You might say budding biopharmaceutical firm GeneCraft Inc. is getting off the ground in a hurry.
With preclinical product candidates to treat oncology and inflammation already in development, the Seattle-based company last week closed its first round of institutional financing, which flooded its treasury with $13.6 million of venture funding. The financing was oversubscribed.
"To be successful in this challenging environment, a company in this phase needs the composite elements of a successful business already together - the people, both scientific and management talent; the technology platform, and demonstrations of its differentiation and validation; and product candidates derived from that platform with some level of demonstration," GeneCraft CEO and co-founder Peter Thompson told BioWorld Today. "GeneCraft has been able to aggregate all of those elements in a single business, so this was very attractive to the investment community."
The company's investors agreed, stressing that its deep technological and geographic roots make GeneCraft an attractive venture.
"We think GeneCraft has the potential to be the next great immunology company in Seattle," Patrick Heron, a partner at Frazier Healthcare Ventures, told BioWorld Today. "It's got a very broad-based platform with applications to a wide range of areas in oncology and inflammation. It's a great time to be creating companies in Seattle, and this is the company we're most excited about - it's probably the most interesting company created here in the past three years."
As part of Seattle-based Frazier's investment, Heron joined GeneCraft's board, along with representatives from fellow co-leaders ARCH Venture Partners, of Chicago, and Oxford Bioscience Partners, of Boston. The financing also included Seattle-based Cascade Investments, the investment vehicle of Bill Gates, and New York-based ATP Capital.
Thompson said the funds, which would be used in part to develop the company's business infrastructure but primarily to extend its technology platform and further preclinical work of several products, would burn at a pace dependent on late-stage preclinical development and the time it takes to bring any candidates into the clinic.
"The platform is a set of technologies that, operating together, is capable of rapidly generating very differentiated product candidates with seemingly engineered in vivo attributes," said Thompson, who most recently worked as a vice president at Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron Corp. "The entire purpose of the technology platform is the generation of novel product candidates."
GeneCraft's immunotherapeutic product platform stems from research developed in part by Thompson, as well as by Martha and Jeff Ledbetter. The latter, another GeneCraft co-founder, works with his wife as an investigator at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute in Seattle, and has been involved in business development before. He previously founded a pair of companies - Seattle-based Genetic Systems, acquired a few years after its 1982 inception by Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., of New York, and Xcyte Therapies Inc., also of Seattle.
GeneCraft's third co-founder, Ken Mohler, also brings an important addition to the company - product development. Mohler previously worked as the vice president of biology at Immunex Corp., acquired earlier this year by Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Amgen Inc. While at Seattle-based Immunex, he directed the preclinical development of Enbrel, a tie-in certainly not lost on GeneCraft's investors. Frazier's founder, Alan Frazier, served as the first chief financial officer at Immunex.
Thompson declined to provide specific details about the company's technology or products.
GeneCraft's founders have blended the strengths of their pasts to move their new company forward, identifying preclinical candidates to treat oncology and inflammation.
"They're injectable products that are likely to be effective in a variety of formats and delivery options," Thompson said, adding that GeneCraft does not plan to investigate oral delivery. "They are protein therapeutics - the company is focusing on leveraging some aspects of immunotherapeutics against its indications."
Thompson said the company has accumulated data on its candidates through nonhuman primate studies, noting that GeneCraft now must select its most promising products to move toward the clinic.
The three-person business figures to grow both its size and technology following a business plan that includes keeping rights to its products but is open to optioning away some development if the timing was right.
"It's somewhat situational, derivative of both data in the clinic and the capital equity markets and the current balance sheet of the company," Thompson said. "The company is probably going to pursue a strategy that is a bit of a hybrid, where some product candidates are held in the company's proprietary portfolio and others are held in an alliance network."
And while GeneCraft's growth should reflect its potential, the company likely will continue to draw on its roots.
"We're really excited about the company and think that it would be able to continue to attract talent from Immunex and elsewhere in Seattle," Heron said. "It's clear that it has great potential to be a terrific company."