Written by Nicole Fawcett
ANN ARBOR, Mich. - OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, a company started at the University of Michigan in 2004, raised $82 million in an initial public offering.
The company stemmed from research in 2003 that identified cancer stem cells in breast cancer, the first time that these cells had been found in a solid tumor. Cancer stem cells represent about 1 percent to 5 percent of all the cells in the tumor but are believed to be the cells that fuel the tumor's growth and spread.
OncoMed has licensed cancer stem cell technologies from the University of Michigan and currently has five cancer stem cell-targeting drugs in the clinic. Two more are expected to be introduced into the clinic in 2014. The U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center has been a major site for phase I trials testing these agents. The funds raised from the IPO will enable OncoMed to move these agents to phase II trials.
Max S. Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center, was part of the initial discovery and co-founded OncoMed along with Michael Clarke, M.D., who is now at Stanford University. Wicha is a leading cancer stem cell researcher.
"Hopefully, these trials will demonstrate the validity of the cancer stem cell model, with cancer stem cell-targeted therapeutics improving the outlook for our patients. For me it's exciting to be a part of this process and to see our discoveries translated into the clinic," Wicha says.
The University of Michigan embraces collaboration with private sector partners as a way to ensure that scientific discoveries have the opportunity to be tested as potential treatments for patients. In fiscal year 2012, U-M Health System researchers reported 117 new inventions, were issued 28 patents and over 50 license and option agreements were signed with our industry partners. Since OncoMed launched, about two dozen more start-up companies based on U-M Health System research have been formed.
"We're pleased that OncoMed continues to move products resulting from U-M research forward in the clinical process. Their IPO is a tremendous accomplishment, and we're looking forward to seeing the drugs reach the market for the benefit of cancer patients worldwide," says Kenneth Nisbet, associate vice president for research technology transfer at the University of Michigan.
Wicha is a consultant for OncoMed; he and the University of Michigan hold equity in the company. Clinical studies have been conducted at U-M with approval by the University's Institutional Conflict of Interest Committee and the Medical School's COI Board. Wicha has had no involvement with these clinical trials.