A better way to control where drugs go? Investors bet on small biotech's mission to 'click' together cancer meds
While José Mejía Oneto was an orthopedic surgery resident at UC Davis, he learned an intriguing yet frustrating fact: Only small amounts of a drug — in some cases just 1% or 2% of what’s administered — actually make it to the target location.
That concerning fact left Mejía Oneto with one question, one that would change the trajectory of his entire career — how can we better control where drugs go?
Early Thursday morning, his startup Shasqi unveiled $50 million in new cash to explore just that. The Series B round brings Shasqi’s total raise up to $60 million, and should see the biotech’s lead candidate into a Phase II study in solid tumors.
Mejía Oneto launched Shasqi back in 2015 and homed in on something called “click chemistry.” The term was coined by Nobel laureate Karl Barry Sharpless back in 2001, and Mejía Oneto describes it as two compounds that “react with each other and ignore the rest of the world.”
A paper in ScienceDirect defines the phenomena as “a collection of organic reactions that proceed rapidly and selectively under mild conditions to covalently link molecular components.” The “click” refers to the potential to join molecules as if fastening a seat belt, according to a book titled “Fluorine, a key element for the 21st century.”
Shasqi is essentially looking to see if they can inject a biopolymer modified with a click chemistry reagent into the tumor site, then modify an intravenously administered drug with the other reagent in the hopes they’ll click.
“It has been truly both an honor and a great pleasure to see that transformed from a concept and a piece of paper to an investigational product that has been in the clinic for more than a year,” Mejía Oneto said.
Early data have suggested the approach works in humans, and Mejía Oneto expects to launch his lead candidate SQ3370 into the Phase II portion of a Phase I/II study next year. Shasqi’s 15-person team expects to focus on soft tissue sarcoma in the dose expansion cohorts, which tends to occur in the arms and legs, making it more accessible.
“We expect this expansion to open up the path for the platform to antibody-based approaches, immune cell engagers, radiopharmaceuticals and more,” the CEO said.
A slate of private investors pitched into the Series B round, including Arcus Biosciences president Juan Jaen, and NGM Biopharmaceuticals executive chairman Bill Rieflin.