Escient Pharmaceuticals Launches with $40 Million

Biotech Company

Escient Pharmaceuticals launched in San Diego with a Series A financing round worth $40 million. The round was syndicated by The Column Group and 5AM Ventures, and joined by Osage University Partners.

The new company will focus on developing fist-in-class G Protein-Coupled Receptor (GPCR)-targeted drugs. It will look at specific orphan GPCRs, including the family of Mas-Related G-Protein Receptors (Mrgprs) in neuro-immuno-inflammatory and autoreactive diseases.

“GPCR-targeted drugs account for a large percentage of today’s best-selling medicines,” said Alain Baron, the company’s co-founder and chief executive officer, in a statement. “And, yet, this broad success has hinged upon exploiting a relatively small set of GPCRs, leaving significant opportunity to mine the potential of numerous unexplored GPCRs, including the specific receptors we are focused on at Escient. We look forward to building a world-class team in the coming months dedicated to translating our proprietary insights about the functions and biology of these target GPCRs to develop novel therapies that address serious, unserved clinical needs of patients impacted by our lead indications.”

Baron is the chief executive officer, co-founder and president of Elcelyx Therapeutics. He previously was a Venture Partner at Lightstone Ventures.

Marcus Boehm is the company’s chief scientific officer. He was co-founder and former chief technology officer of Receptos until it was acquired by Celgene Corporation in 2015.

The company’s third co-founder is Xinzhong Dong, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor of Neuroscience, Neurosurgery and Dermatology with the Solomon H. Snyder Department of Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Dong will serve on the company’s Scientific Advisory Board.

The technical journal Nature indicates that about one third to half of all marketed drugs act by binding to GPCRs. Nature says, “GPCRs are a large family of cell surface receptors that respond to a variety of external signals. Binding of a signaling molecule to a GPCR results in G protein activation, which in turn triggers the production of any number of second messengers. Through this sequence of events, GPCRs help regulate an incredible range of bodily functions, from sensation to growth to hormone responses.”

Escient believes that it can develop drugs that target GPCRs whose function isn’t yet known. The company is staying mum about what specific targets or diseases it is targeting, although Baron told FierceBiotech, “We are excited about being able to pursue a novel class that has been quite mysterious. … We are excited to crack this nut and bring forth novel therapies for serious diseases.”

The company’s board of directors will include Robert Tjian, Discovery Partner at The Column Group and professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley; JJ Kang, Principal at The Column Group; Andrew Schwab, founder and Managing Partner at 5AM Ventures; and Charles Zuker, professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biophysics and Neuroscience at Columbia University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

“We quickly recognized the tremendous opportunity of the orphan GPCRs that Escient is targeting,” Tjian said in a statement. “Alain and Marcus’ GPCR-specific experience and previous entrepreneurial successes, coupled with Xinzhong’s indisputable scholarship in this area, well position Escient in this historically productive area of drug discovery and development.”

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