Pharma, Startups

ApoGen increases 2016 Series A funding round to $11 million

Company draws $4 million in additional funding from Merck KGaA’s venture capital arm and other investors.

A company developing drugs designed to target cancer cells’ mechanisms of drug resistance has boosted the value of a venture capital financing that it raised in 2016.

Seattle-based ApoGen Biotechnologies said Thursday that it added $4 million to a $7 million Series A funding around, bringing the financing’s total value to $11 million. Merck KGaA’s venture capital arm, M Ventures, and existing investors provided the extra funding. The original $7 million was led in December 2016 by Accelerator Life Science Partners, while AbbVie Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Eli Lilly & Co., Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Watson Fund, WRF Capital and WuXi AppTec’s Corporate Venture Fund participated.

Accelerator CEO Thong Le is also CEO of ApoGen. Accelerator, which has offices in Seattle, San Diego and New York, has thus far provided $130 million to 19 companies, according to the firm’s website. Earlier this month, it launched Magnolia Neurosciences Corp. with a $31 million Series A funding round. At the time of the initial $7 million investment in ApoGen, Le said in a phone interview that Accelerator, founded in 2003, is not quite an incubator or venture capital firm, but “kind of a hybrid of the two.”

ApoGen’s efforts focus on small-molecule inhibitors of APOBEC3B, or A3B, a DNA cytosine deaminase that it said was recently identified as a dominant source of the mutational pattern and higher overall mutational load seen in several cancers. Elevated A3B are considered a key driver of breast, head and neck, lung, bladder, cervical, ovarian and some blood cancers like myeloma. The company’s founders include serial life sciences entrepreneur John Santini and two researchers from the University of Minnesota, namely biochemistry professor Reuben Harris and medicinal chemistry professor Daniel Harki.

The Seattle-based startup is not the only company to target drug resistance in cancers. For example, Nivien Therapeutics is focused on targeting drug resistance in pancreatic cancer, while New York-based Rgenix is developing RGX-104 in solid tumors, including drug-resistant malignancies, with Phase Ia trials underway combining it with Bristol-Myers Squibb’s PD-1 checkpoint inhibitor, Opdivo (nivolumab).

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