Sanofi-backed Escient scores $120M series C for neuro-inflammatory pipeline

Escient Pharmaceuticals has scored $120 million, a much heftier sum than its series B haul from a few years ago and once again snagging support from Big Pharma Sanofi’s VC arm.

The series C financing round was co-led by new investors New Enterprise Associates, Abingworth and Forge Life Science Partners, with existing investors Sanofi Ventures and 5AM Ventures in tow, among others.

The San Diego biotech’s fundraise follows a $77.5 million series B in September 2020, a round that occurred alongside Escient’s first in-human tests.

Now, the $120 million will help the biotech push forward investigational small molecule therapeutics for several neurosensory-inflammatory disorders, with a focus on lead candidates EP547 and EP262. The assets are designed to inhibit cell surface receptors called Mas-related G protein-coupled receptors, or MRGPRs, which mediate the neuro-immune overactivation associated with many chronic disorders.

By using small molecules to specifically block MRGPRX2 and MRGPRX4 activation, the company aims to develop oral medications for neurosensory-inflammatory diseases without the serious side effects tied to other approaches, Escient CEO Joshua Grass said in a Nov. 28 release. The $120 million financing will help the company advance its pipeline to clinical proof-of-concept in multiple indications.

EP547 targets MRGPRX4 with the aim of treating cholestatic and uremic pruritus, a form of severe itching resulting from liver or kidney disease. The asset is being evaluated in phase 2 and phase 1 trials, respectively, and Escient is exploring its potential in other unnamed indications.

EP262 is a MRGPRX2 antagonist in preclinical studies for chronic spontaneous urticaria, chronic inducible urticaria and atopic dermatitis.