Kolltan Pharmaceuticals Inc., a year-old firm working to develop a next-generation class of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) for cancer, has raised more than $35 million in a Series A preferred stock financing to fund its pipeline.
New Haven, Conn.-based Kolltan is seeking to develop second-generation RTK-related therapies that may overcome resistance and other limitations of existing drugs, Michael Schmertzler, who has been named CEO of Kolltan and a company director, told BioWorld Today. RTKs are a class of 58 receptors that regulate key cell processes, and in some cases, play a pivotal role in oncogenesis (tumor formation).
Kolltan, which has licensed technology from Yale, plans to focus on certain subsets of those receptors, the details of which have not yet been disclosed.
Schmertzler noted that the discovery work, in terms of identifying a target and understanding the mode of action, is complete. Now, he said, the company plans to turn immediately to early development of monoclonal antibodies to address its well-validated targets.
There a number of targets that the company could pursue, but "as we define the cost of pursuing these and consider the financial environment, we will have to modulate the number of campaigns" to advance, said Schmertzler, who is also on the faculty of Yale College and the Yale School of Management.
Schmertzler, who has been an active senior institutional investor and director in early stage biotechnology companies for more than 15 years, founded Morgan Stanley's biotechnology investment banking business, was chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers in the 1980s and currently serves as chairman of PTC Therapeutics Inc. and as a director of Cytokinetics Inc.
Yaron Hadari, named vice president of research, spent seven years at ImClone Systems Inc. before joining Kolltan. His expertise is in RTK research and the development of monoclonal antibody therapeutics.
The company has fewer than 10 employees, but is in the process of hiring more staff, for a total of up to 16 full-time employees, Schmertzler said.
Kolltan was founded in November 2007, based on recent discoveries in the laboratory of Joseph Schlessinger, chairman of the pharamcology department at the Yale University School of Medicine and co-founder of Kolltan.
Schlessinger, who is chief scientist at Kolltan and one of the company's directors, pioneered the discovery of RTKs and their role in the formation of tumors.
His ongoing research and recent discoveries formed the basis for the technologies licensed from Yale by Kolltan that are expected to yield RTK-related therapeutics.
Schlessinger also was a founder of Berkeley, Calif.-based Plexxikon Inc., which this week announced a partnership with F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., of Basel, Switzerland, to develop a Raf kinase inhibitor, PLX5568. In 1991 he co-founded Sugen Inc. which developed an RTK oncology therapeutic now marketed by Pfizer Inc.
Sutent, a multi-tyrosine kinase inhibitor, originally was discovered by Redwood City, Calif.-based Sugen, which was acquired by Pharmacia Corp. for $650 million in 1999. Three years later, Pharmacia was bought out by Pfizer in a $60 billion deal. (See BioWorld Today, June 16, 1999, and July 16, 2002.)
Another currently marketed kinase inhibitor is Gleevec by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp.
Kolltan investors include Purdue Pharma LP, HBM BioCapital LP, the Pritzker/Vlock family, as well as other substantial private life science investors.