Money Flows Into Biotech Startups

Includes: ACL, LJPC, NVS
by: The Burrill Report
by Marie Daghlian
Money flowed to venture-backed life sciences companies in an otherwise slow week after the Fourth of July holiday. La Jolla (NASDAQ:LJPC), California-based Intellikine signed a $488.5 million deal with Infinity Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:INFI) for the global development and commercialization rights to its portfolio of oral PI3K inhibitors, including an inflammatory program that will begin clinical trials in 2011.

Intellikine will get $13.5 million in initial license payments, committed research funding for the first two years to identify additional PI3K inhibitors for future development, and up to $450 million in success-based milestones for the development, approval, and commercialization of two distinct products.
Intellikine is keeping an option to convert its royalty rights for oncology products to a 50 percent stake in the profits and development costs.

“This collaboration provides us with significant resources to advance our own TORC1/2 and PI3Kalpha drug candidates,” says Troy Wilson, president and CEO of Intellikine. “The opportunity to co-develop and co-detail PI3Kdelta/gamma drug candidates in oncology with Infinity is a key component of our strategy to build an oncology business."
Intellikine has generated one of the leading pipelines of drug candidates against important therapeutic targets in the PI3K pathway. The company has raised $41 million from investors that include Abingworth, Sofinnova Ventures, CMEA Capital, Novartis Venture Funds, U.S. Venture Partners, Biogen Idec and FinTech Global Capital.
Eye care company Alcon (NYSE:ACL) is buying laser surgery firm LenSx Lasers for $361.5 million in cash and $362 million contingent on achievement of certain revenue milestones. Based in Aliso Viejo, California, LenSx has developed the first femtosecond laser to receive U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance for use as a part of cataract surgery. The innovative LenSx laser platform enables surgeons to perform some of the most delicate manual steps of cataract surgery with image-guided visualization and micron level laser precision.

LenSx Lasers is backed by Versant Ventures, SV Life Sciences, InterWest Partners and Venture Investors.
Start-up antibody discovery company Adimab signed its fifth research collaboration with a major pharmaceutical company, Novartis (NYSE:NVS) since the company announced the launch of its platform at BIO 2009 in Atlanta. Adimab will use its proprietary discovery platform to identify fully human antibodies against two targets selected by Novartis. The agreement gives Novartis rights to commercialize antibodies generated from the collaboration. Adimab will receive upfront payments, preclinical milestones and licensing fees. Adimab is also eligible to receive clinical development milestones and royalties on therapeutic and diagnostic product sales.
In the first year after the launch of its antibody discovery platform, Adimab has entered into discovery partnerships with Merck (NYSE:MRK), Roche, Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and Novartis. Further, Adimab has received numerous payments related to the successful achievement of key technical milestones in these programs. The company is on course to become profitable this year, according to Errik Anderson, COO of Adimab.
“Adimab’s ability to generate high quality therapeutic leads in less than three months reduces much of the uncertainty of preclinical development and translates into a fundamental competitive advantage for our collaborators,” says Tillman Gerngross, co-founder and CEO.

