Marquee VCs back a $40M round for Crinetics' acromegaly drug

A group of marquee venture investors has joined forces to back a $40 million Series A for Crinetics Pharmaceuticals, an early-stage biotech in San Diego that has been working on a next-gen oral treatment for acromegaly.

5AM Ventures, Versant Ventures and Vivo Capital all contributed to the round. Wendell Wierenga, the former R&D chief at Santarus and an ex-EVP at Neurocrine, has been named chairman of Crinetics' board of directors while 5AM's Mason Freeman,Versant's Steve Kaldor and Mahendra Shah from Vivo Capital have joined Crinetics' board of directors. 

The VCs were lured in by Crinetics' work on an oral, small molecule drug for a somatostatin agonist for acromegaly. Injectables, like Novartis' ($NVS) Signifor, are already available for acromegaly. But Crinetics believes that its oral approach will not only be more easily dosed, it can also overcome the kind of resistance patients build up against the injectables.

In Signifor's case, the drug is injected intramuscularly, binding to somatostatin receptors and blunting the production of excess growth hormone that triggers acromegaly, with the trademark symptoms of swelling hands and feet for a disease that can ultimately prove fatal.

Novartis recently landed an approval for a once-monthly version of the drug while Chiasma has been working on an oral drug of its own. Roche ($RHHBY), though, recently bowed out of its collaboration with Chiasma, citing "regulatory interactions" and new Phase III data. But that didn't stop Chiasma's backers from providing a $70 million Series E last February, designed to pave the way to an NDA for oral octreotide.

The biotech has a pipeline of preclinical projects, says Scott Struthers, the CEO of Crinetics, "this (drug for acromegaly) is the one that broke out."

Struthers is keeping his development plans under wraps. As of now, he isn't talking development timelines, but says that a rare disease like acromegaly would make it possible for Crinetics to go all the way through Phase III, if it chooses to. A Phase III study in the field requires only 150 patients, says the CEO.

"A small company," says Struthers, "could take this all the way." But he's staying agnostic about what's likely to be the best way to advance their work.

The biotech has built up a staff of 12, he adds, relying heavily on $6.7 million in grants to get this far. Now Crinetics plans to beef up the staff as they head for the clinic.