Drug Development

Expanded syndicate puts Avelas onto the PoC track with $20M cancer tech round

Avelas Biosciences belongs to a cluster of San Diego-based biotechs founded by Jay Lichter’s Avalon Ventures. It was the third of three companies Avalon founded with tech from Nobel laureate Roger Y. Tsien. And the biotech is now doubling the amount of venture cash it has raised with a $20 million round designed to take it well into mid-stage development with a new technology that has honed what it believes is a better approach to penetrating cancer cells with peptides—which could have a variety of applications.

Pharmstandard International led the round, which includes new investors Ervington Investments Limited and Alexandria Venture Investments. Existing investors Avalon Ventures, Bregua Corporation, and WuXi Healthcare Ventures participated in the financing as well. Avelas plans to use the proceeds to advance its lead program–a cancer ‘illuminator’ dubbed AVB-620–toward and possibly into late-stage clinical trials.

Carmine N. Stengone

Carmine N. Stengone

On the commercial end, this tech has the potential to take its place among the drug targeting vehicles that have been taking shape in the oncology arena, CEO Carmine N. Stengone tells me.

“You can tether cargo to it,” he explains. But the company has set a very practical goal for its first commercial application. The lead program hopes to illuminate tumor cells and light the path for surgeons with a durable signal they can follow to reliably carve out cancer in the first try, reducing the need for followup surgeries now often needed to go back into a patient to improve their odds of survival.

“We’re looking to give surgeons an illuminated map for one procedure,” says the CEO, who plans to start with breast cancer and then branch out into many more cancer types. Later, the biotech can explore a variety of payloads–including small molecules, monoclonals and cytotoxins–that can try out the payload approach, after it has an actual product in hand.

In this particular initial application, animal studies can provide some solid proof of a product’s potential, says Stengone. And now Avelas has the cash in hand to nail down some clinical proof-of-concept human data to back up its theories.

Like a number of biotechs incubated by Avalon, which prefers a lean-and-mean approach to R&D, Avelas has a small staff. Its roster includes 7 employees right now, says the CEO, though he expects to double that in the near term. And, of course, there’s a crew of consultants in play as well. Andrei Petrov, PhD, has joined Avelas Biosciences’ board of directors. Avalon co-founder Kevin Kinsella is stepping off the board while Lichter is staying on as chairman.

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