G1 grabs $47M as it preps for a showdown with Pfizer, Lilly and Novartis

Pfizer HQ

Just weeks after making the trip to New Orleans to review some preliminary Phase Ia/IIb data for its lead CDK 4/6 inhibitor at AACR, G1 Therapeutics has nailed down a $47 million venture round. And the biotech did it with a new batch of crossover investors who would be very comfortable with the public market.

Cormorant Asset Management led the C round, with Aju IB Investment, Cowen Private Investments, Franklin Templeton Investments and Rock Springs Capital in tow. Existing investors Eshelman Ventures, Hatteras Venture Partners, Lumira Capital, MedImmune Ventures, Mountain Group Capital, RA Capital and Tavistock Life Sciences also joined in.

A year ago that kind of syndicate would have signaled an imminent S-1 filing. But with today’s market in turmoil after a public market slapdown that significantly narrowed the industry’s IPO opportunities, CEO Mark Velleca says he’s happy to have the cash in hand needed to pay for the next two years of development work as the company gets busy expanding its pipeline.

As for any IPO, he notes, he'll take a wait-and-see attitude on how the current storm plays out.

The lead program at G1, an RTP-based spinout from UNC, is G1T28, an IV formulation for lung cancer that Velleca says is capable of distinguishing itself from some major league rivals with an ability to guard bone marrow and the immune system. There’s also an oral program being readied for the clinic as G1 sets out to prove it has a treatment that won’t threaten QT heart rhythm issues or severe diarrhea, which may allow for greater efficacy through continual dosing. And Velleca says he’s ready to add triple negative breast cancer to the company’s list of disease targets.

That kind of profile, if it proves out in the mid-stage and pivotal tests to come, would clearly differentiate G1 from Pfizer’s ($PFE) palbociclib--a pioneering CDK 4/6 drug sold as Ibrance and one of the biggest drugs that the pharma giant has produced in recent years--as well as Eli Lilly’s ($LLY) "breakthrough" drug abemaciclib and another late-stage rival from Novartis ($NVS), which is developing LEE01 with an eye to a near-term application for breast cancer.

Velleca, a biotech veteran, sounds happy to be competing with the giants in an important new class of therapeutics. Its drugs can do things that “no one else is doing,” he says.

Now on the threshold of a mid-stage march through the clinic, he’s also exploring some combination possibilities with partners.