A novel drug discovery platform developed by Yale professor Lieping Chen has led to a record $67 million Series A financing—one of the largest Series A financing rounds for a biotech startup and the largest such deal in Yale’s history. Chen’s technology, which investors hope will lead to new immunotherapy drugs to treat cancer, is being developed by NextCure, Inc., a new biopharmaceutical company. The deal is unique not only for the size of the investment but for its innovative approach: combining patented technologies with the unique insights of the inventor into tumor microenvironments.
“This deal confirms the critical importance of Dr. Chen’s contributions to the growing field of immuno-oncology,” says Jon Soderstrom, Managing Director of the Yale Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) which played an active role in constructing the deal. “We are confident that this will help usher in a new era of cancer treatment.”
Chen, the United Technologies Corporation Professor in Cancer Research and Professor of Immunobiology, of Dermatology and of Medicine (Medical Oncology) and Co-Director of the Cancer Immunology Program at Yale Cancer Center, first discovered the importance of the specific protein pathway on which his drug discovery platform is built more than a decade ago. Specifically, he found that the proteins PD-1 and PD-L1 (PD is short for “programmed death”), acting together, could prevent the body’s immune system from attacking tumors. In 2014, Dr. Chen received the William B. Coley Award for outstanding achievements in Basic and Tumor Immunology for his discovery of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway as a target for cancer immunotherapy. This discovery has led to new drugs that block the binding mechanism, including two cancer immunotherapy drugs in current clinical use (Opdivo®, Keytruda®) and many other products in clinical development.
“Immuno-oncology drugs are making a big impact on the survival of many cancer patients,” Dr. Chen says. “Our research is targeted to finding the next generation of treatments for those patients and tumor types which do not adequately respond to available therapy.”’
Major investors in the financing round include Canaan Partners, Lilly Asia Ventures, OrbiMed Advisors, Pfizer Inc., Sofinnova Ventures and Alexandria Venture Investments. The $67 million includes an exclusive license for patented technologies, access to Chen’s expertise and payments to support research.
“This deal allows Dr. Chen to substantially scale up his research to discover new immuno-oncology therapies,” says Hong Peng, OCR’s Associate Director of Licensing. “Our office is committed to connecting researchers like Dr. Chen with investment opportunities to advance new technologies and bring new cures to market.”
About the Office of Cooperative Research
Since its founding in 1982, the Yale Office of Cooperative Research (OCR) has built a significant portfolio of inventions and patents and has grown into an engine of regional economic development. Its mission is to facilitate the translation of research from Yale’s labs into products and services that benefit society. OCR is recognized as a leading force for catalyzing economic growth by identifying, counseling and nurturing early-stage technologies and guiding the transition into robust companies.