OncoTartis Inc., the U.S. daughter company of Skolkovo resident biomed startup OncoTartis, has raised $6 million in investment to develop its treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia.

The acute myeloid leukaemia drug is being developed simultaneously in Russia and the U.S. Photo: Sk.ru.

The funds were raised from two investors: Norma Investments, representing the prominent Russian businessman Roman Abramovich, and Pharmstandard International. The money will be used to carry out phase one clinical trials in the U.S. of the company’s leading product, OT-82, a nicotinamide phosphoribosyltransferase (NAMPT) inhibitor being developed to treat acute myeloid leukaemia.

OncoTartis Inc. is developing a novel category of anti-cancer drugs directed against tissue-specific targets for cancers including breast, prostate, ovarian and melanoma. Formal toxicology studies of OT-82 have been successfully completed in Russia, where OncoTartis is a resident of Skolkovo’s biomed cluster. The drug is being developed simultaneously by OncoTartis in Russia and OncoTartis Inc. in the U.S.

The clinical trials in the U.S. will start in the middle of next year and last for about two-and-a-half years.

“During the next round of investment, after [we obtain approval to conduct clinical research into] an Investigational New Drug [from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration], clinical research will be carried out in several U.S. centres with the participation of patients with various forms of blood cancers,” said Andrei Leonov, director general of OncoTartis.

“As a result of this research, we plan to assess the safety of our drug candidate, as well as obtain preliminary results of its effectiveness in the chosen treatment regime,” he added.

The company’s founding intellectual property came from Professor Andrei Gudkov’s laboratory at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. The Russian company has received significant financial support in grants from the Skolkovo Foundation, and took third place at this year’s Startup Village event at the innovation centre.

OncoTartis won the third prize at this year's Startup Village at the Skolkovo innovation city. Photo: Sk.ru.

Vladimir Tezov, director general of Bioprocess Capital Ventures, which set up OncoTartis in 2011, said his venture fund had been right to invest in the project at such an early stage.

“The method of ‘pharmacological surgery’ proposed by professor Gudkov has been corroborated during the project’s development and has already made it possible not only to create a molecule that selectively destroys hematopoietic cells, but also to determine the mechanism of its actions,” said Tezov.

“The results of pre-clinical research into the drug show that it has a high activity and selectivity,” he added.

Kirill Kaem, senior vice president for innovations of the Skolkovo Foundation, said the company had not only developed a first-in-class drug, it had created an entirely new platform for the development of new classes of drugs.

“Today the company, having obtained good data in its pre-clinical research, is focusing its efforts on resistant forms of acute leukaemia,” said Kaem.

“The expected success in the clinical phases of the research will make it possible in future to expand the use of the platform and start developing drugs with new targets. The involvement of an investor with major industry expertise confirms the high potential of this platform,” he added.

The investment deal is notable for the fact that it brings together a financial investor, Abramovich’s Norma Investments, and a strategic investor, Pharmstandard, said Vladimir Sakovich, managing director of the investment department of Skolkovo Ventures.

“Practice has shown that this combination in a syndicate of investors usually leads to a healthy balance in the project between the development of advanced technologies and their practical commercialization,” he added.

“It’s also noteworthy that the investment was raised to carry out clinical trials in the U.S., and that market is the benchmark for most projects with international potential in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Sakovich, adding that the Skolkovo Foundation fosters other companies that plan to follow that same route.

“We hope they will also find the level of investment they deserve,” he said.