in Montpellier and Paris.
Prior to this Series A, the company received an initial €3M investment to qualify its main program and to optimize its lead agent as an oral drug. The initial funding was also used for preclinical regulatory development, with Phost’in meeting with the FDA a few months ago to validate its steps so far.
Many specialists and research groups working on the abnormal glycosylation of cancer and its origins within cells are based in Japan, which may explain the high level of investment from this country in this latest Series A funding round.
Phost’in will be using part of its latest tranche of funding to explore how its cancer immunotherapy approach fits with classical immunotherapy such as that involving checkpoint inhibitors. The company will also study the complementary use of its lead agent with existing treatments in combination therapies.
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