• Ona Therapeutics, a spin-off from the BIST centre IRB Barcelona and ICREA, was founded by researchers Salvador Aznar-Benitah and Valerie Vanhooren in 2019. The company focuses its activity on the development of a new medicine for the treatment of metastatic cancer.
• The venture capital funding round has been headed by Asabys Partners, through its Sabadell Asabys division, and has involved the participation of Alta Life Sciences, Ysios Capital, FundPlus (Belgium) and BPI France (France)
• This is the largest private funding round closed for a start-up in Spain.
Ona Therapeutics, which is focused on the discovery and development of therapeutic biologics to treat metastatic cancer, announces today the closing of a €30 million Series A financing, with participation from existing investor Asabys Partners and new investors Alta Life Sciences, Bpifrance – InnoBio 2, Fund+ and Ysios Capital.
Ona Therapeutics was founded in 2019 by the BIST centre IRB Barcelona, ICREA and research scientists Salvador Aznar-Benitah and Valerie Vanhooren, who is also IRB Barcelona alumni. The operation was backed by Asabys Partners – Sabadell Asabys, which has been instrumental in putting together the Series A. Its approach is based on pioneering work from Dr. Aznar-Benitah published in Nature in 2017 that validates Metastasis-Initiating Cells as therapeutic targets in metastatic cancer. The research shows that blocking the pathways that allow fat metabolism in animal models of cancer inhibits the cells that give rise to metastases, with the potential to not only prevent the development of these malignant growths, but also to eliminate existing ones. Importantly, this stands out as a common feature shared among various metastatic tumors, such as oral, breast, ovarian, gastric, bladder, prostate and melanoma.
This research project was made possible thanks to funding from La Marató Foundation of TV3 in its 2012 call, the Worldwide Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, and the Banco Santander, through Santander Universidades and with the support of the Botín Foundation to promote technology transfer. The lab headed by Aznar-Benitah at IRB Barcelona is also supported by funds from the European Research Council (ERC), the Ministry of Science and Innovation, through the ERDF, and the Catalan Government.
The financing will allow Ona Therapeutics to complete the pre-clinical development in a variety of tumor types and to move its lead candidate into first clinical studies in patients with metastatic cancer in 2023.
Valerie Vanhooren, CEO and co-founder of Ona Therapeutics, commented: “We are very pleased to attract such a strong syndicate of investors which validates our approach to developing novel therapies with the potential to treat multiple types of metastatic cancer. Our research demonstrates that the survival of metastatic cells is linked to the intake of certain saturated fats and if we block the capacity for intake of these fats, we significantly reduce the cell’s metastatic potential.”
Alexandra Tolia, Partner at Fund+, said: “Fund+ looks to invest in potential world class opportunities by backing great teams and ground-breaking science in areas of major unmet medical need. Metastasis remains an enormous challenge and the cause of over 90% of all cancer deaths worldwide. Ona Therapeutics is in a unique position to offer a promising new treatment to patients that otherwise have extremely limited options for recovery.”
Joël Jean-Mairet, Managing Partner at Ysios Capital, said: “Ona Therapeutics is founded on world class science out of leading Barcelona research institutes. In the last year it has made exceptional progress in validating its scientific approach and we are very pleased to support this capital raise. Over the past years, we have evaluated around 600 companies active in oncology and Ona Therapeutics stands out for its singularity and potential impact in patients.”
The investor syndicate will join the Ona Therapeutics Board which will consist of: Jose Mesa (Alta Life Sciences), Jean-François Morin (Bpifrance – InnoBio 2), Alexandra Tolia (Fund+) and Joël Jean-Mairet (Ysios Capital), and Interim Chair, Clara Campàs (Asabys Partners).
Bpifrance has invested through its InnoBio 2 fund which is focused on the development of the most promising biotechnology start-ups in Europe, and in France. Alta Life Sciences fund invests in highly innovative research business opportunities, such as Ona Therapeutics which is addressing large unmet medical needs such as metastasis.
More information can be found on the IRB Barcelona website.