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Friday, Apr 19, 2024

Avenzo Adds $150M to Series A Round

BIOPHARMA: Funds to Fuel Breast Cancer Drug

SAN DIEGO – Carmel Valley clinical-stage biopharma startup Avenzo Therapeutics has secured an additional $150 million in an oversubscribed Series A round, bringing its total raised capital since its 2022 founding to $347 million. The proceeds will go toward fueling the development of Avenzo’s drug candidate – AVZO-021 – targeting metastatic breast cancer and other advanced solid tumors.

Athena Countouriotis, M.D.
Co-founder, President & CEO

“It was much bigger than anticipated,” Avenzo Co-founder, President and CEO Athena Countouriotis, M.D. told the Business Journal a few hours after the announcement. “We were looking to raise $45 million.”

She said the funding is a testament in part to the team’s track record. “We’d already raised $200 million before we even had a drug, so [VCs] believe in our team…Co-founder and CMO Dr. Mohammad Hirmand and I, combined, have brought eleven drugs to market so I think there’s an appreciation for that since it’s not necessarily common. Investors want to continue to fund successful teams.”

The financing round was led by New Enterprise Associates, Deep Track Capital, Sofinnova Investments, and Sands Capital, with participation from additional new investors, including INCE Capital, TF Capital, Delos Capital, and Quan Capital.

Along with the funding announcement, Jakob Dupont, M.D., executive partner, private equity at Sofinnova Investments, will join the Avenzo Board of Directors.

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“We see significant opportunity with AVZO-021 and this team to advance potential best-in-class therapies for some of the most pressing needs in oncology today,” said Dr. Dupont. “I have been impressed by the progress Avenzo has made to date and look forward to supporting Athena and the Board as they advance their emerging oncology pipeline and grow their promising company.”

Jakob Dupont, MD
Executive Partner, Private Equity
Sofinnova Investments

Avenzo’s mega funding round adds to a recent lineup of local heavy hitters who’ve scored big in a bout of biotech March Madness, like Mirador Therapeutics which just launched with a $400 million Series A. Rakuten Medical landed $119 million Series E, Engrail Therapeutics announced a $157 million Series B and Capstan Therapeutics (where Dr. Countouriotis sits on the board) took in $175 million.

Targeting a Common Cancer Subtype

Avenzo’s drug – AVZO-021 – is aimed at combating a type of breast cancer referred to as HR+/HER2-. According to the National Cancer Institute, it’s the most common subtype with an age-adjusted rate of about 87 new cases per 100,000 women, based on 2016–2020 cases.

Cancer spreads when cells dysregulate and divide uncontrollably, leading to proliferation. Cell division is controlled in part by an enzyme called the cyclin-dependent kinase 2 (CDK2). Avenzo’s drug works by inhibiting that enzyme, which in turn blocks the cell cycle and cell division.

Avenzo is not the only company racing to find an effective CDK2 inhibitor for breast cancer. Its main competitor is pharma giant Pfizer, which is in a Phase 1/2A study of its drug – PF-07104091 – but Dr. Countouriotis explained that Avenzo’s drug has so far shown to be promising based on its side effect profile and pharmacokinetic properties (which reveal how the body interacts with exposed substances).

“What the data shows us so far is that the drug can be dosed once a day which is more patient-friendly than the [competition’s] molecules that are dosed twice a day. In addition, it has much more selectivity,” she said.

AVZO-021 is currently in a Phase 1 study in the U.S. but will expand quickly after dosing about 30 patients and monitoring their outcomes. If all continues to go well, the company believes it’s possible to see the drug hit the commercial market in as little as three to five years. “It really will depend on the data but most importantly, the regulatory interactions,” she added.

Before helping launch Avenzo, Dr. Countouriotis led Turning Point Therapeutics as president and CEO through its IPO in 2019 to its eventual acquisition by Bristol Myers Squibb for $4.1 billion in 2022. She’s hoping her former colleagues at Turning Point come to join her during this next phase at Avenzo. “The patients benefit the most because we all know how to work together,” she added.

The company’s horizon looks bright. Avenzo anticipates nearly tripling its staff within the next year. Talks on an IPO are on the table. “I do think that all of the investors who came into this round anticipate that Avenzo will go public in probably the next 18 to 24 months, at the most.”

Avenzo Therapeutics
CEO: Athena Countouriotis, MD
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego, Carmel Valley
FUNDING: $347 million (Series A)
BUSINESS: biopharma
WEBSITE: avenzotx.com
CONTACT: 858-239-2944 or info@avenzotx.com
NOTABLE: 13 of the Avenzo’s 15 employees came from Turning Point Therapeutics.


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