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Company Launches Attacking Cancer Proteins, Lands $67M

Cancer magnified

(PDPics, Pixabay)

25 June 2019. A new enterprise is starting-up to develop treatments that target cancer-causing proteins considered unreachable with current therapies. Frontier Medicines Corp. in South San Francisco, California is also raising $67 million in its first venture funding round.

Frontier Medicines is a spin-off business from the labs of two life science professors at University of California in Berkeley, and scientific founders of the company. Daniel Nomura is a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley, as well as chemistry, nutritional science, and toxicology. He is also on the pharmaceutical chemistry faculty at UC-San Francisco. Roberto Zoncu is a professor of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley, also studying biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology.

Nomura’s lab investigates the chemistry of disease-causing proteins, particularly those proteins considered “undruggable” or not addressable with conventional small molecule drugs. Many of these proteins are difficult to reach with current drugs because they do not provide convenient targets for binding with today’s treatments. Nomura and colleagues are developing a technology to discover these proteins’ previously unreachable binding sites, particularly those addressable with natural substances.

Zoncu’s lab studies lyosomes, the parts of cells containing enzymes that break down basic chemicals in the body including proteins, nucleic acids, carbohydrates, and lipids. The lab looks particularly at lyosomes’ role as control centers for cells to sense nutrients and signal to metabolic pathways.

Discoveries from Nomura’s and Zonco’s labs are integrated into Frontier Medicines’ platform called chemoproteomics. The company expects its chemoproteomics technology to identify hot-spots in the structure of cancer-causing proteins, offering temporary targets for binding with small molecule drugs revealed in the movement of proteins. That technology includes a database of hot-spot binding targets in a majority of human proteins, as well as a library of diverse chemical compounds collected with help from machine-learning algorithms to screen against the binding targets.

And Frontier Medicines plans to enhance the efficacy of its treatments with protein degradation techniques the company says are superior to current methods. “This platform,” says Nomura in a company statement, “enables us to go after almost any protein target of interest for therapeutic intervention.”

Life science entrepreneur Chris Varma is the company’s CEO as well as a co-founder. “Our therapeutic programs are focused on several of the most important and difficult targets in cancer,” says Varma. “With our platform, we have the ability to address previously inaccessible disease-causing proteins.”

Frontier Medicines is raising $67 million in its first round of venture financing. Health care and life science investment companies Deerfield Management, Droia Oncology Ventures, and MPM Capital are leading the round, with participation from DCVC Bio, RA Capital Management, and other investors.

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