Metacrine raises $65M to kick off NASH clinical testing

Metacrine raised $65 million in a series C round to fund the clinical development of its early stage program in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and gastrointestinal diseases.

The San Diego-based biotech’s lead program targets the farnesoid X receptor, a nuclear hormone receptor linked to hepatobiliary diseases such as primary biliary cholangitis and NASH. Its lead candidate—MET409, a nonbile acid FXR agonist—is slated to enter phase 1 testing later this month.

In addition, Metacrine said it has identified possible roles for FXR in diarrhea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

MET409 looks to compete in a potentially crowded field of FXR agonists, with several companies chasing the growing NASH market. Some predict the fatty liver disease will outpace alcoholism and hepatitis as causes of transplants within the next decade.

Earlier this week, Enyo Pharma raked in $47 million in series B funding for its FXR agonist to fund phase 2 trials in NASH and hepatitis B. Other biotechs, including Gilead, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Allergan, Shire and Madrigal, are also pursuing drugs in the space.

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Metacrine’s financing round was led by Venrock Healthcare Partners and added new investors Franklin Templeton Investments, Deerfield Management, Arrowmark Partners, Invus, Lilly Asia Ventures, Vivo Capital and others.

Previous investors Arch Venture Partners, venBio, Polaris Partners, NEA and Alexandria Venture Investments participated as well. Since being founded in 2015, Metacrine has rounded up $125 million in equity financing, including a $22 million series B round in December 2017.

Metacrine also maintains a research collaboration with Novo Nordisk in Type 2 diabetes, launched last year, to develop analogs for fibroblast growth factor 1, an insulin-sensitizing protein therapeutic.