June 17, 2014

True North snags $22M and sets course for the clinic with a rare disease drug

Two months removed from a deal that sent her last biotech to Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY) for up to $725 million, CEO Nancy Stagliano isn’t wasting any time, setting sights on rare diseases with True North Therapeutics, her latest venture, and locking down a $22 million A round to move forward.

Formed as a spinoff of iPierian in September, True North is developing an early-stage antibody with promise in rare hematological, renal and neurological ailments, the company said.

Dubbed TNT009, the biotech’s lead candidate works by inhibiting the C1 enzyme, part of the immune system’s complement pathway. Doing so brings a halt to many self-attacking antibodies, the company said, preventing downstream disease processes while maintaining necessary immune function.

The $22 million financing comes courtesy of biotech backers Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and MPM Capital, along with the venture arms of drug giants GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Biogen Idec ($BIIB) and Baxter ($BAX). With the cash, True North plans to roll TNT009’s preclinical success into Phase I, planning to begin a first human trial in early 2015.

That’s a quick turnaround from the last days of iPierian. Bristol-Myers’ deal–$175 million up front and as much as $550 million in milestones–closed April 29.

“There was really no time to take a breather, because we had to raise our Series A and keep True North going,” Stagliano told FierceBiotech. “But those are good problems to have.”

With iPierian in the rear view, Stagliano has recruited her former Millennium Pharmaceuticals colleague James Gilbert to serve as chief medical officer and oversee TNT009’s clinical entrĂ©. Before his stint heading up cardiovascular and inflammation R&D at Millennium, Gilbert worked his way up to cardio and metabolic chief at Boehringer Ingelheim and spent time with Bayer.

Key to True North’s fast pace is consistency, Stagliano said. In forming the biotech last year, iPierian bisected its business but kept management intact. Thus, the Bristol-Myers sale didn’t disrupt its R&D engine, and True North had little trouble rallying around TNT009 in the immediate aftermath of the iPierian deal.

“At this point, we’re a well-oiled machine,” Stagliano said. “We’re antibody experts. We’ve vetted the CROs, the contractors we use, the consultants that we use. We’re ready to really just execute on this plan.”