Former Shire execs set up shop to take a shot at 'under the radar' cancer target
In December 2016, Shire abandoned a cancer drug targeting oxMIF it had swallowed as part of its $32 billion buyout of Baxalta earlier that year. Now former executives of the two companies have set up their own shop in Austria — banking on that same target.
The company, christened OncoOne, has scored €13 million in a Series A round. With 8 employees, including its 3 founders, the company will use the injection to take its compounds — designed to address pancreatic, colorectal, lung and ovarian cancer — into the clinic by 2022.
Macrophage migration inhibitory factor, or MIF, is a cytokine ubiquitous across the human body. The company is targeting a disease-related isoform of MIF, called oxMIF.
“OxMIF is quite tricky to handle, and it’s not so easy to work with — it’s a complicated cytokine — so that might be one of the reasons why it’s still under the radar,” CEO Randolf Kerschbaumer, who has worked with Baxter and Shire, noted in an interview.
The program for the Shire compound, imalumab, was terminated after early data failed to convince researchers, OncoOne chief scientific officer (and former Baxter, Baxalta and Shire exec) Michael Thiele noted.
“However, we…do believe in the potential of this target,” he said. “We have three different modalities with very distinct mechanisms of action when compared to imalumab — in fact, our mode of action doesn’t have much to do or anything to do with imalumab.”
The executives declined to offer details on their compounds and the mechanism of action. Investors participating in the Series A included the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG), the Austria Wirtschaftsservice Gesellschaft (AWS), and two family offices.
As the coronavirus crisis intensifies, days ago Austria’s chancellor put in place major restrictions on movement in public places, urged citizens to self-isolate and banned gatherings of more than five persons.
OncoOne’s employees are largely working from home, Kerschbaumer said, with the exception of personnel working in the lab.
“Well, maybe we will have to close the lab in the next couple of weeks,” he added. “But, I think we are well prepared to restart when the whole situation improves.”