As Tessa Therapeutics preps a pivotal late-stage trial readout and ramps up clinical activity for early-stage assets, it will be joined by a high profile board member as well as new investors who just infused $50 million into the company.
Göran Ando, the recent chairman of Novo Nordisk, is now an independent director at Tessa. He joins a team that now has a whopping total of $130 million to steer its virus-specific T cell technology-based products to the market, including an $80 million raise from a significant group of Asian investors announced four months ago. Leading that well-heeled pack was Temasek, the sovereign wealth fund of Singapore, where Tessa is based.
Ando was the CEO of Celltech before it was acquired by UCB, and prior to that had served in R&D roles at Bristol-Myers Squibb and Pharmacia. Having sat on numerous biotech boards, Ando says he’s drawn to Tessa’s unique approach to T cell therapy, “one of the most exciting areas in the healthcare sector today.”
Rooted in research work CSO John Connolly and CMO Han Chong Toh — of Baylor and the National Cancer Centre Singapore, respectively — Tessa adapts T cells to go after virally-associated tumors like cervical and head and neck cancer. That approach, which promises to go beyond some of the groundbreaking successes that CAR-T treatments have had in blood cancers into solid tumors, has attracted a partnership with Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
“Obviously there’s a lot of press and clinical data and excitement around CAR-T,” Fred Ramsdell, the vice president for research at the Parker Institute, told Endpoints News at the time. “That’s great and wonderful. What Tessa is doing is a lot different.”
A Phase III trial targeting Epstein-Barr Virus positive nasopharyngeal cancer is ongoing in the US and four Asian countries, a program that came up with excellent PhII data when compared to historical results: two- and three-year survival rates at 62.9% and 37.1%.
With the new round of funding (the investors were not disclosed), the biotech will have plenty of cash to steer an HPV program for cervical cancer and oropharyngeal cancer into Phase II in 2019. Tessa has also been lining up new tech on oncolytic viruses and chimeric antigen receptors for its next-gen work, which would bring them into liver and lung cancers.
“Combined with the additional funding we have raised by expanding our recent funding round, I feel that we are now at a key moment in our journey as an important player in the development of cellular immunotherapy, and we are delighted that Dr. Ando is joining us at this exciting stage,” said CEO Andrew Khoo in a statement.
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