Can fully shutting down the estrogen receptor make a difference in breast cancer? Olema scores $54M to find out in the clinic
From tamoxifen to aromatase inhibitors to fulvestrant, there’s been no lack of endocrine treatments targeted at estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer. But Olema Oncology believes there’s room for more.
The San Francisco-based biotech has convinced investors to pour in $54 million to prove it.
“We saw the need for a drug that could more fully shut down the estrogen receptor,” Cyrus Harmon told Endpoints News. “We call it a complete estrogen antagonist to distinguish from other compounds.”
After iterating through multiple generations of candidates for more than a decade — funded by the founders themselves, angel investors and a now-defunct pharma collaboration — Olema closed its first venture round in 2018 from BVF Partners.
BVF returned to co-lead the Series B alongside Logos Capital and Janus Henderson Investors, while new investors Cormorant Asset Management, RA Capital Management, Wellington Management Company, Surveyor Capital, Venrock Healthcare Capital Partners, and Foresite Capital joined.
“We were attracted to Olema by its excellent science, robust preclinical data, experienced management team, and potential to make a significant impact on what remains a large unmet need among patients with breast and other hormone-positive cancers,” Gorjan Hrustanovic, principal at BVF Partners, said.
The new cash will bankroll the program Phase I/II for OP-1250, evaluating the oral pill as a single agent for patients with ER+, HER2- who have seen their cancer come back despite treatment.
If the drug does what Olema wants it to do in the first-in-human testing, the next step will be to study it as a potential “backbone therapy” in combinations with others.
“There’ve been a number of targeted therapies for breast cancer that have been developed in the last decade or so, such as the CDK4/6 inhibitors and PI3 kinase alpha inhibitors,” Harmon said.
Whereas endocrine therapy was “originally always used just by itself,” it appears to pair well with these new classes of drugs.
That would require more money and likely a larger team than the current 12 to run bigger studies — perhaps even an IPO that Harmon says is too early to discuss. But first, they need to get into the clinic.
“One step at a time,” he said.