G1 banks $33M to cut in on a blockbuster oncology race

North Carolina's G1 Therapeutics hauled in $33 million to advance a headline-grabbing approach to cancer treatment, helping the biotech hit the gas in a space otherwise dominated by Big Pharma.

G1's new cash will support the development of G1T28, an early-stage drug that blocks the enzymes CDK4 and CDK6 to halt tumor growth and protect bone marrow cells. CDK4/6 are the same targets pursued by Pfizer's ($PFE) blockbuster-in-waiting palbociclib, approved as Ibrance for breast cancer this week, and late-stage contenders from Novartis ($NVS) and Eli Lilly ($LLY). And while those companies have a considerable head start, the G1 and its backers believe the biotech's drug could eventually prove to be a best-in-class therapy.

G1T28 is currently in the midst of a Phase Ia study in healthy volunteers, and the company's plan going forward is two-fold: Next quarter, G1 plans to kick off a clinical trial testing how well an intravenous (IV) formulation of the drug can protect patients' bone marrow from the effects of chemotherapy, and, by year's end, the biotech expects to launch a clinical trial of an oral version in a not-yet-disclosed tumor type. And the $33 million will pay G1's way through the next two years, delivering proof-of-concept data for the IV candidate and getting the oral program rolling, CEO Mark Velleca said.

"The nice thing about raising this amount of capital is it allows us to move the ball down the field a little further," Velleca said.

New investors Eshelman Ventures and RA Capital Management led G1's latest round, joined by Lumira Capital and Boxer Capital, plus founding backers Hatteras Venture Partners, MedImmune Ventures and Mountain Group Capital.

Following up on the pioneering work done by Pfizer, G1 believes it has a chance to stand out with a differentiated approach to the same space. Blocking CD4/6 doesn't work for every tumor type, Velleca noted, and for those ineligible, chemotherapy largely remains the standard of care. Thus, if the company can execute on both of its programs, oral G1T28 will be there for patients with CD4/6-responding cancers while the IV version will offer a best-in-class chemoprotection solution for others, he said.

Velleca, who ran CGI Pharmaceuticals until Gilead Sciences ($GILD) bought it in 2010, said that dual promise of G1T28 made it easy to illustrate the G1 story to potential investors.

"When you have a good drug against an emerging target, you have a tremendous amount of leverage," Velleca said. "It's not just a concept; it's actually human data telling you you're having an effect on the target organ."

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