A biotech company that’s developing personalised cancer treatments just raised $US93 million to get their drugs into human trials.
Gritstone Oncology is working on a type of cancer immunotherapy called cancer vaccines that seeks to help amplify the body’s immune system to fight off cancer cells. The series B round was led by Lilly Asia Ventures and joined by GV, formerly Google Ventures, Trinitas Capital and Alexandria Venture Investments.
Gritstone CEO Dr. Andrew Allen told Business Insider that the round would help set the company up to start clinical trials in humans by the middle of 2018. Gritstone’s treatment, which is customised based on a person’s tumour mutations, is meant to essentially “prime” the immune system. Some people are good at responding to an established class of cancer immunotherapy drugs, called checkpoint inhibitors, but others aren’t. The hope is that by using the vaccine in combination with the checkpoint inhibitors, you might be able to get more people to respond.
This is first time GV’s invested in a cancer vaccine, Dr. Anthony Philippakis, a partner at GV, told Business Insider. In the past, GV has invested in a number of life sciences startups, including 23andMe, Flatiron Health, and Foundation Medicine. Allen said having GV on board is helpful, because of GV’s experience with deep learning, something Gritstone’s using to make the tailored vaccines.
There’s a lot of excitement about personalised genetics right now. In August, the FDA approved the first cell therapy for cancer, a treatment called Kymriah. The drug is personalised in a different way, by taking cells from a person, and reprogramming them to go after tumour cells in the body. But the end-goal of these more tailored approaches is the same: make the body better at fighting off cancer cells.
“This is the best shot we have of actually curing people,” Allen said.