Investors fork out $76M for Pheast's cancer therapies

Investors fork out $76M for Pheast cancer therapies

Investors love Pheast, the female-led immunotherapy start-up that closed a $76 million Series A funding round that helped develop therapies that focus on the “don’t eat” sign of cancer.

At the head of the table is Amira Barkal, MD, Ph.D., Peast’s principal founder, chief scientific officer, and interim CEO. Barkal has been involved in providing scientific advice to the company aimed at stimulating the native immune response to cancer by blocking the signal sent by certain cancer cells to suppress the body’s immune system.

Led by Arch Venture Partners and Catalio Capital Management, an investment firm founded in 2020 focused on advanced biomedical technologies, Pheast’s funding round includes investments from Alexandria Real Estate, Risk and Reward, and Stanford University’s Presidential Venture Fund.

The preclinical-stage company will use research and development funds that can bring a pipeline of immunosuppressants to the clinic. The funding will also fuel expansion, to double the workforce, which currently stands at around 15 employees, over the next year, Barkal told Fierce Biotech.

Even halved, half of Peast’s scientists are women, Barkal said, a report the company plans to keep amid growth. Female executives and research associates illustrate her platform’s goals for breast and ovarian cancer, diseases that have historically been understudied and difficult to treat.

“While treating some cancers has revolutionized cancer care, many cancers, including ovarian and breast cancer, rarely respond to existing immunosuppressive drugs, and new options are badly needed for patients,” Barkal said.

Barkal and Irv Weissman, MD, at Stanford University, discovered the role of the CD24 protein as a signal that protects cancer cells from being “eaten” by white blood cells called macrophages. Weissman then co-founded the immuno-oncology company Forty-Seven, which acquired Gilead Sciences in 2020.

Weissman and Barkal are both parts of Pheast’s founding and management team, along with Ravi Majeti, MD, Ph.D., and Roy Maute, Ph.D. Majeti and Maute were respectively involved in Forty-Seven as co-founder and co-director. . . translational research. The leadership team of scientists laid a strong foundation for Peast, Barkal said, noting that this underpinning experience can help an organization maximize success, a philosophy that Forty-Seven has also benefited from.

Investors agree. “Pheast’s exceptional leadership and differentiated approach to using macrophage checkpoints to develop life-changing cancer therapies have quickly positioned the company as a leader in the field of immune medicine,” said George Petrocheilos, Catalio’s co-founder and managing partner, in April. 26th edition.

While Pheast therapies are still simmering in the ovens, the company’s preclinical approach differs from most other immunotherapies, which have focused on boosting adaptive immune responses by targeting T cells. Instead, Pheast is exploring ways to suppress cancer immunity, to activate the innate immune system Targeting entirely new signaling through the development of CD24 and therapeutic strategies to combine macrophage checkpoint inhibitors with existing therapies.

In addition to the company’s public goals, Peast anticipates a broad pipeline in other cancers, Barkal said, adding that broad potential is part of Peast’s “beauty and longevity” vision. The scientist is particularly interested in colorectal cancer, where few patients respond well to current treatments.

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