Posted December 19, 2023
University System of Maryland Momentum Fund and University of Maryland, Baltimore Invest in Irazú Oncology, Joining Wexford SciTech Fund, Abell Foundation, and other leading investors
Therapeutics company is Developing a Novel Platform for Cancer Vaccines
Baltimore, Md. (Dec. 19, 2023) – Irazú Oncology, LLC ("Irazu"), a Baltimore-based therapeutics company, announced today that it closed a seed funding round to support development of the company’s outer membrane vesicle (OMV) cancer vaccines platform. The round was led by the Wexford SciTech Venture Fund, with participation from the University System of Maryland (USM) Momentum Fund (Momentum Fund), the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), Abell Foundation, and leading healthcare angel investors.
“We’re excited to use this financing to advance Irazú Oncology’s next-generation cancer vaccine platform. The ultimate promise of this platform is the rapid and cost-effective creation of novel therapeutics that can treat multiple cancer types,” said Irazú Oncology President and Founder, Marco Chacón, PhD. “We’re grateful to have Wexford, the Momentum Fund, UMB, the Abell Foundation, and our angel investors join us as we work to create a better future for patients.”
"We are pleased to support Irazú Oncology and believe strongly in the strength of their science and leadership team, their innovative platform and groundbreaking approach to cancer treatment, and their contributions to the entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University of Maryland BioPark and across Baltimore,” said Thomas Osha, president of the Wexford SciTech Venture Fund. “Irazú's fusion of scientific expertise and entrepreneurial vision aligns perfectly with our fund's focus on investing in transformative ventures pushing the boundaries of medical innovation."
“We’re delighted to join Wexford and Abell Foundation in support of the Irazú Oncology team,” said Mike Ravenscroft, managing director of the Momentum Fund. “The technology at the core of their platform represents a possible sea change for the treatment of aggressive cancer types. We look forward to helping the company leverage resources from the University System of Maryland and the Baltimore biotech ecosystem to make these lifesaving therapeutics a reality.”
Irazú Oncology is working to build a cancer vaccine platform that will be used to develop novel treatments for a variety of cancer types. The first indication, colorectal cancer (CRC), is the third most common and the deadliest cancer type in the United States, with over one million deaths worldwide each year.
The platform uses outer membrane vesicles (OMVs) derived from genetically attenuated bacteria and engineered to display tumor antigens on their surface; the tumor antigens are then purified and used to create vaccines. This system enables rapid production of self-adjuvanted vaccines that can be size-selected to facilitate uptake by the lymph nodes and are amenable to combination with other immunotherapy drugs.
The technology used in the company’s platform was developed by James Galen, PhD, professor of medicine in the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), Department of Medicine, and faculty within the Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health at UMSOM. Originally designed to target infectious diseases, Dr. Chacón thought it could also be applied to oncology. The company holds an exclusive, worldwide license from UMB for the technology.
Irazú Oncology is the first spin-out from Dr. Chacón’s venture studio, Irazú Bioholdings. The studio was founded in 2020 with the mission of funding and developing novel therapeutics based on university technologies. Irazú Oncology is also the first of the studio’s technologies to receive venture funding.
“Irazú Bio’s mission is to catalyze innovation by collaborating with leading researchers and academics and supporting them as we move game-changing technology from the lab into the clinic,” Dr. Chacón said. “We are pleased to have leading local investors supporting us on this journey, which we view as essential to the growth of the biotech ecosystem in Maryland.”
An industry veteran and expert in biotherapeutics manufacturing, Dr. Chacón was the founder and former president, chief executive officer, and chairman of the board of Paragon Bioservices, a global leader in GMP manufacturing of vaccines and viral vectors for gene therapy. Paragon was sold to Catalent for $1.2 billion in 2019.
“We could not be more excited to see Irazú Oncology raise this financing,” said Jim Hughes, chief enterprise and economic development officer and senior vice president at UMB. “Marco has been an integral member of the UMB community – as a long-standing tenant in the University of Maryland BioPark and as a staunch supporter of the researchers and initiatives in our schools. We look forward to continuing to support Irazú as they advance their technology.”
About Irazú Oncology
Irazu Oncology is a preclinical stage biotech company, founded in 2022 and headquartered at the University of Maryland BioPark, in Baltimore. Irazú Oncology’s mission is to develop flexible and cost-effective cancer vaccines utilizing bacterial outer membrane vesicle (OMVs) technology to target solid tumors.
About the University System of Maryland Momentum Fund
The Maryland Momentum Fund is an initiative of the University System of Maryland (USM) to provide late seed investment funding for promising technology ventures that come out of any of the 12 constituent USM institutions, its research parks, and its students, faculty, or graduates. With a $16M commitment from the USM, the Fund co-invests alongside venture capitalists, foundations, and angel investors.
The Maryland Momentum Fund was established by the USM Board of Regents to support promising commercial opportunities arising from advances in research and intellectual property at USM campuses. The Fund is designed to create returns and support USM’s most innovative ideas as they enter the marketplace. Learn more about the Fund and view the portfolio companies at https://momentum.usmd.edu/
Contact: Mike Lurie