Adimab’s integrated antibody discovery and optimization platform provides unprecedented speed from antigen to purified, full-length human IgGs. The company offers fundamental advantages by delivering diverse panels of therapeutically relevant antibodies that meet the most aggressive standards for affinity, epitope coverage, species cross-reactivity and expressability to enable its partners to rapidly expand their biologics pipelines through a broad spectrum of technology access arrangements.
Most pharma companies currently have access to one or more antibody technologies, therefore the success of a new platform requires significant technical and business advantages. The quality of our output, combined with our ability to reduce complex business issues, such as gate-keeping and burdensome royalty obligations, are key aspects to driving broader collaborations with pharma companies,” says Guy van Meter, Senior Director of Business Development of Adimab. “Based on our early success, we believe that Adimab’s technology will continue to be in high demand and we are in active discussions with several partners regarding broader unencumbered access and technology transfer.
Calithera Biosciences completed a $40 million series A financing, one of the largest first rounds of capital raised by a start-up biotech company. Morgenthaler Ventures led the financing of the South San Francisco-based oncology company with U.S. Venture Partners, Advanced Technology Ventures, Delphi Ventures and Mission Bay Capital, the seed venture fund managed by QB3, also participating in the round. The capital will be used to support the company's pioneering efforts to develop activators of caspases, the proteases that promote apoptotic cell death, for the treatment of cancer and other proliferative diseases.
Promoting apoptosis in cancer cells is a validated approach to the treatment of cancer, as many oncology drugs on the market today are known to kill tumor cells by activating apoptotic pathways, albeit through indirect means,” says Susan Molineaux, co-founder and CEO of Calithera. “By targeting caspases directly, we hope to develop agents that have broad utility across many types of cancer, with greater specificity than current treatments and the potential to overcome chemoresistance.
Calithera was started in 2010 with technology developed by and licensed from the laboratory of co-founder James Wells, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Pharmacy. Wells's laboratory has successfully identified several novel compounds that selectively activate procaspases and trigger apoptosis in cancer cells.
Proceeds from the financing will be used to advance one or more caspase activators through preclinical development and into Phase 1 clinical trials in cancer patients. In parallel, the company will expand its technology for targeting allosteric activating sites to other enzymes with therapeutic potential in cancer.
“Most drug discovery efforts are focused on identifying drugs that inhibit enzyme function,” says Wells. “But, interestingly, many cellular enzymes remain dormant until activated. In the case of caspases, they can be activated on demand by mimicking the natural process with small molecules.”
French diabetes drug development start-up Poxel raised $19.5 million in a series A financing led by Edmond de Rothschild Investment Partners with participation by InnoBio fund, managed by CDC Entreprises within FSI France Investment program and Crédit Agricole Private Equity. A 2009 Merck Serono spinout, Poxel will use a significant portion of the money to advance the company's lead program, Imeglimin, an oxidative phosphorylation inhibitor, to treat type 2 diabetes.

Imeglimin is a first-in-class oral anti-diabetic that has demonstrated efficacy and safety in diabetic patients in two mid-stage trials, and is being developed in monotherapy and in combination with key treatments. Imeglimin has an innovative mode of action that targets the three key defects of Type 2 diabetes, inhibiting hepatic gluconeogenesis, increasing muscle glucose uptake and restoring normal insulin secretion. Poxel has five further promising anti-diabetic programs in early development, including a new class of direct AMPK activators close to preclinical development stage.
iPierian, another South San Francisco start-up, closed a $22 million series B equity financing led by Google Ventures with participation by new investors Mitsubishi UFJ Capital and ATEL Ventures, and all current investors, including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Highland Capital Partners, MPM Capital and FinTech Global Capital.
iPierian uses patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells for drug discovery. The funds will be used to drive its programs into the clinic, while securing pharmaceutical partnerships. The company has raised $54 million since its inception in 2007. iPierian’s initial focus is neurodegenerative diseases, including spinal muscular atrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Parkinson's disease, in addition to a broad therapeutic area program intended for partnering in metabolic disease.
“The company has created a remarkable opportunity to integrate massive amounts of imaging, genomic, molecular, and clinical data in a way that will dramatically improve the drug discovery and development process, and we look forward to helping them accomplish their mission,” says Krishna Yeshwant, a partner at Google Ventures who will join the iPierian Board of Directors.
In conjunction with the closing of the series B financing, Michael C. Venuti, president and CSO since February 2010, will assume the role of CEO, and will join the Board of Directors. John P. Walker, who has been the CEO of iPierian since February 2009, is stepping down for personal reasons from his position as CEO and member of the Board of Directors and will remain employed by the company as a senior advisor.
Finally, Theranos, a Palo Alto, California-based healthcare systems company, raised $45 million in equity and options from a single investor, according to a document filed with the SEC. The offering could reach $100 million, according to the filing. The company is developing platforms to enable physicians, clinicians, and patients to collect, analyze, and communicate health information in real-time, enabling the realization of personalized medicine.
Disclosure: None