Startups, Venture

Bay Area startup Rain Therapeutics nabs $18M Series A to target lung cancer niche

A biotech laser focused on a subtype of non-small cell lung cancer has raised $18.4 million from San Francisco’s Biotechnology Value Fund and other investors.

The Series A cash will see Fremont, CA-based Rain Therapeutics through a Phase II study for its lead drug, tarloxotinib, in patients with EGFR and ErbB Exon 20 insertion mutated NSCLC, scheduled to begin in 2019. Perceptive Advisors, Auckland UniServices Limited’s Inventors Fund and other private investors also chipped in for the round, adding a large sum to the $1 million Rain banked late last year.

EGFRs (epidermal growth factor receptors) have been part of the game plan for blockbuster drugs like AstraZeneca’s Tagrisso and Roche’s Tecentriq, but the team at Rain believes there is yet an unmet niche within the niche that their drug could address.

Robert Doebele

“Targeting wildtype EGFR, or wildtype EGFR-like tumors has always been very challenging with conventional small molecule inhibitors because of the abundance of EGFR in healthy tissues,” said co-founder Robert Doebele in a statement. “Patients with Exon 20 lung cancer show an addiction to EGFR, however the resemblance of EGFR Exon 20 to EGFR wildtype suggests most conventional strategies will be limited by toxicity. With its novel mechanism of action, Tarlox has the potential to address this inherent, unmet challenge in Exon 20 patients.”

Rain estimates that 6,500 patients in the US are diagnosed annually with EGFR and other HER-family Exon 20 insertion mutations in NSCLC. Some animal model work has been done at the University of Colorado — where Doebele works as an associate professor of medicine and directs an oncology research initiative — showing tumor regression. The development and commercialization rights for the drug itself, though, was licensed from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

Avanish Vellanki

Avanish Vellanki, the other founder, runs the company as CEO. A former investment banker, his most recent biotech stint was a CBO role at Aptose Biosciences.

Gorjan Hrustanovic of the Biotechnology Value Fund will join Rain’s board of directors.

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
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Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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