SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., June 16, 2015 -- Kezar Life Sciences, a company focused on the discovery and development of drugs targeting protein homeostasis for autoimmune disorders, announced the completion of a Series A financing totaling $23 million. Morningside Venture, Cormorant Asset Management, EcoR1 Capital, 9W Capital Management, Omega Funds, Aju IB Investment, and private investors participated in the round. In connection with the financing, Amgen subsidiary Onyx Pharmaceuticals is licensing intellectual property related to its immunoproteasome program to Kezar, and will have a minority equity interest in the company.
The capital raised in the Series A will be used to advance Kezar's lead immunoproteasome inhibitor candidate into Phase 1a and 1b clinical trials, with the goal of demonstrating safety and efficacy in patients with autoimmune disease. Kezar also intends to advance drug discovery programs targeting protein secretion.
"Severe autoimmune disorders represent a major area of unmet medical need. Our pioneering research points to a central role of the immunoproteasome in regulating immune responses and restoring normal immune surveillance," said John Fowler, co-founder and CEO of Kezar. "We are excited to translate nearly a decade's worth of high quality research into new treatments for patients who are in need of effective therapies." Fowler continued, "We are grateful to Amgen for their collaboration and support in forming this company, and excited to be able to welcome aboard former members of the Onyx scientific team with years of experience on this program."
"Exploring novel biological pathways for potential therapeutic intervention is consistent with our commitment to creating better treatment options for patients with serious illness," said Sean E. Harper, M.D., executive vice president of Research and Development at Amgen. "We are pleased to help enable Kezar to pursue this innovative program which began at Proteolix and continued at Onyx."
In addition to research and development of immunoproteasome inhibitors, Kezar will embark on multiple drug discovery programs targeting protein secretion for the treatment of autoimmunity and cancer. "Protein secretion represents a fundamental process inside of nearly all cells and an untapped area of drug discovery. Our approach allows for the generation of substrate selective inhibitors of secreted and transmembrane proteins," said Dr. Christopher Kirk, Ph.D, co-founder and CSO of Kezar. "Essentially the target of every monoclonal antibody therapy is amenable to our small molecule drug targeting approach."
About the Immunoproteasome
Protein degradation is a key process in the function and survival of all mammalian cells and is mediated by the ubiquitously expressed proteasome. Inhibitors of the proteasome, such as VELCADE™ and KYPROLIS™ are currently used to treat multiple myeloma, a plasma cell malignancy. In cells of the immune system, such as T-cells, a unique form of the proteasome, termed the immunoproteasome, is expressed. The immunoproteasome regulates multiple aspects of immune responses and selective inhibitors, such as those under development at Kezar, are well tolerated and highly active in mouse models rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease, and lupus.
About Kezar Life Sciences
Kezar Life Sciences, a privately held company based in South San Francisco, was founded in 2015 to develop drugs to revolutionize the treatment of autoimmune disorders. Leveraging research begun in 2006 under the direction of co-founder Dr. Kirk at Proteolix and then Onyx Pharmaceuticals, Kezar will advance drugs that selectively target the immunoproteasome for the treatment of autoimmunity. In addition, Kezar will discover and develop drugs that target protein secretion and transmembrane protein expression.