The booming cancer drug R&D field can count one more player with some big dreams to pursue in immuno-oncology.
San Francisco-based Tempest Therapeutics is making its debut today after landing a $70 million B round, fueling the work of the startup team assembled at Versant Ventures — which provided a preclinical pipeline that features some new contenders in some fast-growing niches.
At the front of the queue is TPST‐8844, an IDO inhibitor which will look to make a rep for itself as Incyte and Bristol-Myers Squibb push more advanced programs. Then there’s TPST-1120, a PPARα blocker designed to inflame the tumor microenvironment and activates important tumor‐killing immune cells. And they are also engaged on E‐prostanoid (EP) receptor antagonists, looking to interrupt the immuno‐suppressive effects of prostaglandin.
By last count at the Cancer Research Institute, there were 18 IDO inhibitors in the clinic. Today’s announcement brings the tally to at least 19. But the folks behind Tempest believe that Peppi Prasit’s discovery group at Versant’s Inception Sciences has assembled a first-class oncology pipeline that can still make a splash in crowded fields.
“To be competitive here you had to be a lot better, it had to be a superior molecule,” says Brad Bolzon, the managing director at Versant. “We wouldn’t have brought forward a program unless it could really compete.”
As for the IDO drug, he says: “We feel pretty confident that this is going to be a game-changing asset.”
Tempest turned to Tom Dubensky — up until last August the chief scientific officer at Aduro Biotech— to take the wheel. Dubensky tells me he’s known the Versant team for years, occasionally helping out advising on deals. And he sounds primed and ready to roll as the new CEO.
“I would have been a fool not to jump at the chance,” Dubensky tells me. The field may be crowded, he says, but the right IDO program can attract plenty of positive attention.
“For those companies without an IDO,” he says, “there will be a real land rush toward IDO inhibitors.”
Dubensky also counts himself as a big fan of Prasit’s work at Inception. “It’s a collection of medicinal chemists,” he says, “and they know how to develop small molecules.”
The syndicate Versant Ventures assembled includes some big players out of Asia, an increasingly common feature in US rounds — particularly in San Francisco. The round involved F‐Prime Capital and Quan Capital, with additional funds coming from Lilly Asia Ventures, Foresite Capital and Eight Roads Ventures.
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