Low-profile biotech gets $30M, new CEO and new home for PhIII atrial fib effort

A low-profile biotech in Cleveland landed a $30 million B round with the help of a new group of prominent venture backers and has been given a new CEO, a new home in La Jolla and a continuing mission to develop a drug for atrial fibrillation that has quietly moved to the threshold of a Phase III program.

Bob Baltera, last visible as head of Amira Pharmaceuticals--where he won the Fierce 15 award, was soon after forced to restructure in a cash crunch and then engineered a sale of the company to Bristol-Myers ($BMY) in a $475 million deal in 2011--is taking the helm at the newly renamed Laguna Pharmaceuticals. And he's been bankrolled by Versant Ventures and Frazier Healthcare with help from BioMed Ventures and Sante Ventures, which helped organize the company's undisclosed A round under its original name, ChanRx.

Laguna leaps into existence with a lead drug called vanoxerine, which the company claims performed well in a Phase IIb trial.

There isn't much visible about the drug or the company it emerged from. ChanRx did file a Form D noting a $1 million raise last year. And it was founded by Arthur "Buzz" Brown, who had initially founded a company called ChanTest.

Last fall ChanRx issued a release on vanoxerine, primarily focusing on its mid-stage safety data from a study that enrolled 104 patients. "No episodes of monomorphic or polymorphic ventricular tachycardia were seen," the biotech noted, adding that arrhythmia has been a major safety factor in the field. The FDA requires companies in the field to clear a very high safety bar before they permit marketing of new heart drugs.

"I see this as a great opportunity given the tremendous but unrecognized value of Laguna's assets," said Baltera in a statement. "I will be joining a stellar management team led by our co-founder and chief medical officer, Howard Dittrich, who has brought tremendous advances forward in his work at NovaCardia and other cardiovascular companies. With the support of our investors, we are ready to move this therapy into Phase III studies to explore full potential of vanoxerine in patients suffering from atrial fibrillation."

Jerel Davis from Versant Ventures and Frazier's Jamie Topper will join Laguna Pharmaceuticals' board of directors. 

- here's the release