With the clinic in sight, Greg Verdine's startup bags $178M for new class of targeted therapies
ARCH Venture Partners is buying into Greg Verdine’s vision for a world where no targets are off-limits — with the goal of finally pushing the first drug into the clinic.
The size of the Series D financing — $178 million — matches the grand ambitions FogPharma has sketched out with its Helicon compounds, a new class of polypeptide drugs it says combines the cell-penetrating capacity of small molecules with the target-engaging tenacity of biologics.
The biotech is hoping to file an IND for FOG-001, a TCF-blocking β-catenin inhibitor, by mid-2023, a few months behind a Q4 2022 projection that Verdine offered up at the time of Fog’s $107 million Series C in spring 2021. It’s also lining up a slate of programs hitting cancer targets that have been out of reach by other approaches: TEAD, NRAS, Pan-KRAS, ERG and Cyclin E1.
Verdine, a chemist at Harvard and serial entrepreneur, launched FogPharma in 2016 with the idea for a “brace” that would lock polypeptide structures in place so that they can better penetrate cells, home in on specific targets and stay in the body for longer.
He told Endpoints News Monday morning that he had wanted to drug β-catenin from the very beginning, given that it’s a driver of 20% to 30% of all cancer. But the target interacts with so many proteins that it took several attempts to figure out the exact protein FogPharma would need to go after — and only settled on TCF after the Broad Institute came up with DepMap, a cancer dependency map laying out the interactions that various cancer cells are most dependent on.
FogPharma will first test FOG-001 in colorectal cancer, where Verdine noted that 80% to 90% of patients see activation of β-catenin. Later trials in other cancer types may require biomarker-based patient screening.
“In addition to taking the lead product into the clinic, we also have backups, we have second gen,” Verdine said. “There’s a lot going on there.”
In conjunction with the round, he’s recruited Rick Klausner — the former National Cancer Institute chief of Juno, Lyell and now Altos Labs fame — to the board of directors.
These Helicon polypeptides, Verdine said in a statement, “represent the future of precision medicine.”
The round featured two other new investors, Milky Way Investments and Fidelity Management & Research Company, as well as a group of existing investors. Other backers include VenBio Partners, Deerfield Management, GV, Cormorant Asset Management, funds and accounts advised by T. Rowe Price Associates, Invus, Farallon Capital Management, HBM Healthcare Investments, Casdin Capital, and PagsGroup.
Having raised $107 million just a year and a half ago, Verdine said the latest cash infusion will keep FogPharma funded until the second half of 2025. Initial data from trials are expected in mid-2024.
“The (patient-derived tumor xenografts) data are really phenomenal,” he said. “So if we get anything close to that in patients, I think we’ll have all kinds of options available to us.”
Editor’s note: Story updated to add comment from Greg Verdine.