Why do some targeted cancer therapies stop working? For Tyra, that's the $106M question
Targeted cancer therapies can be quite effective. Until, for some patients, the cancer mutates, and the treatment stops working.
“It’s not unlike resistance in antibiotics,” said Todd Harris, an MIT grad and former NIH fellow. “The cancer is mutating a lot. It’s under a lot of pressure.”
Oftentimes, that mutation can be as simple as a single amino acid shifting, essentially blocking the binding site of a drug. And when that happens, Harris said, you need new chemistry that binds to the protein differently, avoiding the mutated site.
That’s what Harris launched Tyra Biosciences to do — and on Wednesday, the two-year-old biotech unveiled a $106 million Series B round for its push toward the clinic.
“Our goal is to design drugs that are really effective against the protein and are still effective when that mutation occurs,” said Harris, the company’s co-founder and CEO.
To do so, Tyra — named after Tyr, the Norse god of war — uses its x-ray crystallography platform dubbed SNAP. The technique isn’t new, Harris said. It involves shooting x-ray beams to discover the three-dimensional structure of a particular protein. What differentiates Tyra, though, is an in-house team that collects the so-called SNAPshots two to five times a week — giving the team an atom-by-atom look at how a drug is binding to a specific protein.
“We can literally look at the types of interactions that are making one molecule work better than another, and then continue to optimize and refine the designs of new molecules to exploit, you know, a finding or a surprise that we get when we look at how this is exactly binding to the protein,” Harris said.
Harris has yet to release which targets the team is going after, but said they plan on nominating a candidate this year which they hope to enter into the clinic next year. He plans on using the Series B funds to advance the lead program and “several follow-on programs.”
When Tyra reeled in a $50 million Series A in January 2020, the team comprised four people. Now, the company has 15 full-time staffers. Upon announcing the Series B, Harris also shared news of two new C-suite appointments and the promotion of Robert Hudkins to CTO.
Hiroomi Tada, whose resume includes roles at Incyte, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, is joining Tyra as CMO. And Piyush Patel, who worked with Hudkins for a number of years at Cephalon, is coming aboard as chief of development.
“We’re having a lot of fun. It’s really an exceptional team, and a really important problem we’re seeking to solve,” Harris said.
The article has been updated to clarify that x-ray crystallography involves x-ray beams.