Vivace Therapeutics scores $30M Series C to take oncology candidate for 'Hippo' pathway to human trial next year
Named for the Italian term indicating a piece of music should be played at an upbeat and lively tempo, California-based Vivace Therapeutics seems to have lived up to its namesake.
In the mere five years the small-molecule drug discovery and development company has been in business, its scientists and researchers have devoted significant amounts of time and money toward therapeutics that target a pathway in the body that can cause cancerous tumors to develop if certain proteins are activated. Now, with $30 million in Series C financing, Vivace is aiming to test one of its candidates against that pathway starting in early 2021.
The proteins, called YAP, invade cells through what’s called the Hippo pathway — a signaling system in the body that controls tissue regeneration and tells organs when it’s time to stop growing. If activated, YAP can disrupt the pathway in a way that causes the cancerous tumors to form.
CEO Sofie Qiao told Endpoints News that examining the relationship between YAP and the Hippo pathway was the reason she founded Vivace in 2015 — it’s a novel relationship, especially in terms of its connection to cancer. For the first two years, Qiao said, the company operated in stealth mode, but in May 2017, Vivace raised a $25 million Series B to become a commercial-focused oncology company.
Now, the work to understand and potentially treat a protein mutation that may cause lung, gastric, colon, cervical, ovarian, breast, melanoma, hepatocellular carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma cancers has paid off in the biggest way yet for Qiao and Vivace with the latest $30 million round.
“Most of the oncology players in our industry have been watching this pathway for quite a few years, and many of them have proactively approached us for discussion since we do have a public presence,” Qiao said. “To the best of our knowledge, no one has sent any molecule to the clinic, so we are positioned to be the first company to test a molecule targeting this pathway in human setting.”
Notable investors for this round include: Canaan Partners, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, Cenova Capital, Sequoia Capital China, Boxer Capital and RA Capital Management.
Qiao said nearly all of the $30 million would be put into the human clinical development process of Vivace’s drug candidate. The initial processes will target tumors that are known to be entirely dependent on activated YAP, and Vivace said in a news release that pre-clinical R&D showed that its clinical candidate is active as a monotherapy and in combination with other anti-cancer therapies against tumors that rely upon dysfunction of the Hippo pathway.
Len Post, Vivace’s chief scientific officer, said in an interview that until now, no scientific progress had really been made on how to disrupt the Hippo pathway if YAP proteins were activated. Vivace’s work, he said, discovered how certain compounds work in the context of the pathway and what has to happen to inhibit the pathway from forming cancerous tumors.
For YAP proteins to activate, they have to find another protein called a transcriptional enhanced associate domain. Vivace’s compounds block those TEAD proteins by preventing the addition of a fatty acid that would allow the two proteins to bond.
The $30 million round brings Vivace’s total investment haul just since 2017 to roughly $70 million. Qiao said that those figures indicate a clear interest from the biotech investment community in the Hippo pathway and its potential impact on the field of oncology.
“That shows how much enthusiasm and interest the investor community has for this pathway,” she said. “I think they really like our data and our team and the potential of our molecule really generating clinical efficacy.”