Local drugmaker TP Therapeutics has brought in $80 million to push forward its research for a cancer therapy to treat tumors that are resistant to existing cancer drugs.
The company, which made the announcement Friday, plans to put the cash to work funding a mid-stage trial that tests its drug, reptrectinib, in humans. The therapy is targeted to treat specific cancer mutations to the genes ALK, ROS1, and TRK, which are all tied to lung cancer and other solid tumors.
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TP Therapeutics was founded in 2013 by well-known drug designer Jean Cui and her husband Y. Peter Li. Cui is best known as the lead inventor of top-selling Pfizer cancer drug, Xalkori — an achievement that earned her prestige (along with many awards and honors) in the scientific community. That’s because Xalkori trounced chemotherapy in a 2014 lung cancer trial and is one of Pfizer’s top selling drugs, pulling in $600 million per year in annual sales in 2017.
When Xalkori reached the market in 2011, Cui wasn’t satisfied with her contribution to patients.
“I saw problems with Xalkori and other drugs available for this type of cancer, and I knew that someone needed to work on these problems so that we could provide better medicines for patients,” Cui said in an interview with the San Diego Business Journal in 2016. “That’s why I resigned from Big Pharma ― to start a company that could solve these problems.”
The biotech has been hard at work ever since. But this new money came with a shakeup to the company’s executive team. Athena Countouriotis is being promoted from chief medical officer to chief executive officer. Co-founder Li, who has been chairman and CEO since the company was founded, has moved into a new role as head of TP Therapeutics Asia. Cui, who’s serving as president and chief scientific officer, has additionally assumed the role of chairman.
Located in the Torrey Pines area, TP Therapeutics was founded in October 2013. It now has 32 full-time employees, Countouriotis said. The company expects to have about 40 full-time employees by the end of this year,
Countouriotis, who joined the company in May of this year, has extensive experience in developing cancer drugs. This is the first time she’s been a CEO.
“I stepped out of oncology about a year ago, and then I was enticed back by our board of directors,” Countouriotis said. “I knew most of the people who were already part of this company.”
Countouriotis said Cui played a particularly important role in convincing her to join.
Cui and Li made it clear to Countouriotis in March that the company was looking for a CEO with experience in both public and privately held companies, which Countouriotis has.
Most recently, Countouriotis had been senior vice president and chief medical officer at Adverum Biotechnologies in Menlo Park. Before that, she held the same role at Halozyme Therapeutics in San Diego.
Additionally, Countouriotis was chief medical officer at San Diego’s Ambit Biosciences, where she led development of the acute myeloid leukemia drug quizartinib. Ambit went public shortly before it was purchased by Japanese drug company Daiichi Sankyo in 2014 for about $315 million.
Countouriotis also worked in clinical development at Pfizer and Bristol-Myers Squibb for the cancer drugs Sutent, Mylotarg, Bosulif, and Sprycel.
TP Therapeutics may be gunning for an IPO in the near future. The company just raised a $45 million Series C financing round last May that included a number of crossover investors — usually a sign that a biotech is considering going public soon. This recent $80 million financing was a mezzanine round, which is a combo of debt and equity financing.
Foresite Capital and venBio Partners led the round, with participation from new investors HBM Healthcare Investments and Nextech Invest, among others.
Cancer patients and others interested in clinical testing of repotrectinib can find more information at www.tptherapeutics.com/pipeline.