Two Texas biotech outfits lasso venture deals totaling $81M

ZS Pharma and Mirna Therapeutics, both based in Texas, have struck deals with venture investors and hauled in third-round financings. ZS Pharma has raised $46 million in a Series C financing to pursue development of a lead treatment for patients with kidney and liver disease. And Mirna, a microRNA drug specialist, has tapped backers for a $34.5 million round as the company progresses toward a first clinical trial for one of its therapies.

The pair of financing rounds follow a fresh setback for biotech in the Lone Star State, as last week Irving, TX-based Reata Pharmaceuticals halted a late-stage study for its blockbuster hopeful bardoxolone because of elevated death risks in the trial, casting a dark cloud over the chronic kidney disease drug partnered with Abbott ($ABT).

ZS Pharma, headquartered in Fort Worth, has its own ambitions to combat kidney disease. The developer aims to funnel the new round of financing into advancing its candidate ZS-9, a crystal form of zirconium silicate, which has been tested in humans for reducing toxic levels of potassium in the blood for patients with hyperkalemia. Alta Partners spearheaded the financing round, which included new backers RiverVest Venture Partners, 3x5 Special Opportunity Partners, Salem Partners and repeat investor Devon Park Bioventures.

With the big round, the 4-year-old company is adding to its board Alta Partners General Partner Robert Alexander and John McKearn, a managing partner at RiverVest.

Austin-based Mirna has rallied deep-pocketed backers from New Enterprise Associates, Sofinnova Ventures, Pfizer ($PFE) and others for its latest round. The $34.5 million deal is expected to support its lead candidate, dubbed MRX34, through human proof-of-concept studies. Osage University Partners, Correlation Ventures and previous backers joined the company's first institutional financing, according to its release.

Mirna, along with Regulus and MiRagen, is exploring the relatively new area of microRNA therapeutics, which could yield new drugs that to serve as "master switches" for gene expression to treat a wide range of diseases. At Mirna, plans are to file an IND early next year for MRX34, followed by a Phase I study of the experimental therapy in metastatic cancers involving the liver.

NEA Partner Ed Mathers, whose firm announced a $2.6 billion new fund in July, is taking a seat on the board of directors at Mirna along with Michael Powell, a general partner at Sofinnova, and Elaine Jones, executive director of the venture unit at drug giant Pfizer.

- here's ZS Pharma's release
- and the release from Mirna  

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