Life science investment firm Accelerator Corporation announced a $7 million in funding for ApoGen Biotechnologies, Inc., a company co-founded by Reuben Harris, professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics. Harris and colleagues launched ApoGen in 2014 to develop therapies to combat drug resistance in cancer cells by impeding the APOBEC enzymes’ ability to mutate.
APOBEC enzymes generate a “mutation signature" common across all cancers types, second only to age-related mutations. While current treatments are often effective in the short term, they fail in the long run as tumors evolve and adapt to the interventions. Slowing down their progress could improve outcomes for numerous cancer patients. Harris’ discoveries relating to APOBEC enzymes informed ApoGen’s scientific approach.
“We are confident that stopping mutation is a good idea,” says Harris. “No one else is working on this yet. It’s a totally novel approach.”
In addition to being a professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics, Harris is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, and the associate director of the U of M’s Institute for Molecular Virology. ApoGen was founded by Harris, University colleague Daniel Harki, associate professor of medicinal chemistry, and John Santini, Jr., president and CEO of Vergent Bioscience.
The investors participating in the $7 million Series A financing include AbbVie Ventures, Alexandria Venture Investments, ARCH Venture Partners, Eli Lilly and Company, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Inc., Watson Fund, L.P., WRF Capital and WuXi PharmaTech.
“One of the great challenges in treating cancer is that it evolves over time and develops resistance to therapy,” says Thong Le, Accelerator’s chief executive officer. “ApoGen’s drug discovery and development efforts are focused on the development of highly selective and potent small molecule inhibitors that aim to slow or stop cancer mutation and the development of drug resistance. The company is also working to develop companion diagnostics to identify the patients likely to get the most benefit from these therapies.”
ApoGen’s scientific advisory board is comprised of world-class investigators in the areas of chemical biology, cancer genomics, drug development and clinical research including José Baselga, physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center; Peter Dervan, Bren Professor of Chemistry at California Institute of Technology; Charles Swanton, senior clinical research fellow and group leader, Translational Cancer Therapeutics, Francis Crick Institute; and Douglas Yee, M.D., director, Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota.