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Looking Back on 2016: A Year of Firsts, Financings, and Fun

Reflection is an important part of any journey.  So, we wanted to take a short moment in our focused pursuit of developing life-changing medicines and technologies to reflect on 2016.  This year has been filled with two company launches, multiple financings, important scientific milestones, and personal achievements by our COI Pharma leadership and community.

Two New Companies Targeting Cancer’s Defense System

The immune system is naturally designed to seek out and destroy harmful microbes or cells in the body, including tumor cells.  However, tumor cells have several ways of evading this natural immune attack.  Immuno-oncology is a growing field of cancer therapeutics that aim to help the immune system better detect and eliminate tumor cells.  Two new COI companies, PDI Therapeutics and Fortis Therapeutics, are working on novel immune-oncology therapies to help treat cancers.

PDI Therapeutics is taking a unique approach to immune-oncology by designing therapeutics and improve the body’s ability to recognize and destroy tumor cells.  One way tumor cells avoid detection is by expressing a protein called protein disulfide isomerase (PDI).  PDI Therapeutics’ approach is to inhibit the expression of PDIs so the immune system can find and kill the cancer cells. PDI is the eighth company created under an expanded collaboration with GSK and received $10 million in Series A financing.

The second company, Fortis Therapeutics, is advancing a novel antibody drug conjugate (ADC). The goal of an ADC therapy is to selectively target cancer cells and deliver potent cytotoxic drugs.  Fortis Therapeutics want to use this approach against tumor cells that are resistant to chemotherapeutics such as abiraterone (Abi) or enzalutamide.  These resistant cells have markers that ADCs can be designed to recognize and target, which allows for specific delivery of the more potent drugs. Fortis is developing this therapy to for treatment of late-stage metastatic castrate-resistant prostate cancer and multiple myeloma.  Fortis Therapeutics launched in September with an $18 million Series A financing.

With the addition of these two companies, a total of 15 companies are now included in the COI portfolio and are incubated on-site with support from our experienced leadership team.

Financings for Clinical Advancements

New financings for COI Pharma portfolio companies demonstrate the strength and progress that each company is making.  This year, three companies completed financing rounds that will help them advance their technologies towards clinical use.

In July, Synthorx completed a $10 million Series B financing and plans to use the funds for the development and scale-up of novel protein therapeutics that incorporate at least one synthetic amino acid.  Synthorx’s drug development efforts are currently focused on autoimmune disease, pain, and cancer. Synthrox plans to be in late clinical trials with at least one of the projects by the end of 2018.

Also in July, AristaMD announced it will use its $11 million Series A financing to accelerate commercialization and further enhance functionality of the company’s proprietary Referral Intelligence Platform. This platform offers simple-to-use software and eConsult solutions for better specialty referral decisions, reduced cost-of-care, and improved patient outcomes.

Also looking to improve patient outcomes with their leading product candidate AVB-620, Avelas Biosciences announced the closing of their $20 million Series C financing in August.  AVB-620 is a “cancer illuminator” that helps surgeons distinguish cancerous tissue from non-cancerous tissue while in the operating room. This financing will be used to advance this product into late-stage clinical trials.

First Scientific and Clinical Milestones

COI companies are making significant strides to developing therapeutics to improve human health.  Both Sitari Pharmaceuticals and Silarus Therapeutics, the first two companies formed under the collaboration with GSK, achieved lead declaration and established a path to identify a clinical candidate. These milestones were both completed within the agreement timeline. These companies are developing improved treatments for celiac disease and iron deficiency and iron overload disorders, respectively.

In addition to their Series C, Avelas Biosciences, made an important clinical achievement this year. The company completed its Phase 1b clinical trial for AVB-620 in women with primary, non-recurrent breast cancer undergoing surgery. Along with collaborators from UCSD, Avelas presented the data from the trial that showed promise of using their technology to improve a surgeon’s precision in the operating room.

After a successful 4-month pilot, AristaMD made further headway by expanding their eConsult services system wide at North County Health Services in San Diego.

COI in the Community

Several COI companies were recognized externally by the industry for their achievements. Avelas, AristaMD, and Synthorx’s were named to Xconomy’s San Diego Life Science Startups to Watch in 2016 and BioSpace named Adrenergics, CadheRx, and Silarus Therapeutics to their list of Top 20 Life Science Startups to Watch in the U.S.

Hatch, San Diego Magazine’s quarterly innovation issue, sat down with COI’s President and CEO Dr. Jay Lichter at the beginning of 2016 to discuss the process and challenges with funding the translation of scientific discoveries into medical products that can change people’s lives.

Dr. Lichter noted that creation of an incubator like COI Pharma has helped to provide expertise and support that most new biotech startups don’t receive in the first few years.

Knowing there has been tremendous change in the life science industry over the last 15 years, PharmaVOICE asked leaders to reflect on the biggest changes they have witnessed.

Dr. Lichter sites the expansion of scientific innovation as being one of the biggest changes.  He also discusses how forming COI Pharma capitalizes on these increased opportunities.  In recognition for his courage in innovation, PharmaVOICE also named Dr. Lichter to the magazine’s list of 100 outstanding professionals in the life-sciences industry.

COI Community

A look back at a year at COI would not be complete without mentioning the incredible management, scientific, and administrative teams that drive innovation forward and take COI portfolio companies to the next level. This year we have added several members to our management team and would like to extend a warm welcome to Neil Gibson, Ph.D., Dereck Tatman, Ph.D., and Justin Chapman, Ph.D.  Learn more about them here.

We are also grateful for all the fun we have together from our bi-annual Tour de COI bike rides, twice-weekly COI Fit health program, and monthly birthday celebrations — we look forward to another awesome year for 2017.

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