Looking to reshape the metastatic cancer landscape, HiberCell fills the tank with a slate of mid-stage tests queued up
A little over two years since its last raise, New York-based biotech HiberCell is returning to the venture well for some more capital.
The company has pulled in a new $67.4 million Series B, HiberCell announced Wednesday morning, as it continues its trek to develop drugs preventing cancer relapse and metastasis. Wednesday’s funds will be used to advance its programs researching how stress biology and innate immunity can play a role in cancer recurrence.
In addition to the Series B, HiberCell concurrently secured a $30 million debt facility with Hercules Capital.
HiberCell’s foundation comes from the lab work of Julio Aguirre-Ghiso at Mount Sinai, centered around the notion that “dormant” disseminated tumor cells — or DTCs — can reactivate long after drugs have flushed all appearances of cancer. The theory goes that this response can lead to a metastatic cancer with a near-certain fatality rate.
Though this notion isn’t particularly new, Aguirre-Ghiso’s lab made some important breakthroughs regarding the biology of dissemination, co-founder and CEO Alan Rigby said in an interview after HiberCell’s Series A back in February 2019.
It may also ring a bell to some observers in the field, as other biotechs researching senescent cells have similar objectives, Rigby told Endpoints News on Wednesday. Dormant DTCs and senescent cells are essentially the same thing, Rigby said, and HiberCell’s ultimate goal is to connect the underlying biology of these cells with clinical outcomes for patients.
“These are the cells that create and extend the window of clinical dormancy,” Rigby told Endpoints. “It’s how some patients with breast cancer have the ability to be fine for 20 years and then it comes back … we believe they’re instrumental in metastatic recurrence.”
Two years after the Series A, HiberCell’s pipeline now sits at three candidates: one tumor microenvironment modulator and two adaptive stress modulators. The program farthest along falls in that former category, one that HiberCell acquired last June. Known as Imprime PGG, the candidate is being studied in combination with Keytruda for resectable melanoma and metastatic breast cancer.
A Phase II study looking at treatment-naïve, resectable stage III melanoma is expected to launch right around when Q2 ends, Rigby said. There’s also a Phase II trial for metastatic breast cancer following HR failure planned for sometime in the third quarter, he added.
Even though this candidate has only recently joined the HiberCell pipeline, Rigby believes it can be instrumental in moving its other internal programs along thanks to its “1-2 punch” in improving survival advantages and promoting immunosuppression. Those two candidates, adaptive stress modulators, are still in the early stages.
First up is their PERK inhibitor for renal cell carcinoma and gastric cancer, which recently launched a Phase Ia safety study. Then there’s an ISR modulator geared up for the general “solid and liquid tumor” category, which is on track for a third quarter IND application.
As the whole field moves forward, there may be a time where non-metastatic cancer patients end up needing drugs like HiberCell’s as a maintenance therapy to prevent recurrence after their first bout with the disease ends up in remission, Rigby said. But right now it’s still too early for anyone to say how long that might take.
“It’s up to us and others to ultimately connect this unique biology to cancer escape,” Rigby said.
Wednesday’s round included new investors Huizenga, Monashee, Tekla, Hercules Capital, Mount Sinai Innovation Partners and other undisclosed investors. Returning investors, including ARCH, Magnetic Ventures, Bristol Myers Squibb, Trinitas Capital and others from the Series A syndicate also participated.