Genocea taps $35M venture round as it seeks new CEO

Vaccine upstart Genocea Biosciences has snared a $35 million venture round, enough money to fuel its work into 2013 with a clear shot at garnering early mid-stage data on its lead program. And the biotech added Johnson & Johnson's venture arm to a crowd of backers which includes Polaris Venture Partners, Lux Capital Management and SR One.

Cambridge, MA-based Genocea--a 2008 Fierce 15 company which boasts of a faster, more efficient approach to antigen discovery--has already demonstrated that its lead therapeutic vaccine for herpes simplex virus type 2 can trigger a potentially significant reduction in disease severity as well as a reduction in the transmission of disease, says Chief Business Officer Chip Clark. That second measure is particularly important, he adds, because everyone afflicted with herpes is shedding virus even when they're not symptomatic.

The Series B round--which brings Genocea's venture haul to about $61 million--is designed to provide tranched injections of fresh cash based on some agreed milestones, says Clark, who declined to specify exactly how that would play out. After a Phase IIa study, he adds, the biotech would have several options, including a possible IPO or a partnership deal. But with a slate of Big Pharma companies angling for a top position in the industry, he's also acutely aware of how fast promising vaccine companies "get snapped up."

Genocea has been seeking a new CEO to replace Staph Bakali, a vaccine veteran who opted to spend more time closer to home in London, And Clark notes that Genocea will also add a few more people to its 34-member staff as it moves into the clinic. Seth Hetherington, M.D., was named chief medical officer in today's release.

- here's the Genocea release