MicroRNA-based cancer therapy firm scoops up $34.5 million, eyes 2013 IND filing

In first round of institutional funding, a company using microRNAs to develop new therapies for cancer raised $34.5 million to advance its lead candidate through human proof-of-concept studies.

Company name: Mirna Therapeutics.

Industry: biopharmaceuticals.

Location: Austin, Texas.

Solution/product: Mirna develops cancer therapies based on tumor suppressor microRNAs, which regain control over oncogenic pathways to kill cancer cells. MicroRNAs function as master regulators of the human genome and guide embryonic development, immune response and cell growth and proliferation. Researchers think misregulation of microRNAs plays a critical role in the growth of many cancers. Mirna’s lead candidate, MRX34, is designed to mimic the activity of microRNA. The company says its pipeline is used in both solid and hematologic cancers.

Money raised: a $34.5 million series C, the company’s first round of institutional capital.

How it will be used: The funding will allow the company to advance MRX34 through human proof-of-concept studies, with the goal of filing an IND in the first quarter of 2013 and beginning phase 1 trials thereafter in patients with advanced or metastatic cancers involving the liver. “Armed with a robust preclinical data package, Mirna is now positioned to be the first company in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry to advance therapeutics based on miRNA mimics toward the clinic in cancer,” said President and CEO Dr. Paul Lammers in a prepared statement.

Investors: Sofinnova Ventures led the round, which also saw participation from New Enterprise Associates, Pfizer Ventures, Osage University Partners, Correlation Ventures and existing investors. Early support for the company came from the Texas Emerging Technology fund and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

Management team: Mirna spun out of microRNA company Asuragen Inc. in 2008. Lammers was formerly president of Repros Therapeutics (NASDAQ:RPRX).

Market opportunity: The global market for cancer therapeutics is expected to grow more than 7 percent annually through 2014, according to a market report from BCC Research. MicroRNA is being studied widely in cancer applications at institutions like Johns Hopkins, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the National Cancer Institute.

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