RARE Daily

Aura Raises $80 Million to Advance Pipeline Targeting Rare Ocular Cancers

March 22, 2021

Rare Daily Staff

Aura Biosciences, which is developing a novel class of virus-like drug conjugate therapies for multiple cancer indications, said it closed an oversubscribed $80 million financing.

Matrix Capital Management and Surveyor Capital (a Citadel company) led the financing with participation from new investors Rock Springs Capital, Adage Capital Management, and Velosity Capital. Existing investors Medicxi, Advent Life Sciences, Lundbeckfonden
Ventures, Arix Bioscience, Chiesi Ventures, Ysios Capital and Columbus Venture Partners also participated in the round.

“Aura is pioneering the development of a new class of targeted therapies for life-threatening cancers with our novel VDC technology platform,” said Elisabet de los Pinos, CEO of Aura. “This funding enables us to advance AU-011 into a pivotal phase 3 program for the first line treatment of choroidal melanoma, a rare, life- and vision-threatening form of cancer with no drugs approved.”

AU-011 is a first-in-class virus-like drug conjugate (VDC) therapy in development for the first line treatment of choroidal melanoma. The virus-like component of the VDC selectively binds unique heparan sulphate proteoglycans (HSPGs) that are modified and overexpressed on the tumor cell surface of choroidal melanoma cells (and other tumors) and delivers a potent cytotoxic drug that is activated with infrared light. Upon activation with an ophthalmic laser, the cytotoxic drug rapidly and specifically disrupts the cell membrane of malignant melanoma cells with a pro-immunogenic cell death that is believed to activate the immune system and generate long term anti-tumor immunity.

Aura says the specificity of tumor binding by the VDC enables the preservation of key eye structures, which may allow for the potential of preserving patients’ vision and reducing other long-term complications of radiation treatment.

The possibility of early treatment intervention and the activation of the immune system could also lead to a reduction in the metastatic rate for patients with this life-threatening disease. AU-011 can be delivered using equipment commonly found in an ophthalmologist’s office and does not require a surgical procedure, pointing to a potentially less invasive, more convenient therapy for patients and physicians. The company has demonstrated the efficacy and safety of AU-011 in a phase 1b/2 trial, including high rates of tumor control and vision preservation.

Proceeds will also be used to expand Aura’s VDC technology in additional ocular oncology indications and in the treatment of solid tumors like bladder cancer where there is a high unmet medical need for better targeted therapies to treat early and reduce the incidence of metastasis.

AU-011 for the treatment of choroidal melanoma has been granted Orphan Drug and Fast Track designations by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Photo: Elisabet de los Pinos, CEO of Aura


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