With a big assist from its Big Pharma collaborator Pfizer, San Diego-based eFFECTOR Therapeutics has now added a $38.5 million round to pay for a Phase II program to test the combination of its oral immuno-therapy drug with avelumab (Bavencio) — Pfizer and Merck KGaA’s PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor.
The round completes a series of moves by eFFECTOR, which has moved from preclinical tests to check on the potential of a combo to early-stage monotherapy work to test the drug in a small group of cancer patients. Pfizer had agreed to share the costs of the coming Phase II trials with eFFECTOR, and Pfizer Venture Investments took the lead on the new round, which brings its total raised to $150 million.
Alexandria Venture Investments also stepped in for the first time, alongside a big syndicate of founding investors that includes a number of corporate venture arms: U.S. Venture Partners, Abingworth, Novartis Venture Fund, SR One, The Column Group, Altitude Life Science Ventures, Sectoral Asset Management, Abbvie Biotech Ventures, BioMed Ventures, and Astellas Ventures.
The biotech’s lead drug is eFT508, an oral inhibitor of MNK 1 and 2 kinases that play a role in evading an immune system attack. About a month ago Pfizer, Merck KGaA and eFFECTOR signed off on a collaboration to fund a split Phase II study that will test a combination of their two therapies against colon cancer with a monotherapy arm for eFT508.
“The primary role is to translationally regulate gene expression,” CEO Steve Worland tells me, with a direct effect on the tumor “as well as the effect on the immune system’s capability to attack the tumor.”
In Worland’s view, the lead drug has potential as a monotherapy, but its best use could well be in combination with checkpoint inhibitors like the PD-L1 drug avelumab or LAG3 or other checkpoints. He expects to have Phase II data available from the program in mid-2018, but Worland isn’t certain that investigators will be able to pull all the numbers together in time for ASCO.
Worland, the former CEO of Anadys, which was acquired by Roche, snagged a $45 million A round to start the company in 2013, then followed that with $56 million more for the B round.
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