In biotech trifecta, startup lassos $31M, a CEO and a lead drug from Pfizer

A San Francisco-based startup biotech has landed a seasoned industry veteran to take the helm, in-licensed a Phase II-ready treatment for chronic migraine from Pfizer ($PFE) and lined up $31 million in venture backing from a team of high-profile venture backers. VenBio led the round with Canaan Partners, InterWest Partners, and Sofinnova Ventures all chipping in.

Labrys Biologics snagged the worldwide rights to RN-307, an antibody that binds to calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which was in Rinat's pipeline when Pfizer bought out the company in 2006. And serial biotech entrepreneur and noted neuroscientist Corey Goodman, a managing director at venBio and chairman of the newly-formed developer, says the drug travels a well-understood pathway in an attempt to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of an unending series of migraines.

"RN-307 is an ideal candidate for a prophylactic drug for chronic migraine that is capable of reducing both frequency and severity of migraine without debilitating side effects," said Goodman. "There is significant interest in new treatments that can improve upon the limited efficacy of current pharmaceuticals."

Running the show is Steve James, a biotech veteran with 20 years' experience in the industry, including a stint as CEO of KAI Pharmaceuticals, recently scooped up by Amgen ($AMGN) for $315 million. 

"Corey and I go back more than a dozen years," James tells FierceBiotech this morning. After taking some time off after the KAI buyout, James got a call from Goodman. And even though he had been planning on a somewhat longer sabbatical, he says, Labrys offered the kind of compelling opportunity that comes along "once in a blue moon."

Goodman, who had worked at Pfizer at one point, knew the drug and the work that had been done with it. It was just at the right stage for a biotech to pick up, the venture groups put up the money needed to get it through Phase II and proof-of-concept data, and the market - where a pair of treatments now dominate - looked distinctly appealing. Labrys also executed a clean acquisition, paying an unspecified upfront, with promised milestones and royalties in exchange for full control of the program.
It's still early days for Labrys, of course, but James will look to build an executive team, drawing together a small staff of about 10. A trial involving 200 to 300 patients will start later in 2013, and the drug could have potential for other pain indications as well, giving Labrys a chance to branch out with the one therapy, which will remain the primary focus of the company. After PoC data arrive, Labrys has the chance to consider next steps, including a licensing deal or possibly a takeout with a bigger player. But that fork in the road lies further down the road.  

"Chronic migraine sufferers represent a large, underserved patient group and there is significant interest in the industry in developing a treatment option with superior outcomes," said Wende Hutton, a general partner at Canaan Partners, who is joining the board. "Labrys now retains full ownership of a promising drug candidate for migraine and other indications which are causally linked to CGRP."

- here's the press release

ALSO: Dallas-based Gradalis says it has raised $24 million in Series B cash, but it's staying quiet on who's investing in the biotech.  That's enough money to advance its vaccine platform, FANG, through late-stage clinical trials and expand manufacturing capabilities to accommodate commercial launch, according to the company. The tumor-fighting program matches an immune stimulator with a short hairpin RNA and is personalized for individual use. "The boost that we're getting from this round of financing enables us to execute our strategy to finish clinical testing, scale up manufacturing and bring FANG to the market for patients with advanced stage cancer," said David Shanahan, president, CEO and co-founder of Gradalis. "The success that we've seen with the FANG platform moves us closer to our goal of providing patients with safe, effective and personalized cancer therapeutics. We are pleased that both our existing and new investors enthusiastically share our goal of bringing these therapies to market." Release

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