Frontier gets $80M, Galapagos’ backing to make a better KRAS drug

Biotechnology startup Frontier Medicines has pulled in $80 million in new funding to support a targeted cancer drug the company thinks might address some of the limitations of medicines from Amgen and Mirati Therapeutics.

The company on Thursday announced a Series C round co-led by Deerfield Management and Droia Ventures and that included “significant” participation from Belgian drugmaker Galapagos.

The investments will support a technology that combines “chemoproteomics” — a method of studying the interplay between proteins and small molecules — with high-powered computing tools. Frontier claims its approach will help it develop drugs that can tightly bind to “undruggable” targets. It is starting out with a focus on cancer and immunology treatments.

Its first example is an experimental medicine dubbed FMC-376 that’s in early clinical testing. Like Amgen’s Lumakras and Mirati’s Krazati, the drug is aimed at cancers with a so-called G12C mutation to the KRAS gene, a well-known but tough-to-reach driver in a range of tumor types.

Frontier says its drug works differently, however. According to CEO Chris Varma, FMC-376 can hit the “on” form of the protein — the one that fuels cancer growth — as well as the “off” form, when it’s inactive. Frontier argues that targeting both will help FMC-376 overcome drug resistance and improve outcomes.

“If we know anything from decades of cancer treatment, it’s that cancer is tricky and you need to completely shut down signaling to turn off cancer growth,” Varma said.

Frontier’s work is early. It announced on Thursday that it dosed the first patient in an early-stage trial of people with KRAS G12C cancers. Frontier has seven other programs in preclinical development, including three from a deal it brokered with AbbVie in 2020. Including the new round, the Boston- and San Francisco-based startup has raised nearly $236 million since its launch in 2019.

“In what has been an unprecedently stormy season for biotech, we have been grateful for our strong syndicate and investor support that gave us the privilege to stay private and really focused on driving our programs forward to benefit patients,” Varma said.

The new round included participation from multiple “crossover” investors, which invest in both private and publicly traded companies. “While we always challenge ourselves to be ready to go public,” he said, the company is focused on proving FMC-376’s potential and hitting other milestones later this year.

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