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Catalyst Biosciences Inc. pulled down $30 million in a Series B financing for its work with optimized proteases, and the cash on hand will take the privately held firm through 2008, pushing two internal programs into the clinic.

The first partner for the Catalyst platform is likely this year, said David O’Reilly, president of the South San Francisco-based firm. "We’ll partner it selectively," he said. "We’re not a service business or a research boutique."

The financing, expected to be disclosed today, was led by Morgenthaler Ventures, of Menlo Park, Calif., and should allow Catalyst to reach proof of concept with at least one program, O’Reilly said. In the Series A financing in fall 2004, Catalyst raised $10.3 million. (See BioWorld Today, Oct. 29, 2004.)

Using high-throughput protein engineering, Catalyst’s discovery platform is designed to create and optimize "tailor-made" protease drug candidates, called Alterases.

"The breakthrough here is coupling catalysis with high specificity to a disease target," O’Reilly said. "It’s a different mechanism from the general tools that a pharmaceutical scientist turns to."

Current therapies such as small molecules or antibodies "are really not satisfactory in acute and episodic disease, where you have a spike, or some highly amplified system that you need to knock down rapidly," he said, adding that those challenges are "very tractable for a catalytic molecule, but daunting for other approaches."

One protease "can deal with a thousand disease targets," O’Reilly said, calling the possibilities particularly good across the zones of inflammation, immunology, oncology and infectious disease.

"Our lead program targets the complement cascade and its role in cardiovascular problems, as well as others," such as acute cardiac disorders, from bypass surgery to myocardial infarction, as well as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, he said.

"Nature regulates this very important cascade with a protease, and it does so because you need to efficiently and rapidly shut down this system," he pointed out, noting that changes made by scientists by way of protein engineering "are actually quite minor - a few amino acid substitutions."

A handful of proteases are already on the market, including Activase (alteplase) tissue-plasminogen activator, also known as T-PA, from Catalyst’s South San Francisco neighbor Genentech Inc., and Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.’s Xigris (activated drotrecogin alfa). Botox (botulinum toxin) from Allergan Inc., of Irvine, Calif., also is a protease.

Participating with Morgenthaler in the financing were HealthCare Ventures LLC, of Princeton, N.J., and all of Catalyst’s previous investors, including Sofinnova Ventures, of San Francisco; Burrill & Co., also of San Francisco; RCT BioVentures, of Menlo Park, Calif.; and Novartis Venture Fund in San Diego. Chris Christoffersen, of Morgenthaler, and Augustine Lawlor, of HealthCare Ventures, will join Catalyst’s board.

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