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The IRB Barcelona spin-off Ona Therapeutics hits the road thanks to Sabadell Asabys



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Ona Therapeutics, a spin-off from IRB Barcelona and ICREA, has been founded by researchers Salvador Aznar-Benitah and Valerie Vanhooren after receiving investment from Sabadell Asabys.

Based at the Barcelona Science Park, the company focuses on the development of a new drug for the treatment of metastatic cancer.

The Sabadell Asabys Fund, which belongs to Asabys Partners, has invested € 1.5M into the company in order to start a venture round that could reach € 20M.

Today Ona Therapeutics, the new IRB Barcelona spin-off, announced the close of a seed funding round of € 1.5M given by Sabadell Asabys, a fund managed by Asabys Partners and devoted to investments in health innovation. With this injection of capital, the start-up will begin work on the development of a new drug for the treatment of metastatic cancer.

The company has been created by four partners: IRB Barcelona, ​​ICREA, and researchers Salvador Aznar-Benitah and Valerie Vanhooren. The financing provided by Sabadell Asabys will be added to other resources, which are currently being negotiated with local and international funds.Funding for Round A is hoped to close with approximately € 20M, an activity that also involves Sabadell Asabys.

The new drug will be developed from the initial results, which were published in Nature by Aznar Benitah in January 2017. Those findings show that blocking the pathways that allow fat metabolism in animal models of cancer inhibits the cells that give rise to metastases, thereby preventing the development of these malignant growths and potentially having the capacity to eliminate existing ones. These results, which were obtained in oral, melanoma and breast cancer models, were published by Aznar-Benitah in 2017 in the journal Nature, and they have subsequently been replicated in several types of tumour, including ovarian, gastric, bladder and prostate cancer, among others.

This research project was made possible thanks to funding from La Marató Foundation of TV3 in its 2012 call, the Worldwide Cancer Research in the United Kingdom, and the Banco Santander, through Santander Universidades and with the support of the Botín Foundation to promote technology transfer. The lab headed by Aznar-Benitah at IRB Barcelona is also supported by funds from the European Research Council (ERC), the Ministry of Science and Innovation, through the ERDF, and the Catalan Government.

"Metastasis is the main cause of death in patients with cancer and until now it has been very difficult to find ways to tackle metastatic cells. Our research has allowed us to identify and purify the cells that form metastases in various types of tumours and to observe that their activity is totally dependent on the intake of certain fats. Our research has allowed us to develop pre-clinical therapeutic strategies and we have observed that they have a very promising anti-metastatic effect. Ona Therapeutics aims to apply these clinical results to patients with metastatic cancer," says Aznar-Benitah.

The project is supported by Vanhooren’s experience in the development of monoclonal antibodies, as well as in the management of early-stage research projects. "We want to translate the results obtained in animal models into a drug that is effective in the treatment of a wide range of cancers. I provide Ona Therapeutics with my previous experience in biotech companies, where I have led the development of biologicals for oncological purposes," says Vanhooren, managing director of Ona Therapeutics.

Clara Campàs, founding partner of Asabys Partners adds, "Our participation in Ona Therapeutics responds to Sabadell Asabys’ strategy to invest in the early-stage development of new medicines and to team up with the founders to build a corporate work and financial plan. Our decision has been determined by the scientific quality of the data and the approach to an unmet need."

"The involvement of the Banco Sabadell in health sector investment is carried out through Sabadell Asabys, which allows us to support disruptive companies such as Ona Therapeutics. The company is in an initial development phase of a drug to treat metastatic cancer—a long period of development—so Banco Sabadell is putting in its two cents to support this initial phase," comments Raúl Rodríguez, director of Sabadell Venture Capital.


About Ona Therapeutics

Founded by Drs. Salvador Aznar and Valerie Vanhooren, Ona Therapeutics is a newly created spin-off from IRB Barcelona and ICREA. ​​Ona Therapeutics, which is based in the Barcelona Science Park, is developing a new drug to block metastasis-forming cells. This therapeutic approach has the potential to prevent the formation of metastases and eliminate existing ones in any type of cancer.


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About IRB Barcelona

The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to cure cancer and other diseases linked to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society, and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 researchers and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).