This biotech has a huge chunk of change to help boost clinical and early-stage work on candidates across immunology, as it also hopes to create a new biotech culture
CEO: Sheila Gujrathi, M.D.
Based: San Diego
Clinical focus: A broad focus on immunology both with larger and smaller, rarer indications in cancer, allergy and inflammation.
The scoop: How do you follow up a $100 million series A? Well, half a year down the line, you get off a $230 million series B, of course. That sets you up as one of the most heavily-funded Fierce 15 winners of all time. But, they will be needing that cash injection, because unlike many winners, they are already well into the clinical trials stage, and that needs money.
What makes Gossamer fierce: Despite being such a young company, it’s one that has plans to become a combination of biotech and pharma within a few short years, taking people and assets with pharma experience and dropping them into a purpose-built, vibrant biotech pool.
You’ll know its leader Sheila Gujrathi from that major Receptos deal, alongside executive chair Faheem Hasnain (with Hasnain as former CEO and Gujrathi as its former chief medical officer) that saw the autoimmune treatment developer snapped up by Celgene three years ago for $7.2 billion in cash.
And in September, the biotech got off a real coup when it tapped Bristol-Myers Squibb’s immunology and cancer R&D executive Luisa Salter-Cid, Ph.D., as its new research lead, taking on the role of chief scientific officer.
She says she could have walked away from that deal and never worked again, but she decided to move into Gossamer because she thought it had the right mix of team, culture and science.
It’s also important to note that Gujrathi is one of only a handful of female biotech CEOs in the U.S. to win the Fierce 15: We want to see more, and so does she. “It’s really important to me,” she explains of leading in an industry dominated by male chief executives. “It’s a big driver for me; I want to be that strong role model and mentor for women in science, and especially in biotech, because there is so much talent out there, and I want to help those women around me be the best they can be.”
There’s a push by the CEO to create a new biotech culture within the company, and you can see that from its name. Most parents will know that Gossamer is a monster from the Looney Tunes universe, though the biotech, despite thinking this may be a nod to its large funding rounds, prefers its other meaning.
“This isn’t about Looney Tunes,” she laughs, “but yes, rather about that silk-like Gossamer thread. It’s about its strength and resilience, and we named the company after these symbolic gossamer threads between individuals that points to the strength of the relationships. And we can either strengthen that connection of respect and honesty, and really treating those relationships with such care and attention, or they can be broken if they are not held together properly.”
This, she explains, is what the company is all about: Keeping those threads together, and strong, across not just its employees but with its investors, media, investigators, patients and everyone involved in the project.
So, we know the people and the culture, but what’s the science?
The focus is on immunology and the company currently has five assets, with several in the clinic. Hence the need for such inflated series A and B rounds, with some of these coming from in-licensing deals.
One of those is the HIF-1 alpha stabilizer, aimed at a subunit of hypoxia-inducible factor, currently in phase 1 development for the treatment of inflammatory bowel diseases—the subject of a recent licensing deal with Aerpio Pharmaceuticals.
Under that pact, Gossamer offered $20 million upfront through a subsidiary devoted to the project, with milestone payments up to $400 million plus royalties, and will be responsible for the remaining development, regulatory and commercialization expenses.
The focus is also across autoimmune disease areas, allergy and inflammation, as well as immuno-oncology, and gastrointestinal disorders, across early-stage, phase 1 and midstage trials, with readouts from 2020 onwards. More assets could also be in-licensed on the way.
Gujrathi says more info about these will be coming out in the coming weeks and months, but points out that they are “not the standard, typical startup that’s venture-backed with one or two assets; we’ve come out with a big vision and we’re lucky to have an investor syndicate that shares that big vision.”
The company only officially set up shop in January, based out of San Diego, with 55 employees; the plan is to grow this to 100 by year’s end, and 200 by the end of 2019, with a focus on R&D staffers, as well as financial and commercial people. The focus is on sustainability and a long-term, integrated company.
With the money and those swelling numbers, this is where the cross section between pharma culture and biotech culture combine.
We’ll be watching.
Investors: $230 million series B led by Hillhouse Capital, including new investments from Invus, The Baupost Group, Polaris Partners and a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, as well as previous investors ARCH Venture Partners and Omega Funds