A Dendreon consultant has raised $8M for a cancer vaccine startup

Although recent products from Astellas, Dendreon ($DNDN) and Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) have given prostate cancer patients more treatment options, the American Cancer Society still estimates that almost 30,000 men died of the disease last year. This week, virtual drug developer Madison Vaccines Inc. (MVI) raised $8 million to further its ambitions to cut that figure.

MVI initiated the Series A financing round--which was led by Venture Investors--to gather cash for clinical development of its lead candidate, a plasmid DNA vaccine. "The Series A financing of MVI is important because it enables us to advance our work with MVI-816 beyond our basic research and previously completed Phase I studies through proof-of-concept in early stage patients," MVI co-founder and Dendreon consultant Dr. Douglas McNeel said in a statement.

A Phase II trial of the vaccine in patients with rapidly rising levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is underway. Soaring levels of PSA are associated with a high risk of the cancer spreading to bones or other organs, and consequently these patients are often treated with chemical or surgical castration. MVI hopes its vaccine can give patients another option. The technology underpinning the vaccine--and MVI's other candidate--was created by McNeel's University of Wisconsin-Madison lab.

Having licensed the technology, McNeel co-founded MVI with Richard Lesniewski, a biopharma veteran who worked at Abbott Laboratories ($ABT) for 25 years before becoming VP of oncology at GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK). They are MVI's only staffers. McNeel is also a consultant to Dendreon and is listed on ClinicalTrials.gov as principal investigator on a trial of the struggling biotech's cancer vaccine Provenge. In the trial, McNeel is investigating giving Provenge with MVI's lead candidate.

- read the press release
- here's Xconomy's article
- check out the Provenge trial details

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