London-based Pheon Therapeutics made its debut Wednesday armed with $68 million to address a slate of cancers. The Series A funding round was led by Brandon Capital Partners, Forbion Capital Partners and Atlas Venture.
Conventional chemotherapy often damages healthy cells as it tries to kill cancerous ones, but Pheon is betting on anti-drug conjugates (known as ADCs) which target chemotherapy only to specific cancer cells.
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Once the ADC latches onto a cancer cell, the cell absorbs it and the ADC releases a cytotoxic therapeutic, killing cancer cells and leaving healthy ones alone.
Pheon’s pipeline is catered towards addressing solid tumors, and its lead drug candidate is expected to receive Investigational New Drug approval by the Food and Drug Administration by early 2024, allowing it to bypass certain laws and speed up its ability to go to market.
“We are laser-focused on implementing our strategy to get our first program into clinical development as rapidly as possible and the preclinical data generated so far are very promising,” said CEO Bertrand Damour in a statement.
The promise of “magic bullets”
In 2022 alone, cancer startups have seen more than $5.7 billion in funding, according to Crunchbase data.
In recent years, cancer startups have been dominated by cell therapy technology, which transplants biologically engineered healthy cells to a body with a weakened immune system. While ADCs have raised $1.2 billion since 2015, CAR-T cell therapy startups have raised a whopping $9.8 billion, per Crunchbase data.
But ADCs are the kinds of therapeutics Nobel prize winning physician Paul Ehrlich envisioned in the 20th century, which he coined “magic bullets”. Peon isn’t the only one leveraging this technology according to Crunchbase data. China-based Medilink announced a $70 million raise in March, and California’s Solve Therapeutics raised $63.5 million in January.
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