Madison, Wis. – A Madison company that is developing drugs to protect cancer patients from common side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy has closed on a Series A Preferred Stock financing led by Venture Investors of Madison.
ProCertus BioPharm, an oncology-based pharmaceutical company, will use the financing to begin clinical studies with cancer patients to demonstrate proof-of-concept in humans for its chemo- and radio-protective products. The first of these products is DermX, which has been developed for the prevention of radiotherapy-induced dermatitis.
Venture Investors, a venture capital firm with $190 million under management, was joined in the financing by existing investors, including Novartis Venture Fund, which has offices in Boston and Basel, Switzerland. Novartis, which manages more than $550 million in committed capital in more than 50 private companies, was the first venture capital firm to support ProCertus. Since its first investment in 2000, it has followed with three additional rounds, including the Series A round.
William Fahl, chief scientific officer, chairman, and founder of ProCertus, said the company is charting new territory. “The technology ProCertus has developed is a unique approach to addressing cancer therapy side effects,” he said. “We expect success where others have failed.”
Executives on board
The financing is coupled with management expertise. George Arida and Paul Weiss, both managing directors with Venture Investors, will join the ProCertus Board of Directors. Weiss will serve as CEO through the Series A financing as the company moves into clinical development.
Campbell Murray, a managing director for Novartis Venture Fund, also will join the board.
Whereas the company’s scientific foundation was important at previous stages, when potential corporate partners were interested in its technology and any human data associated with it, Fahl said the new executives will be important in managing the infusion of venture capital and in identifying large pharmaceutical partners to help develop the technology and bring it to market.
Venture Investors traditionally has looked for investments in companies with a sustainable market advantage, and Weiss said the firm is very excited about ProCertus and its approach to addressing a “serious unmet need among cancer patients.”
Arida said Venture Investors believes that ProCertus has a “powerful and differentiated approach” to helping oncologists and cancer patients manage the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. He noted that the side effects have a major impact on quality of life for patients receiving therapy, and in some cases can limit treatment.
Arida said Venture Investors sees a relatively efficient development path ahead for ProCertus products. The company will start Phase I/II clinical trials on human cancer patients later this year.
ProCertus already has established proof-of-concept in animal models for several of its pharmaceutical candidates, and all of them are designed to reduce or eliminate side effects associated with cancer therapy. The products all would be topically applied to the skin rather than administered systemically. They include:
• DermX, which is designed to protect normal skin stem cells from radiotherapy and prevent dermatitus, or skin burn.
• ProDermaCel, which protects normal hair follicle stem cells and prevents hair loss (alopecia).
• OralX, which protects normal mucous membrane linings in the mouth, throat, and esophagus from mucositis, or inflammation and ulceration, that follows head and neck radiotherapy or systemic chemotherapy.
ProCertus has not only completed animal proof-of-concept for these targets, it is starting a series of five clinical studies to establish safety and efficacy for each.
Of the three drug candidates, Fahl said OralX is the only one that would face a competitive product on the market, and that particular therapy has limited efficacy.
The inventions associated the company’s intellectual property are derived from research done in Fahl’s laboratory. In addition to his executive position with ProCertus, Fahl is a professor of oncology at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, which is part of the Paul P. Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
McArdle Laboratory has a history of cancer discoveries, including the development of 5FU, a chemotherapy drug used as a treatment for some types of cancer, and the strategy of using multi-drug cancer chemotherapy.
Dr. James Cleary, head of the Palliative Medicine Section of the UW-Madison Comprehensive Cancer Center, will serve as the primary investigator on the clinical studies. Cleary recently served as president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine.
The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation owns the patents that are licensed exclusively to ProCertus.