Building on the work of NCI scientist John Schiller — who illustrated virus-like particles modeled on the human papillomavirus (HPV) tend to ignore normal epithelium and make a beeline for solid tumors and metastases — Aura Biosciences is working on a treatment for a rare and aggressive type of eye cancer. On Tuesday, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based firm completed a $40 million Series D round, led by Medicxi.
The company’s sole drug, AU-011, consists of viral nanoparticles modeled on HPV and is conjugated to infrared-activated small molecules. It is being developed for ocular melanoma (OM), the most common primary cancer of the eye. Ocular melanoma is often detected in the early stages, with a routine ophthalmological exam. But those diagnosed are presented with a raft of treatment options that can often result in severe vision loss, eye removal, and in about half of all cases, metastasis to the liver, where the disease is nearly always fatal.
Once administered via intravitreal injection, the drug is engineered to bind selectively to cancer cells in the eye. It is then activated using an ophthalmic laser, which facilitates the destruction of the cancer cells, without damaging the overlaying retina.
AU-011 is currently in a Phase Ib study, and has been granted orphan drug and fast track status from the FDA. It is expected to be tested in a pivotal trial in the first half of 2020.
In connection with the capital injection, London-based VC Arix Bioscience hiked its stake in Aura to 7.7%.
Other participants in the round included Lundbeckfonden Ventures, Advent Life Sciences, Chiesi Ventures, Ysios Capital, Alexandria Venture Investments, Columbus Venture Partners, LI-COR Biosciences and several individual investors, including the estate of late Genzyme CEO Henri Termeer.
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