Drug Development

Oncolytic contender Turnstone bags a $41M B round to push a successor for Imlygic

Turnstone CEO Sammy Farah

Turnstone CEO Sammy Farah

Ever since Amgen made it to the market with a pioneering oncolytic virus cancer therapy called Imlygic (T-Vec), which it bagged in a billion-dollar deal to acquire BioVex, you could see a wave of biotech competitors forming — looking to do the same therapeutic job better.

Today, Canada’s Turnstone Biologics takes another big step in that march, bagging a $41.4 million Series B that will go a long way to demonstrating whether it has a real contender for that market, while fueling additional work in building the pipeline.

“The raise comes pretty quickly after our initial Series A,” says CEO Sammy Farah. “What really drove our desire to bring in more funding, we wanted to expand and accelerate clinical development programs, do much more in the clinic and do much more in the very near term.”

That means wrapping an ongoing Phase I/II study for the lead program for an engineered virus, with a second trial ready to launch later this year that will include one of the approved checkpoint inhibitors (they’re not saying which one, for now). Two more programs will launch next year, bringing Turnstone up to four active clinical efforts.

Turnstone has been working with a trio of founding scientists in its corner, led by John Bell.

“I think we are quite unique,” Bell tells me. Their therapy encodes a tumor antigen designed to spur an immune response while also stimulating peripheral immunity, offering an oncolytic to penetrate and destroy cancer cells and a cancer vaccine at the same time. And like other rival biotechs in the field, including PsiOxus, the biotech believes that systemic delivery of their drug will make a big difference for patients.

“The others,” he says about the competition, “can’t generate a potent vaccine effect.” The checkpoint inhibitor, which takes the brakes off the immune system as the vaccine applies the gas, makes for a natural combination approach, as the leaders in that field work hard to pursue hundreds of new combination approaches.

Bell also has been working on new strategies designed to match next-gen drugs specifically for certain tumors. That may call for new and improved oncolytic approaches while also examining which of the checkpoints are more suitable for certain tumors.

“In addition to the clinical program we talked about before,” adds Farah, “we’re also looking at some exciting areas, like neoantigen personalized vaccines. Our technology is very suited to personalized cancer field.”

OrbiMed led this round, with an expanded syndicate that includes new investor F-Prime Capital Partners and existing investors FACIT and Versant Ventures, which led Turnstone’s Series A.


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RAPS Regulatory Convergence 2017