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Biotech start-up Ona Therapeutics has closed a €30-million series A round to take its new biologic metastatic cancer drug to the clinical phase. The operation, with participation from Catalan funds Asabys Partners, Alta Life Sciences and Ysios Capital, Belgian Fund+ and French Bpifrance – Innobio 2, is the company’s first round of private funding and the largest of any start-up in Spain.

Ona Therapeutics, based at the Barcelona Science Park, was founded in 2019 by IRB Barcelona, ICREA and researchers Salvador Aznar-Benitah and Valerie Vanhooren. With this injection of capital, the company will be able to cover its financial needs to finish preclinical development on its biologic drug and start the first studies in patients with metastatic cancer in 2023.

The investors highlighted the new treatment’s potential for patients who currently have “extremely limited recovery options” and that the success of the round “is an example of how, in recent years, new companies have become totally patient oriented.”


Blocking fat metabolism

The drug Ona Therapeutics is developing is based on results Aznar-Benitah published in Nature in 2017. In this paper, the researchers showed that the survival of metastatic cells depends on their intake of saturated fats and that blocking their ability to metabolize these fats can not only stop metastasis from forming but also could also eliminate existing metastatic cells. The results have been reproduced in many animal models of metastatic cancer, such as breast, ovarian, mouth, stomach, bladder, prostate and skin cancers.

In terms of the drug’s potential, Aznar-Benitah highlights: “Currently, more than 90% of all cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, and we don’t have a treatment that specifically eliminates metastatic cells. In this first year of Ona Therapeutics, we’ve started up the company and already have a promising therapeutic candidate.”


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