As it prepares to move its lead cancer compound into the clinic, Cylene Pharmaceuticals Inc. completed a $26.3 million Series B financing.
Proceeds will allow the San Diego-based company to advance CX-3543 through Phase I trials and into Phase II development in solid tumors and lymphomas. It also will help the company move several other preclinical compounds into Phase I, one of which will be nominated for entry within the next 12 months.
"This is just a tremendous advancement for this company," said William Rice, Cylene's president and CEO, who referred to the financing as part of an "extreme makeover" that is transforming the company's focus from early science to clinical development.
Rice announced the financing Wednesday at the 7th annual C21 BioVentures Conference in Monterey, Calif.
"It will take us well into 2007, and that's assuming no additional partnerships," Rice told BioWorld Today. "So in this day and age, that's a fine runway to have."
Cylene originally was founded in 1997 as a virtual company in Austin, Texas, called Cyternex Inc. Clinical oncologist Dan Von Hoff, along with medicinal chemist Lawrence Hurley and entrepreneur Tom Farrell, founded the firm. They worked under a National Institutes of Health grant to develop a radical new approach to treating cancer. The approach became the foundation of Cylene's Quadruplex Targeting platform.
In 2001, they used $6.5 million in cash from a Series A financing to establish Cylene in San Diego. Rice joined the company in 2003 to lead the transition into a company focused on drug development. Cylene currently has 20 employees.
The scientific founders discovered quadruplex motifs in genomic DNA that regulate the expression of clusters of key oncogenes but not normal cellular genes. Cylene's Quadruplex Targeting technology allows it to direct small molecules at quadruplexes in order to induce apoptosis in several cancer types.
"The quadruplex is a 3-dimensional DNA structure that's located in the genes of oncogenes," Rice said. "And when we target that, we can disrupt several oncogene pathways, and that induces apoptotic cell death."
Cylene's technology also has an effect on Bcl-2 and Mcl-1, proteins that are expressed in several cancers and are known as "brakes" of apoptosis.
"We reduce the expression of the brakes and then we disrupt the other pathways with a single compound," Rice said.
Cylene's compounds could be used as single agents, but also would have a benefit when used with other drugs. Rice expects that cancer therapy eventually will model HIV therapy; instead of using a few highly toxic drugs, the strategy is to use several different less-toxic drugs that have compatible mechanisms of action.
"Virologists for years have taken a series of molecularly targeting drugs to disrupt that virus pathway," Rice said. "That's the direction that cancer will go, in the future."
The Series B financing was led by Los Angeles-based Coastview Capital, a venture firm founded by former Amgen Inc. CEO Gordon Binder.
New investors include BioVentures Investors, of Cambridge, Mass.; Mitsui & Co. Venture Partners, of New York; Morningside Venture Investments, of New York; TDL Investors; William Harris Investors, of Chicago; Lakeview Capital, of Chicago; and the Viterbi Group, of San Diego. All existing shareholders participated, including Sanderling Ventures, of San Mateo, Calif.; Novartis BioVentures, of Basel, Switzerland; Research Corp. Technologies, of Tucson, Ariz.; and IngleWood Ventures, of San Diego.
Stella Sung, of Coastview, and Mickey Kim, of BioVentures, were elected to the Cylene board.
"The current investors that were in the company, they really stepped up and had faith in the people and the technologies," Rice said. "If they hadn't, this never would have come to pass."