A Medicxi-backed startup looks to tackle treatment-resistant blood cancers, and it's going after AML first
In the hardest-to-treat blood cancers, resistance to therapy is an existential problem for drug developers looking to permanently stave off tumors. A small biotech is chasing an emerging pathway to stop tumors’ ability to resist treatment, and its work has caught the eye of a couple of big-name investors.
Kurome Therapeutics snared a $15 million Series A round it will use to identify and develop a lead program from its platform looking at dual inhibitors of the IRAK1/4 signaling pathway and FLT3 protein receptors on heme blasts to crack treatment-resistant tumors, the biotech said Thursday.
The company’s work is based on research from Daniel Starczynowski, a co-leader of the hematologic malignancies program at Cincinnati Children’s Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute, and one of the leading researchers working on IRAK, Kurome said. That pathway has been implicated in regulating tumor resistance, and Kurome thinks its dual approach could have an effect on a range of blood cancers as well as some solid tumors with dysregulated IRAK 1/4.
Kurome explicitly called out acute myeloid leukemia as a primary target for IRAK 1/4 therapies, with Curis the furthest along with IRAK4 inhibitor CA-4948 in AML and myelodysplastic syndromes. Curis unveiled expanded Phase I data in May showing CA-4948 reduced the number of immature blood cells, called blasts, in the bone marrow for eight of nine evaluable patients. The drug posted four objective responses, including one complete response, one complete remission with minimal residual disease and two bone marrow complete responses.
Kurome launched last year with seed funding from CincyTech based on Starczynowski’s research at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in collaboration with NCATS. Early preclinical data showed some promise for the biotech’s dual inhibitor platform in shutting down adaptive resistance, which caught the eye of Medicxi and Affinity Asset Advisors, which co-led the round.
According to Medicxi venture partner Aaron Kantoff, the venture firm was attracted to the concept by Curis’ winning early-stage data as well as Starczynowski’s name recognition as a top expert in the space. With the right science and guidance, Kantoff said, Kurome could have an AML winner like Genentech and AbbVie’s Venclexta waiting in the wings.
“To be blunt, the space has evolved very quickly where we already know FLT3 biology is well understood, so blending that biology with the emerging validation of IRAK1/4 … seemed like a good idea to gather synergy in a multifactorial disease like AML,” Kantoff said.
As part of Medicxi’s latest funding round, Kantoff will join the company’s board and help steer it ahead to a lead program, which the biotech expects to reveal by the end of the year. Daniel Heller, general partner and chief investment officer at Affinity, will also sit on the board.
With a lead program tapped, Kurome expects to enter IND enabling studies by early 2022, Kantoff said. That means the team of just four will look to expand prior to that happening, but Kantoff was mum on exactly what that expansion would look like or when to expect it.