A cancer-focused drug discoverer and developer emerged from stealth mode by disclosing today that it has raised $40 million in Series A and Series B financings.

Vivace Therapeutics said that its $25 million Series B financing was led by new investor Cenova Capital and included another new investor, Sequoia Capital China, as well as existing investors Canaan Partners, WuXi Healthcare Ventures, and Mission Bay Capital.  

Canaan Partners and WuXi Healthcare Ventures co-led Vivace’s $15 million Series A financing, completed in 2015 but not disclosed until today.

Headquartered in San Mateo, CA, Vivace is an acronym for “Vision, Value, Conviction, Experience.” The company says its drug discovery and development efforts will initially focus on inhibitors of the Hippo-YAP signaling pathway.

When healthy, Hippo-YAP controls tissue regeneration and the size and shape of organs. However, mutations of the YAP, or Yes-associated protein, pathway can contribute to numerous cancers—including gastric, colon, cervical, ovarian, breast, uveal melanoma, mesothelioma, hepatocellular carcinoma, and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. YAP activity is also linked to resistance to targeted therapies and to cancer relapse.

Vivace said it is exploring both inhibition and activation of the Hippo-YAP pathway. Kun-Liang Guan, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego—one of the company’s scientific co-founders, whose research specializes in the Hippo-YAP pathway—recently discovered additional potential immuno-oncology applications by activating the pathway.

The company is discovering and developing new cancer immunotherapies that target the Hippo-YAP pathway kinases large tumor suppressor (LATS) 1 and 2. Dr. Guan’s lab has deleted LATS1/2 in tumors, resulting in enhanced tumor immunogenicity, leading to tumor growth inhibition.

“We envision that YAP inhibitors and LATS1/2 inhibitors could also have broad implications in non-oncology indications such as fibrotic disease and regenerative medicine,” Vivace states on its website.

Cancer-Targeting Antibodies

Vivace is also developing BINspecific™ (bi-specific irreversible noncovalent cell-type specific) antibodies), novel therapeutic antibodies designed to target cells by binding in a nearly irreversible and cell-type-specific manner. BINspecific antibodies can target immune modulators as well as signaling pathways on the surface of the cancer cell. 

BINspecific antibodies were discovered in the laboratory of another Vivace scientific co-founder, Bin Liu, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). In addition to Drs. Liu and Guan, Vivace has a third scientific co-founder, Sheng Ding, Ph.D., also of UCSF.

“Since our founding, we have focused on bringing together the best experts from China and the U.S. to turn novel biology into first-in-class cancer therapeutics,” Vivace president and CEO Sofie Qiao, Ph.D., said in a statement.

Vivace says its BINspecific antibodies can achieve superpotent inhibition that is almost irreversible in a cell-type-specific manner, and cellular selectivity of specific targets, creating a superior therapeutic index. The most advanced BINspecific targets the WNT signaling pathway, while others in the development pipeline target antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity, the company states on its website.

“These are novel, high-impact programs where we can show activity in Phase I in molecularly selected patients, giving us an early development read on these transformative therapies,” added Tim Shannon, M.D., general partner at Canaan and a founding member of Vivace's board of directors.

Added Dr. Qiao: “I am thrilled to team up with my academic co-founders, as well as [CSO and board member] Leonard Post [Ph.D.] on yet another oncology company, following my previous collaboration with Dr. Post on LEAD Therapeutics, which led to the discovery of talazoparib.”

Talazoparib, an orally available poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP) inhibitor, was first developed by LEAD, which in 2010 was acquired by BioMarin Pharmaceutical. Five years later, BioMarin sold global talazoparib rights to Medivation  for up to $570 million.

Today, talazoparib is under Phase III development by Medivation, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer—namely a pivotal trial in patients with gBRCA-mutated breast cancer. Medivation is also targeting other solid tumor indications for talazoparib, including breast (beyond gBRCA mutations), prostate, small cell lung, and ovarian cancers.

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