SoCal Startup Metacrine Raises $36 Million and Taps Executive Leadership to Tackle Diabetes Research

Mystery Solved – Metacrine Taps Executive Leadership to Tackle Diabetes Research
August 5, 2015
By Alex Keown, Breaking News Staff

SAN DIEGO – A biotech startup mystery has been solved. Ronald Evans’ startup Metacrine, Inc., which has been in stealth mode since this spring, will develop therapies, to target diabetes, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and other metabolic diseases and liver disorders, the company announced this morning.

The announcement came after the California-based Metacrine, Inc. announced it raised an additional $36 million in Series A financing as well as naming a new leadership team, including the appointment of Neil McDonnell, formerly of Takeda Pharmaceuticals , as its new chief executive officer. In a statement McDonnell said Metacrine is dedicated to advancing Evans’ research in nuclear hormone receptors. Metacrine said it will be advancing endocrine research through technology licensed from Evans’ laboratory at the Salk Institute. While at Takeda, McDonnell had a history of successfully guiding diabetes drugs to market, including Nesina, Oseni, and Kazano. He also successfully navigated regulatory approval for the obesity drug Contrave, which was developed by Takeda and Orexigen Therapeutics, Inc. .

McDonnell told Fierce Biotech that Metacrine was armed with an insulin sensitizer and a NASH therapy acquired from the Salk Institute. Beyond that, the company isn’t saying too much about its planned therapies as it plans to navigate the tough waters of diabetes research.

In April, after announcing it had raised $6.5 million in Form D financing, the company said it had a goal of raising $33 million. At the time Metacrine did not disclose its end goal, likely in an attempt to prevent competitors from gaining an advantage in the market. There was speculation that Metacrine would focus on hormonal cancer treatments, a subject the company’s independent director Evans, a professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory at the Salk Institute, is quite familiar with. Evans’ research at the Salk Institute is credited with discovering a family of molecules, or receptors, that are primary targets in the treatment of breast cancer, prostate cancer and leukemia, as well as osteoporosis and asthma.

Evans' studies also led to a new hormone that appears to be the molecular trigger controlling the formation of fat cells, according to the Salk Institute website.

The latest round of financing was led by Arch Venture Partners, EcoR1 Capital, Polaris Partners and venBio, the company said in a statement. McDonnell said the funding should be sufficient to complete pre-clinical work on two programs with mechanistically distinct endocrine pathway and begin to see efficacy data, XConomy reported.

Other newly appointed members of the Metacrine leadership team include Trisha Millican, chief financial officer; Nicholas Smith, senior vice president of chemistry and Eric Bischoff, the vice president of business operations. All three previously served in senior management roles at Seragon Pharmaceuticals, acquired by Genentech /Roche , and Roche, and Aragon Pharmaceuticals, acquired by Johnson & Johnson . The company currently has 12 employees, including its executive committee.

In April, Meghana Keshavan of MedCity News, speculated part of Metacrine’s goal is to reassemble some of the top talent from Aragon Pharmaceuticals and its sister company Seragon Pharmaceuticals – primarily due to the relationship between Evans and Rich Heyman, a Salk board member who also founded X-Ceptor Therapeutics alongside Evans. Heyman was the chief executive officer at Seragon and also served as president and CEO at Aragon. Until Seragon shuttered its offices earlier his year, Heyman had been overseeing the shut down of Seragon following its acquisition by Roche last year. Heyman is serving as the chairman of Metacrine’s board of directors.

“There is great potential in the advancement of therapeutics arising from research on endocrine signaling pathways that govern metabolic homeostasis, and Metacrine is poised to make an impact in advancing some novel therapies in this area,” Heyman said in a statement.

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