Pleco raises €17m for tumour microenvironment drug

Pleco Therapeutics has closed a first-round financing, raising just over €17 million that it says will fund the development of its lead therapy for acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) through to regulatory filings in the US and EU.

The Nijmegen, Netherlands-based biotech was founded in 2018 to develop therapies designed to change the balance of protein expression within the tumour ‘microenvironment’, which can defend cancers against the immune system, and is increasingly becoming a source of new targets in oncology.

The company’s lead drug PTX-061 is intended to improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy in patients with AML, which at the moment is only effective in around 20% of patients.

According to Pleco, some patients with the rare blood cancer have higher levels of toxic metals like cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic, and lower levels of essential metals such as magnesium, rubidium, and calcium in the tumour microenvironment – a profile that is linked to poorer chances of survival.

Its ‘Plecoid’ therapies, headed by PTX-061, which at the moment is in preclinical development, are designed to rebalance levels of metals in the microenvironment, removing the burden of toxic metals and improving the efficacy of treatment.

The company said it will develop the new drug very quickly, and is eyeing regulatory filings with the FDA and EMA “as early as 2024.”

It will also use the new funding to accelerate preclinical work of PTX-061 in follow-up indication small cell lung cancer (SCLC), and bring forward other pipeline candidates, including PTX-062 for lung cancer.

AML is pretty rare, with an estimated 350,000 new cases per year, including around 20,000 in the US, and is most commonly diagnosed in older people from their late 60s. The five-year survival rate from diagnosis is low, at around 15% across all age groups, with approximately 10,000 deaths from the disease per year in the US.

The main treatment for most types of AML is chemotherapy, in some cases accompanied by a targeted therapy aimed at a specific mutation in the cancer.

The Series A round includes €3.6 million in new equity committed by Oost NL and private investors, €5 million in government funding from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO), and €8.7 million in equity and R&D funding from Belgian biopharma company Hyloris, which was first announced last year.

“We are delighted to have secured the funds needed to progress our lead drug candidate through development, for the treatment of AML, a blood cancer that carries a very poor prognosis,” said the biotech’s chief executive, Ivo Timmermans.

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