Former Pharmacyclics CEO raises $75 million to develop oral checkpoint inhibitor

Corvus Pharmaceuticals closed a $75 million Series B financing yesterday. Just ten months ago, the company raised a $33.5 million Series A round. The proceeds will be used to develop its oral checkpoint inhibitor.

The company was launched by former Pharmacyclics (NASDAQ: PCYC) CEO Richard Miller last year. In Pharmacyclics, Miller established the ibrutinib program. Imbruvica (ibrutinib) is estimated to generate peak sales of $6-$9 billion. With the new company, Miller turns his attention to checkpoint inhibitors, a red hot field.

Checkpoint inhibitors such as anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 have been a revolution for the treatment of cancer. Many companies are developing candidates targeting other checkpoints (e.g., CD40, OX40, 4-1BB, TIM3, LAG3, GITR, KIR).

All approved checkpoint inhibitors including nivolumab, pembrolizumab and ipilimumab are monoclonal antibodies. Corvus’s lead product candidate is a small-molecule drug which could be taken orally. It also targets a different checkpoint protein, but the company didn’t disclose which one.

Small-molecule immunotherapies such as IDO inhibitors and Aduro Biotech’s (NASDAQ: ADRO) cyclic dinucleotides (CDNs) have caught the eyes of scientists and investors worldwide. Corvus could be the next big thing.