The latest billionaire to be drawn into the biotech game is doubling down on his California startup with plans to vault it into position as a new-wave pharma company.
Hiroshi “Mickey” Mikitani has contributed to an add-on $134 million tranche for the C round backing Rakuten Aspyrian. That brings the round to $284 million, much of which came directly from the fabulously wealthy Japanese e-tailer.
The Tokyo-based SBI Group — a financial services group with a new-found interest in biotech — also came in on the extra financing. The biotech has raised a total of $372 million in three years.
Mikitani recently took the top job at the company for himself as Aspyrian pushes an EGFR-targeting therapy for head and neck squamous cell carcinomas through Phase III. New mid-stage studies are also being set up for other cancers with an EGFR target, which is quite common.
The Japanese billionaire is backing a new technology that was developed at the National Cancer Institute in the lab of Hisataka Kobayashi, an imaging expert who made a somewhat serendipitous discovery that conjugating an antibody with a dye called IRDye700DX (IR700), infusing it into patients and then hitting it with a near infrared light would cremate cancer cells without off-target toxicity. Kobayashi out-licensed it to Aspyrian Therapeutics, which now goes by the name of Rakuten Aspyrian.
Mikitani became familiar with the work at the NCI as he was hunting down a better therapy for his father, who was dying of pancreatic cancer. And while it was too late to save his father, he seized on it as the next big thing in cancer, backing Aspyrian from the beginning.
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