MiNA Therapeutics bags nearly $30M Series A to push activating mRNA tech through the clinic
Seven years after leaving investment banking to take the helm at MiNA Therapeutics, CEO Robert Habib is on a mission to develop a “new class of medicines” using small activating mRNA technology. And on Thursday, the London-based biotech announced it landed a modest £23 million (nearly $30 million) Series A to work with.
Habib’s father, the prominent Imperial College London professor Nagy Habib, co-founded MiNA in 2008. The company’s lead mRNA program is designed to “switch genes on,” and potentially help treat what the CEO called “the undruggable”: difficult-to-treat diseases, starting with liver cancer.
“It’s sort of encouraging the cell’s own machinery to pay attention and to start producing a bit more of the gene that we are interested in. And that gene obviously will produce more messenger RNA. And that messenger RNA will result in more protein. And if we’re targeting the right protein, we’re going to have a therapeutic benefit,” Habib said.
In 2017, Sosei put down about $45 million for 25.6% of MiNA’s equity. Peter Bains, Sosei CEO at the time, laid out a $534 million plan to acquire MiNA, which was putting its lead candidate in a Phase I/IIa trial for liver cancer. Bains said the deal was another step in expanding Sosei’s global reach. About a year and a half later, Sosei passed on that option, but kept its stake.
MiNA’s lead program goes after CEBPA in the hopes of reducing immune suppression caused by immature myeloid cells to improve the efficacy of cancer therapies. Its candidate, MTL-CEBPA, is being tested as a combination therapy with Bayer’s sorafenib in advanced liver cancer patients and Merck’s pembrolizumab in patients with advanced solid tumors.
The drug doesn’t directly affect the cancer — just the environment in which it is growing.
“That strategy of reducing immune suppression and clearing those immature myeloid cells … is believed to be an important strategy in improving the effects of a range of cancer therapies,” Habib said.
The Series A funding will be used to conduct a Phase II study of MTL-CEBPA with sorafenib for the liver cancer indication, and complete an ongoing Phase I/Ib study of the pembrolizumab combination. In the Phase II study, MiNA will focus on durability. Habib expects the study to begin early next year, with up to 70 patients in the UK, US, and some Asian and European countries.
When administered on its own, sorafenib typically has an objective response rate of between 0 to 10%, according to Habib. But when given with MTL-CEBPA, “we’re seeing objective responses above that absolute proportion, and we’re seeing complete responses of liver patients which is an absolutely extraordinary feature,” he added.
“Liver cancer is one of the cancers which has really not improved by a huge amount over several decades,” Habib said. ” … The concept of complete remission is a concept which is very foreign to patients and to physicians in liver cancer.”
The company is actively looking to expand its platform to other indications as well.
aMoon, an Israel-based healthtech and life sciences venture fund, led the Series A round and existing investors pitched in. As part of the deal, aMoon managing director Gur Roshwalb is joining MiNA’s board of directors.