UPDATED: Pursuing Alzheimer's, iPierian grabs $30M and spins off orphan drug biotech

iPierian CEO Nancy Stagliano

After taking the helm and pointing South San Francisco-based iPierian in a new direction, CEO Nancy Stagliano today unveiled a $30 million venture round designed to get her crew into the clinic with a lead antibody program, while a separate project is being spun out into a new biotech that she will also direct.

SR One, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and MPM Capital co-led the round with all existing iPierian investors re-enlisting to back the company and its new sister outfit--True North Therapeutics.

Initially, iPierian had assembled a stellar group of stem cell experts to help guide the company into one of the hottest R&D fields at the time: stem cells. But despite all the talent, iPierian never achieved liftoff, eventually seeing a series of CEOs come and go through the revolving doors. After Stagliano came in two years ago, though, and iPierian was restructured, she quickly set her sights on an antibody that targeted the tau protein and another antibody that zeroed in on the complement pathway, with potential in orphan diseases.

Now iPierian will be dedicated to following the tau target for Alzheimer's, one of the biggest and most challenging major market quests in biotech, while True North takes the rare-disease development strategy for a much more narrowly defined patient population.

"It's all good news," Stagliano tells FierceBiotech. "We ended up having two very interesting and unique molecules, which we continued to advance over the past year. We realized that it was a very clear decision that each represented unique partnering opportunities and different investors."

The tau project should generate an IND in 2014, she says, with a complement pathway IND coming in about 18 months. Tau has become the focus of a few biotech companies around the world, though most R&D projects have been targeting beta amyloid as a likely cause of the memory-wasting disease, which remains a mystery that has yet to be cracked by some of the top brains in global drug research. The complement system has three pathways, Stagliano explains. The True North antibody blocks the activation of the classic pathway, which drives a number of autoimmune diseases.

For now the same team of 22 staffers will handle both projects, she adds, but eventually their paths will diverge. "That's where the beauty of two companies presents itself," says the CEO. The Alzheimer's space is ripe for a partnership, and True North may require more venture money to go after orphan diseases.

"Under Nancy Stagliano's leadership over the last two years, there has been remarkable progress in transforming the proprietary stem cell platform of iPierian into meaningful drug development programs to form the foundation for business plans in two exciting therapeutic areas," said Beth Seidenberg, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, in a statement.

In other financings, Arsanis raised $20 million in a Series B round to advance a pipeline of antibody treatments against infectious diseases. With antibody discovery from founding partner Adimab in Lebanon, NH, the Vienna, Austria, biotech startup has a lead antibody cocktail called ASN-100 for severe hospital-associated Staphylococcus aureus infections, the company said on Tuesday. New investor NeoMed Management led the second-round financing, which included support from previous backers and Adimab investors OrbiMed Advisors, Polaris Venture Partners and SV Life Sciences. The influx of capital comes as Arsanis works toward initial clinical testing of ASN-100.

More Series B action out of Europe: Mind-NRG, a biotech startup based in Geneva, Switzerland, has found about $8 million from early backer Index Ventures and new investor LRM, which led the round. The company plans to use the funding to understand the mechanism of a potentially neuroprotective factor called NRG-101 in Parkinson's disease. The experimental therapeutic, discovered by Germany's ProteoSys, has the potential to treat early-stage cases of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative ailments.

- here's the iPierian press release
- the Arsanis announcement
- and the release from Mind-NRG

Editor's note: Updated with details from the Arsanis and Mind-NRG deals.