Domain leads $23M round for aTyr Pharma

Domain Associates has stepped up as the lead investor in a $23 million Series C packaged for aTyr Pharma, a four-year-old biotech venture which is building a new drug platform based on some sophisticated science out of the Scripps Research Institute.

San Diego-based aTyr is focused on the role played by a group of messenger proteins-called physiocrines-which modulate signaling pathways between cells. Genetically engineered copies of the proteins could work as a new class of drugs while the developer's scientists are also exploring how targeting physiocrines with antibodies could help patients with a range of maladies ranging from immunology and hematology to metabolism disorders.

"Our initial physiocrine program heading to the clinic, Tmax, for treating thrombocytopenia, will serve as our first proof of concept for this exciting class of protein-based therapeutics," said Jeff Watkins, CEO. Existing venture investors Alta Partners, Cardinal Partners and Polaris Ventures also participated in the financing.

Executive Chairman John Mendlein, also the chairman at Fate Therapeutics, tells FierceBiotech this morning that the new round will give aTyr sufficient funds to obtain human proof-of-concept data in a Phase I/Ib study that will begin late next year and take six to nine months to complete. Thrombocytopenia is characterized by low platelet levels, a common side effect of chemotherapy, which aTyr intends to prove can be treated by its new drug candidate.

Physiocrines represent a "fresh new source" of drug candidates for pharma companies, adds Mendlein, who hopes to see some partnering deals struck in the near future.

The biotech was founded by Scripps' Paul Schimmel and Xiang-Lei Yang, two investigators who teamed with John Clarke of Cardinal Partners back in 2006 to launch the company. The company has 20 workers on its staff, which includes seven investigators at work in a Hong Kong subsidiary. Mendlein says its ranks are likely to swell to 25 to 30 in the coming year.

- here's the aTyr release
- check out the story from Xconomy