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JLABS-based cancer therapies company closes $15.5M series A led by Houston bioventure

After a recent raise, this Houston biotech company is headed to first-in-human clinical trials. Photo via stellanovatx.com

Houston-based Stellanova Therapeutics closed a $15.5 million series A financing this month, which will advance the company's first-in-human clinical trials for oncology and help build out its team.

Stellanova is a resident company at Johnson & Johnson's biotech incubator in the TMC (JLABS @ TMC) and is one of four entities that make up cancer and disease biotech company Sporos Bioventures, which officially launched last month after closing a $38.1 million series A of its own.

Stellanova is focused on advancing therapies for cancers that are resistant to current treatments, like chemotherapy and immune therapies. According to a release, it has seen unprecedented anti-tumor activity in preclinical models of pancreas and triple negative breast cancer through the use of its lead antibody, which targets DKK3, a factor secreted by cancer-associated fibroblasts that spur tumors.

The company was founded based on research out of Dr. Rosa Hwang's lab at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center.

"We are thrilled to bring Stellanova into the Sporos group of companies. Stellanova means 'new star,' and it is clear the Stellanova team embraces this namesake with their entirely new approach to treating cancer," Harold Levy, Stellanova and Sporos founder and board member said in the statement. "We have been impressed by Stellanova's accomplishments and look forward to being involved in the advancement of the company's platform, one that we believe has the potential to directly combat the most devastating of cancers."

In conjunction with the financing, Stellanova also announced that it has named JLABS @ TMC founding team member Emmanuelle Schuler as the company's inaugural CEO.

Stellanova joins Sporos's Tvardi Therapeutics as it moves toward clinical trials. Tvardi, named a "most promising" by BioHouston and the Rice Alliance in December, is in Phase 1 clinical trial of its STAT3 oral inhibitor for treatment of cancer, inflammation and fibrosis.

Asylia Therapeutics and Nirogy Therapeutics were also founding entities of Sporos. The companies are in the proof of concept and discovery phases and focus on cancer, autoimmune diseases, infectious diseases, and inflammatory diseases.

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Building Houston

 
 

Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center, gave the keynote address at this year's State of Space event. Screenshot via houston.org

Is the Space City poised to continue its reign as an innovative hub for space exploration? All signs point to yes, according to a group of experts.

The Greater Houston Partnership hosted its annual State of Space this week. The virtual event featured a keynote address from Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA Johnson Space Center, and a panel moderated by David Alexander, chair of aerospace and aviation committee at the GHP and the director of the Rice Space Institute.

The conversations focused on the space innovation activity happening in Houston, as well as an update on the industry as a whole has space commercialization continues to develop. All the speakers addressed how Houston has what it takes to remain a hub for the sector.

"The future looks very bright for Houston that we will remain a leader in Houston spaceflight," Wyche says in her address.

Here are a few other memorable moments from the event.

"Houston, I feel, is poised to be a leader. We have led in human space flight, and we will a leader in commercialization."

— Wyche says in her keynote address, which gave a thorough overview of what all NASA is working on at JSC. She calls out specifically how startups are a driving force in commercialization. JSC is working with local accelerator programs at The Ion and MassChallenge.

"These startups help us to connect to tomorrow's space innovation leaders, and gives our team the opportunity to mentor these entrepreneurs as we work to advance both our scientific and technical knowledge," she says.

"The ability to have a place where government, academia, and industry can come together and share ideas and innovation is incredibly powerful."

​— Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines LLC, specifically talking about the Houston Spaceport, where Intuitive Machines has signed on as a tenant. Altemus adds that a major key to leading space commercialization is a trained workforce, which the spaceport is focused on cultivating.

"We shouldn't discount the character that Houston has from the standpoint as a great place to build a business."

— Tim Kopra, vice president of robotics and space at MDA Ltd., says, adding that Houston is a big city that feels like a small town. "We need to incentivize companies to come and stay," he says.

"Great cities — like great companies — understand that if you're still, you're probably moving backwards. ... I think Houston gets it in that regard."

— Todd May, senior vice president of science and space at KBR, says, adding that Houston realizes it needs to be on the offensive side to bring innovation to the game, positioning the city very well for the future.

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