Outset is proud to have played a role in Meliora's recent $10M fundraise to support the development of better cancer drugs! The Wall Street Journal has even featured this fundraise, and you can read the article below. We believe that collaboration and innovation can make a big impact on healthcare, and we are proud to be working with Meliora and others to push the boundaries of cancer treatment and care.
Full Article: Biotech Meliora Therapeutics Gets $11 Million Seed Financing for Cancer Treatments
By Brian Gormley, WSJ
Biotech startup Meliora Therapeutics Inc. has secured $11 million in seed funding to try to uncover how cancer medicines actually work and hopefully develop new ones that have a greater chance of stopping the disease.
Some 97% of cancer drugs fail in clinical trials, often for reasons that are unclear, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine by researchers including Jason Sheltzer, an assistant professor of surgery and genetics at Yale School of Medicine, and a co-founder of Meliora.
The company’s founders say they’ve found at least one reason the failure rate is so high: Cancer drugs often don’t work the way their developers thought they would.
Typically, companies design drugs to inhibit a protein believed to be vital to cancer cells. If that drug fails, it could be because the protein the drug hits isn’t as important to the cancer’s survival as previously believed, according to Menlo Park, Calif.-based Meliora.
The drug also might be hitting other proteins more important to the cancer’s growth. But because the drug wasn’t optimized to inhibit those other proteins, it doesn’t work as well as hoped.
Meliora aims to use machine-learning and other tools to discover how cancer drugs are doing their work. This will enable these compounds to be honed to hit the most important target proteins, according to Co-founder and Chief Executive David Li.
If companies know which protein is most important for a drug to hit, they can increase their chance of success in clinical trials, and better select the right cancers and patients for a particular medication, Mr. Li said.
Dr. Sheltzer’s research involved using Crispr gene-editing to eliminate proteins that a set of cancer drugs were thought to target in cancer cells. He found that eliminating these proteins didn’t make the drugs less effective. This indicated that these compounds must be working through some other mechanism, he said. He also found that the proteins the drugs ostensibly targeted weren’t essential for cancer cells to proliferate.
“We thought this was an important insight that could guide and improve oncology drug development in the future,” Dr. Sheltzer said.
Meliora is building a reference library cataloging how cancer drugs work. The library includes data on how drugs that are known to hit a given target affect cancer cells, according to Mr. Li. When there isn’t a known drug targeting a given protein, Meliora uses gene-editing to delete that protein. By documenting the effect this knockout produces, Meliora can infer how a drug targeting the protein would affect cancer, according to Mr. Li.
When Meliora seeks to understand how a given drug works, it studies the compound’s effect on cancer cells. Then it uses machine-learning to determine if these effects match any in its reference library. If they do, Meliora can infer how that drug works, Mr. Li said.
Meliora intends to develop cancer treatments by forming partnerships with other drugmakers and by using compounds in the public domain as starting points to develop novel medicines.
To create new drugs, Meliora would use its technology to discover the true mechanism of a drug that showed promise in clinical trials, but not enough to justify its continued development. Then it would optimize that drug to hit the specific targets essential to the tumor, leading to the creation of a completely new drug that could be patented, according to Mr. Li.
Meliora’s strategy doesn’t guarantee success; any new drug could still falter in clinical trials. But the company is betting its approach will increase its odds of developing an effective medication.
The company plans to use the $11 million in seed funding to expand its reference library, advance proof-of-concept assets, explore industry partnerships and build its team, Mr. Li said.
HOF Capital and ZhenFund led the financing, which also included Obvious Ventures, Village Global, BrightEdge, Axial, Olive Capital, Hawktail Management, Pebblebed and individual investors.