ANN ARBOR (WWJ) — OncoMed Pharmaceuticals, a California-based company started at the University of Michigan in 2004 with Taubman Scholar Max Wicha, M.D., as co-founder, raised $82 million in an initial public offering that ended last week.

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 UM 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.

Wicha, the Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the UM 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,” Wicha said. “For me it’s exciting to be a part of this process and to see our discoveries translated into the clinic.”

In fiscal year 2012, UM 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 UM Health System research have been formed.

Kenneth Nisbet, associate vice president for research and technology transfer at UM, said the OncoMed IPO “is a tremendous accomplishment, and we’re looking forward to seeing the drugs reach the market for the benefit of cancer patients worldwide.”

Wicha is a consultant for OncoMed; he and UM hold equity in the company. Clinical studies have been conducted at UM 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.


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