UPDATED: Calithera grabs $35M round to fund first slate of cancer drug studies

Calithera Biosciences CEO Susan Molineaux

South San Francisco-based Calithera Biosciences has landed a $35 million round that will be largely earmarked to fund its first clinical cancer drug program. Led by Susan Molineaux--who helmed Proteolix as it was developing carfilzomib, which had gone on to fame and fortune at Onyx ($ONXX) as Kyprolis before Amgen ($AMGN) acquired it--Calithera says it will push CB-839 through an early-stage study for advanced solid and hematologic tumors.

The lead drug is a glutaminase inhibitor, targeting an enzyme that plays a role in tumor metabolism. The biotech plans to identify patient populations that will most benefit from the drug, sticking with a carefully targeted approach that has dominated the cancer drug field.

"I couldn't be happier to be going back into the clinic," Molineaux tells FierceBiotech. Calithera has been working on glutaminase inhibitors for the past two years and came up with the lead drug in its own labs. Now Molineaux says this therapy has the potential to be a first-in-class cancer therapy. The CEO says this new round will fund a variety of Phase I studies to help position the therapy for mid-stage work and a possible partnership. And there's a follow-up program for an MTL-1 cancer drug that Calithera plans to get into the clinic in the next two years, which is now funded with the second financing round.

Calithera's planned Phase I launch marks a shift from the biotech's original plans back in 2010, when Molineaux started Calithera with a $40 million A round. At the time, the company was focused on the research work of Jim Wells, chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry in the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy. That work didn't pan out, says the CEO, but Calithera--now with a staff of 28--regrouped and refocused on its own programs.

The Longwood Fund and two unnamed institutional groups signed on as new investors, with Longwood's Christoph Westphal--another high-profile biotech figure--taking an observer's chair on the biotech's board. Existing investors Morgenthaler Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures and Delphi all contributed as well.

- here's the press release

Special Report: 2011 Top 10 Women in Biotech - Susan Molineaux

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