In January 2016, University of Michigan startup Millendo Therapeutics announced that it had raised $62 million in Series B investment. In addition, the company, which was previously know as Atterocor, announced that they had endeared into an exclusive license agreement with AstraZeneca for the worldwide development and commercialization rights to MLE4901, a new compound thought to have potential for the treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). There are presently no approved therapies for PCOS, which affects up to 15 percent of women.
The $62 million will allow Millendo to both perform clinical trials for MLE4901 and expand testing of ATR-101 for adrenocortical carcinoma (ACC), the compound the company launched to bring to market.
Adrenocortical carcinoma is a cancer of the adrenal cortex that occurs when cancer cells form in the outer layer (cortex) of the adrenal gland. It is an aggressive, often fatal disease that a ects roughly 1,000 patients in the United States. Each year, as many as 600 new ACC diagnoses are made, usually at an advanced stage when chances for survival are slim.
Because of the relatively small number of individuals a ected by the disease, ACC has been largely neglected by life science researchers. As a result, treatment options have been limited to one highly toxic drug, supplemented by chemotherapy.
But in 2011, all that began to change when entrepreneur Raili Kerppola was diagnosed with stage IV ACC. After conferring with specialists at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Kerppola identi ed a drug candidate known as ATR-101. Animal studies undertaken in the lab of Kerppola’s husband, Biological Chemistry Professor Tom Kerppola, suggested that the novel approach had promise, and work began on moving the project toward development.
In January 2012, Kerppola co-founded Atterocor, Inc. along with CEO Julia Owens, former senior vice president of corporate development and strategy at U-M spinoff Lycera, and Gary Hammer, Millie Schembechler Professor of Adrenal Cancer and director of U-M’s Endocrine Oncology Program. By April 2012, the startup had received seed funding from Frazier Healthcare along with matching funds from the Michigan Pre-Seed Capital Fund.
In July 2012, Atterocor closed on $16 million in Series A venture capital financing from Frazier Healthcare, Osage University Partners, 5AM Ventures and the U-M MINTS program. Atterocor has been granted Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. FDA and the European Medicines Agency, which may help speed the drug approval process. e startup recently initiated a Phase I study in ACC patients at the University of Michigan and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas. As Owens points out, “It’s quite remarkable to move from company founding to clinical studies in 18 months.”