Avalon launches eighth company as part of GSK collaboration

Under an expanded collaboration deal, PDI Therapeutics will develop novel immuno-oncology therapies

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SAN DIEGO—So, Avalon Ventures has been pretty busy churning out pharma/life-sciences companies since partnering up with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) back around 2013. Busy enough that it had two colliding bits of news this week: the formation of an eighth company under its GSK collaboration and milestones for the earliest two companies under the deal.
But first, a little history, so that you can keep everything straight, names and otherwise.
In April 2013, GSK hatched a plan to improve the economics of investing in drug discovery, and that involved forging a deal with veteran life-sciences investors at Avalon Ventures to create drug discovery startups in the San Diego area, with GSK committing most of the capital, to the tune of $495 million under the original deal (Avalon was planning to provide another $30 million). The plan was to launch around 10 startups over the following three years, housing them in a common facility. Each startup was to focus on discovering drugs against promising disease targets in specific therapeutic arenas, and GSK had the power to approve which groups get funding as well as being first in line to acquire any of the companies, if successful.
Avalon and GSK founded COI Pharmaceuticals as an “unconventional venture-pharma entity that provides life science inventors with an environment where entrepreneurial and scientific risks are encouraged and rewarded.” This “Community of Innovation” (hence the COI part of the name) was established in 2013 to support companies funded through the collaboration between Avalon Ventures and GSK (as well as existing Avalon portfolio companies). COI, which is location in La Jolla, Calif., reportedly provides the intellectual capital to launch companies, a fully-equipped R&D infrastructure and industry mentors prepared to leverage their expertise to help entrepreneurial scientists succeed.
Up until this month, the collaboration between Avalon and GSK had launched Sitari Pharma, Silarus Therapeutics, Thyritope Biosciences, Adrenergics, CadheRx Therapeutics, Calporta Therapeutics and Iron Horse Therapeutics.
And so that brings us to the here-and-now.
And part of that here-and-now was Avalon and COI announcing this week that the first two companies formed under the collaboration with GSK have achieved their first milestones. Sitari Pharmaceuticals, which is developing novel treatments for celiac disease, and Silarus Therapeutics, which is developing novel treatments for iron overload disorders, “have both achieved lead declaration and established a path to identify a clinical candidate,” Avalon said. Financial terms of the milestones have not been disclosed.
In addition, Avalon and COI Pharmaceuticals announced the formation of a new company—the eighth now coming out of the Avalon-GSK deal, which is named PDI Therapeutics. PDI will develop novel immune-oncology therapies, and is the first company formed since Avalon and GSK expanded their collaboration in November 2015.
“We have quickly achieved our first milestones at Sitari Pharmaceutical and Silarus Therapeutics because of the dedication of our team at COI Pharmaceuticals and the committed support from our collaborators at GSK,” said Dr. Jay Lichter, managing director of Avalon Ventures and president and CEO of COI Pharmaceuticals. “We are also continuing to evaluate promising scientific advancements to form new companies. Our newest company, PDI Therapeutics, will focus on developing novel stand-alone or combination immunotherapies to enlist the body’s immune system to fight cancer.”
“The accomplishment of these first milestones by the entrepreneurial team at COI Pharmaceuticals, Sitari and Silarus shows the potential of our collaboration with Avalon Ventures,” added Dr. Damien McDevitt, vice president of business development and head of the R&D West Coast satellite at GSK. “We look forward to further scientific advancements from this collaboration as well as formation of additional companies with innovative technologies that can address unmet medical needs.”
PDI Therapeutics is named for protein disulfide isomerase. When overexpressed, this protein can help tumor cells avoid detection by the immune system’s NK and T cells. PDI Therapeutics is developing antibody inhibitors to specific protein disulfide isomerases to unmask tumor cells so the immune system can recognize and destroy them. PDI’s inhibitors could be used as a stand-alone therapy or in combination with other known immunotherapies, such as CAR-NK, that stimulate the immune system to recognize and eliminate solid tumors.
As with the other companies founded under the collaboration between Avalon and GSK, PDI Therapeutics will receive up to $10 million in Series A financing and R&D support from Avalon and GSK as well as R&D and mentoring support through COI Pharmaceuticals. GSK has the option to acquire each of the companies when a clinical candidate is identified. However, if GSK does not elect to exercise this option, Avalon will retain its ownership in the company, and the company will be free to enter into other strategic transactions.

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