Led By a Serial Biotech Entrepreneur, Kura Oncology Forges Pact With Johnson & Johnson Unit and Bags $60 Million to Work on Shelved Drug

Led By a Serial Biotech Entrepreneur, Kura Oncology Forges Pact With Johnson & Johnson Unit and Bags $60 Million to Work on Shelved Drug
March 12, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

La Jolla, Calif.-based Kura Oncology, Inc. announced today that it had signed an agreement with Janssen Pharmaceutica NV to develop and commercialize cancer drug tipifarnib. The company also announced a reverse merger with Zeta Acquisition Corp III.

“Tipifarnib has demonstrated compelling and durable anti-cancer activity in certain patient subsets and represents a promising clinical development opportunity with the right patient selection strategy,” said Troy Wilson, president and chief executive officer of Kura in a statement. “We intend to leverage advances in next-generation sequencing as well as emerging information about cancer genetics to identify patients most likely to benefit from tipifarnib.”

The drug inhibits farnesylation, a major cell signaling process connected to cancer initiation and growth. The company expects to begin a Phase II clinical trial in patients with tumors characterized by HRAS mutations in the second quarter of 2015. In addition, it expected to start in the third quarter of 2015 another Phase II trial in patients with peripheral T-cell lymphomas.

Related to the reverse merger, the company indicated it had completed a private placement of common stock to new institutional investors and existing investors. The deal pulled together $60 million. The investors were led by EcoR1 Capital. Other participants included Fidelity Management & Research, ARCH Venture Partners, Boxer Capital of Tavistock Life Sciences, Partner Fund Management and others.

“We were able to quietly round up a group of great investors, and then position the financing, with a goal of ultimately having a publicly traded company,” said Wilson in a statement. “We didn’t want to do a private financing and be stuck in a queue of companies that were waiting for this mythical ‘window.’ We wanted control over our future and destiny.”

The company is led by Troy Wilson, dubbed a “serial life sciences entrepreneur.” He was the president, chief executive and co-founder of Intellikine, a board member of Puma Biotechnology , president, chief executive and co-founder of Wellspring Biosciences, and has the same roles with Avidity NanoMedicines.

Tipifarnib has a storied history. Originally tested by

under the name Zarnestra in 2005 to treat acute myeloid leukemia, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected a marketing application. It has been studied in approximately 20 clinical trials with repeated failures. However, Wilson indicates that advances in gene sequencing make it possible to identify subsets of cancer patients that are likely to be good candidates for the treatment.

“This is a drug that was really developed in a different era,” Wilson said in a statement. “Had it been developed today I think it would have been developed very differently.”

BioSpace Temperature Poll
Vertex Pharmaceuticals made news last week when it terminated leases on three properties in Cambridge, Mass, that freed up 313,000 square feet of space in the Genetown area. The company has spent a significant part of 2014 consolidating its operations on the South Boston waterfront, leasing 291,000 square feet of office space at West Kendall Street in Cambridge’s Kendall Square. So we wanted to ask the BioSpace community: Is Boston going to be getting more biotech leases anytime soon, or fewer tenants?

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