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21 September, 2016 - 09:23 By Tony Quested

New DNA firm fighting cancer raises $33.2m on launch

A new private company has been launched in Cambridge on the wings of a $33.2 million fundraising to develop novel cancer treatments targeting the DNA Damage Response (DDR).

Artios Pharma clinched the Series A cash from heavyweight European and US investors SV Life Sciences, Merck Ventures, Imperial Innovations, Arix Bioscience PLC, CRT Pioneer Fund and AbbVie Ventures to fund development of a DDR-focused pipeline.

The money will help Artios get its lead programme, Poltheta, into the clinic to accelerate the pipeline. Imperial Innovations, based at Babraham Research Campus, injected $6.6m.

DNA Damage Response is a mechanism through which cells repair their damaged DNA. Research has shown that tumours manipulate this ability to repair DNA, allowing them to mutate and evolve.

Targeting a tumour’s remaining DNA repair mechanisms has been proven, through the recent clinical successes of PARP inhibitors and the launch of Lynparza™ (olaparib; AstraZeneca), to cause its selective death, a concept known as “synthetic lethality.”

Artios is led by CEO Dr Niall Martin, who has proven expertise in DDR drug discovery, having previously worked as director of drug discovery at KuDOS Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge – sold to AstraZeneca in January 2006 for $210m. Whilst there he established the drug-screening capabilities that underpinned many KuDOS drug discovery programmes in DNA repair.

Most notably, Dr Martin was project leader on KuDOS’ PARP inhibitor programme and played a key role in identifying Lynparza™ (olaparib) along with other DDR inhibitors.

Prior to joining Artios, Dr Martin was a co-founder and served as chief operating officer at MISSION Therapeutics, another Cambridge company, focused on researching and drugging the ubiquitin pathways for the treatment of cancers and other diseases.

Artios is actively building a pipeline of highly promising first-in-class DDR therapies identified from a global network of leading researchers in the DDR field.

The company has in-licensed two programmes against novel targets, Pol-theta and a second target, as yet undisclosed, from Cancer Research Technology (CRT), the development and commercialisation arm of Cancer Research UK.

Both programmes are in the drug discovery phase, and represent exciting opportunities to modulate the DNA repair processes in certain tumours leading to synthetic lethality, according to Dr Martin.

Artios has also entered into a research collaboration with CRT to further access its world-class research on DDR targets in drug discovery. Under the terms of the agreement, Artios will work with CRT to discover and develop drugs against several new DDR targets over the next few years.

Dr Martin said: “Targeting the DNA Damage Response is an exciting and promising field of biology with growing interest following the recent success of PARP inhibitors. DDR drug products have the potential to become established first-line treatments, either as single agents or for use in combination with many currently approved therapies.

“It is an ideal time for Artios to be entering the field as a DDR focused, independent biotech company and we are delighted to welcome our world-class investors to the company and to announce our first partnership with Cancer Research Technology.”

Dr Keith Blundy, CRT’s chief executive, added: “We are pleased to have worked with SV Life Sciences to bring together the Cancer Research UK academic network, a portfolio of leading DNA damage response opportunities and the CRT Discovery Laboratories’ drug discovery platform to help build a strong development pipeline for Artios.

“This exciting development has enabled us to leverage the expertise of the Artios management team and financing from leading venture companies to help establish a company that has the potential to bring real impact to cancer patients.”

Kiss Communications

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