Backed by Henri Termeer estate, Aura raises $30M for work to prevent blindness in eye cancer patients
Cambridge, MA biotech Aura Biosciences has raised $30 million in a Series C round to take its light-activated nanoparticle tech into late-stage trials for eye cancer.
With the new cash, Aura plans to finance its Phase Ib/II trial of the company’s lead therapy AU-011. The product candidate is being tested in patients with a rare eye cancer called ocular melanoma. Even though the cancer is often caught in its early stages, patients often go blind due to how the cancer is currently treated. Aura’s founder and CEO Elisabet de los Pinos tells me this eye cancer is currently treated with radioactivity since surgery is not possible.
“Radioactivity is the only tool they have. And when you administer radioactivity in the eye, blindness is the collateral damage,” de los Pinos said.
Aura’s investigational therapy may prevent that. The therapy consists of viral nanoparticles that bind with cancer cells in the eye. The company says the nanoparticles, modeled on the human papillomavirus, are “light-activated.” This means upon activation with an ophthalmic laser, the small molecules selectively destroy the membrane of cancer cells, killing them without damaging the overlaying retina. This might enable patients to retain vision despite fighting this rare and life-threatening form of eye cancer. The FDA granted the company orphan drug designation for the therapy.
Aura has already released positive interim data from its ongoing Phase Ib/II study, and will continue enrolling patients with early-stage ocular melanoma.
The company’s new infusion of cash was led by new investors Lundbeckfonden Ventures and Arix Bioscience, with all current investors — including the estate of Henri Termeer — also participating. The round brings the company’s total raise to $79 million since its inception in 2009.
“We believe that this timely investment will propel the company’s preparations for late-stage studies of AU-011 and additional applications of its proprietary viral nanoparticle conjugate technology,” said Mark Chin, investment manager at Arix Bioscience, in a statement.
De los Pinos said those additional applications include using Aura’s platform in combination with immunotherapies to take on bladder cancer. That’s a goal she’s hoping to see play out by 2019.
Chin will join Aura’s board of directors, along with Lundbeckfonden Ventures’ senior partner Casper Breum.