Mavupharma, a biotech startup based in Kirkland, Wash., announced Wednesday that it has raised a $20 million Series A funding round to develop a unique class of drug that enables the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
The funding comes from Frazier Healthcare Partners, which led the round, and Alpine BioVentures. It is the first funding the startup has raised since it was founded in 2016.
Mavupharma was co-founded by senior Frazier life sciences advisor Michael Gallatin, who serves as its president, and pharmaceutical executive Greg Dietsch, now the company’s chief scientific officer.
The funding will help the company’s leading drug candidate start clinical trials, an essential step on the path towards being approved by the FDA.
Mavupharma’s research focuses on the STING (stimulator of interferon genes) pathway, an important part of the body’s innate immune response.
Among other things, the pathway triggers more intense immune responses and isolates infected cells so they do not spread their disease. It is already being studied as a way to treat some cancers.
“Targeting the STING pathway holds great potential for harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer and viral diseases,” said Gallatin, also Mavupharma’s President, in a press release. “Mavu’s novel approach uses non-nucleotide small molecules to indirectly and conditionally modulate the pathway, and we are leveraging this technology to develop orally bioavailable STING activators with first-in-class potential.”
Making an oral drug is what Mavupharma hopes will set it apart: Most other STING drugs need to be injected directly into a cancer tumor. The company is also casting a wider net, looking at applications outside cancer.
And if it finds success with small-molecule drugs, it could set it apart in the field of cancer immunotherapy, drugs that use the immune system to fight cancer.
Many of the success stories in the field so far are complex treatments based on living biological cells, like T-cells and antibodies. That means they are more complicated and expensive to make, store and administer than a simple oral drug might be.
The company also announced Wednesday that it has added new leadership: Biotech entrepreneur Bob Balta was added as the executive chairman of the company’s board and pharmaceutical executive Clayton Knox joined the company as its chief operating officer. The company has five employees total.
Other board members include Frazier general managing partner Jamie Topper and biotech executive and advisor Richard Heyman.