NEW YORK – Opna Bio said Monday that it raised $38 million in Series A financing to develop novel inhibitors of fragile-X mental retardation protein (FMRP) inhibitors as oncology drugs.
Longitude Capital and Northpond Ventures led the financing, with participation from Menlo Ventures.
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based company's FMRP program is built on research by cofounder Douglas Hanahan of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), who published an article in Science exploring the emerging role of FMRP as an immuno-oncology target. Hanahan showed that knocking out the FMRP gene in cancer cells enables an immune response against tumors that are otherwise resistant to immune attack.
Opna has acquired an exclusive license for technology associated with FMRP from EPFL. The program will be guided by a novel FMRP gene signature, but an Opna spokesperson said the company does not yet know if the drug will require a specific FMRP biomarker test or companion diagnostic for clinical trials.
Expression of FMRP is elevated in cancers such as pancreatic, colon, breast, prostate, and lung, some of which are resistant to immune checkpoint therapy due to elevated FMRP. Hanahan has shown that upregulation of FMRP suppresses T-cell recruitment and blocking FMRP expression results in T-cell activation leading to anti-tumor activity. Additional anti-tumor benefit was observed when FMRP depletion was combined with immune checkpoint inhibition.
As part of the company's launch, Opna has also acquired two clinical-stage assets and a portfolio of preclinical programs from Plexxikon. OPN-2853 is a bromo and extra terminal (BET) domain inhibitor currently being evaluated in a Phase I/II trial with ruxolitinib for myelofibrosis. OPN-7486 is a colony-stimulating factor 1 (CSF1) receptor inhibitor scheduled to begin Phase II studies in 2023.