Ottawa startup Turnstone Biologics grabs $41.1 million investment led by Orbimed

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Ottawa biotech startup Turnstone Biologics announced a $41.4 million Series B investment led by Orbimed with money also coming from existing investors FACIT and Versant Ventures, along with newcomer F-Prime Capital Partners. It follows up on Turnstone’s $11.3 million Series A funding round led by Versant in 2015.

“We are taking a rapid and expansive approach to clinical development with the goals of exploiting the full potential of our platform and positioning it to most benefit patients,” Turnstone CEO Sammy Farah, Ph.D was quoted as saying. “There is reason to be excited about the heavily differentiated nature of our technology and the promising clinical results that have been generated to date.”

Turnstone is working on Phase I/II trials for a new immunotherapy relevant to lung cancer patients. The treatment is actually an anti-cancer virus called Maraba, associated with so-called “checkpoint inhibitor” research. To put it simply, checkpoint inhibitors direct the immune system to attack cancer cells. The checkpoints referred to here are molecules that are generated by the immune system to protect healthy cells while infected cells are targeted by that immune system.

Crediting the University of Ottawa and McMaster University’s Dr. Brian Lichty, much of the company’s work is based on research from Dr. John Bell and Dr. David Stodjl of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).Turnstone says it plans on launching three more trials between now and the end of 2017.

Turnstone’s product, which they say is actually a combination of two immunotherapy treatments in one, actually comes on the heels of another recent approval by Canada’s Ministry of Health for a metastatic melanoma treatment that combines two immuno-oncology agents: OPDIVO and YERVOY.

“We are thrilled to work with the scientific founders led by Dr. John Bell, and the team at Turnstone, to develop this innovative technology,” said OrbiMed Partner Rishi Gupta, J.D, who alongside F-Prime’s Ben Auspitz will join Turnstone’s directors. “Because of its unique ability to elicit a potent T cell response and modify the tumor microenvironment, it holds great potential as both a standalone therapy and in combination with checkpoint inhibition, where we look forward to preliminary clinical data next year.”

Researchers at Visiongate forecast the checkpoint inhibitor market will be worth $16.55 billion by the end of the decade. Canada has seen some strong biotech news of late, with the announcement of Quark Venture setting up a new Canadian $500 million life sciences investment fund out of Vancouver. Between 2014 and 2015, 24 life sciences companies went public on Toronto Stock Exchange and 10 joined the specialty TSX Venture Exchange.

Cancer startups in general are bagging huge investments recently, many with focused on things like cervical cancer, breast cancer, particular instances of cancers with firefighteersand also other specialized startups focusing on cancer cell metabolism.

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