Tech Transfer eNews Blog

Stanford immunotherapy start-up Pheast gobbles up $76M in Series A round


By David Schwartz
Published: May 11th, 2022

Stanford University start-up Pheast Therapeutics is following in the footsteps of cancer immunotherapy company Forty Seven, which spun out of the same lab and ultimately exited in a multibillion dollar deal with Gilead Sciences. Another similarity is the therapeutic action of Pheast’s target drug, which works be stimulating the body’s immune cells to “eat” cancer. But Pheast’s technology – which relies on blocking a different protein — could take the approach to a broader range of cancer types including those that have historically resisted immunotherapy.

Another similarity is the make-up of some of the start-ups founding team, and yet another is the size of its just-completed Series A round, which at $76 million topped the Forty Seven’s A round by $1 million. And while Forty Seven blocked CD47 as a means of releasing hungry immune cells, Pheast is relying on a new protein – CD24 – that does much the same thing, turning off the cancer cells’ “don’t eat me” signal.

Pheast’s founder, physician-scientist Amira Barkal, watched but was not involved in the development of Forty Seven while conducting PhD research in the lab of Irving Weissman. Her own later work in the Weissman lab led to the discovery of CD24.

While CD47 targets blood cancers, CD24 can gobble up solid tumors like breast and ovarian cancer. tumors.

The Pheast platform can actually employ both these proteins and others that may have similar properties because not all cancers respond to the same protein, or they could be used in combination. The key is to understand which of the signals are present in any given tumor, and  Pheast’s technology can sort through the “don’t eat me signals” to find the best approach.

“The goal is to remove the don’t eat me input to tip the balance toward eating. We don’t need to cover 100%,” of don’t eat me signals, Barkal said. “We need to cover the majority.”

Future combinations could include pairings with other types of cancer drugs, potentially including checkpoint inhibitors.

Pheast’s team of fewer than 20 includes veterans of either Forty Seven or Weissman’s lab. Barkal said expansion plans includes a search for her successor as permanent CEO. She plans to remain involved as principal founder.

Investors in Pheast’s Series A financing include Catalio Capital Management, Arch Venture Partners, Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Risk and Reward, and the Stanford University Presidential Venture Fund.

Barkal said the financing will enable the start-up to broaden the scope of its technology beyond CD24. “That’s really the long-term vision,” she said. “Go after don’t eat me signals more globally in cancer.”

Source: MedCity News

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