Eighteen-month-old Aivita Biomedical is in pretty good shape for a newly formed company.
The biotech firm was founded based on the stem cell technology that founder and Chief Executive Hans Keirstead sold and later purchased from N.J.-based Caladrius Biosciences Inc. Aivita just raised $15 million in a private series B round.
The financing is provided by SFC Co. Ltd., a South Korean investor listed on the KOSDAQ stock exchange. The company had been looking to expand into biotech, according to Keirstead.
He said, “$15.25 million, all equity, no debt,” indicating that proceeds “will allow us to expand our clinical cancer programs, broaden our consumer product offerings and bring in additional staff to manage our expansion.”
The Irvine-based company operates a dual-strategy portfolio with a cancer drug development arm and a cash-generating consumer product business.
Keirstead said Aivita just received Food and Drug Administration approval of a phase II clinical trial for a second cancer indication, glioblastoma multiforme, a malignant brain tumor. The fast-growing, aggressive type of central nervous system tumor is resistant to conventional treatment—surgical removal of as much of the tumor as is safe, followed by radiation and chemotherapy—making it a candidate for new targeted treatments, including immunotherapy.
Aivita uses the patient’s own tumor cell to create a personalized therapy designed to engage his or her immune system and destroy cancer. Its technology allows it to isolate cells in high concentration of a specific cell type, thus minimizing the greatest degree of any other unwanted cell types or biological debris and making the treatment safe and effective, according to Keirstead.
Other clinical research includes an active phase II clinical trial for ovarian cancer. The company’s partnering with Newport Beach-based Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian to enroll 99 ovarian cancer patients in a two-year trial, according to Keirstead, and plans to open additional hospital sites soon.
Aivita had raised a $3 million series A financing in support of the ovarian cancer trial from California Technology Ventures, a Pasadena-based venture capital firm that invests in life sciences and information technology opportunities. Keirstead has separately raised another $7 million from eight private investors.
He sold his stem cell technology, which was then part of his company, California Stem Cell Inc., in 2014 to Caladrius for $126 million.
“When I sold the company, we were about to enter a phase III clinical trial for metastatic melanoma [skin cancer],” he said.
Caladrius, formerly NeoStem Inc., halted the trial in 2016, saying it would refocus efforts on cell therapy for Type 1 diabetes.
Keirstead told the Business Journal a year later that he proposed the idea of a buyback, or “more of a license-back program, a series of licensing” that includes licensed exclusive global rights to manufacture and sell cell-derived skincare products. He completed the transaction in 2016 and formed Aivita.
The company’s skincare product, Provoque, is sold through authorized physicians. The company licenses it from and pays royalties on its net sales to Caladrius. The line is made up of a facial serum and an eye cream.
In December, it launched Root of Skin, a direct-to-consumer skincare line of an eye cream, a serum and a tinted moisturizer that retail for approximately $55 each, or about half the cost of Provoque.
Aivita soft-launched Root of Skin through its website, rootofskin.com, and on Amazon. It plans to expand to a wider audience of U.S. dermatologists and plastic surgeons with its upcoming rootofskinmed.com, as well as ramp up social media marketing.
In August it hired Christine Oddo, founder and chief executive of Madison Lux Group in Los Angeles, to lead a marketing campaign—“she did the Kardashian [PerfectSkin] line,” Keirstead said. It also tapped Indi—a video social network platform that allows third-party entities and individuals to create videos and content—to generate buzz for the new line.
Keirstead is still in the primary race to be the Democratic nominee to take on Republican Dana Rohrabacher in the November general election in California’s 48th District.
Keirstead led Democrat Harley Rouda by 45 votes at press time, but many ballots had yet to be counted. Keirstead issued a statement on June 7 on the “too close to call CA-48,” saying, “There will be a Democrat on the ballot to challenge Rohrabacher, and whoever prevails will need the support of a united party behind them.”