Intellikine, Chasing Hot Cancer Drug Target, Raises Big Venture Round

La Jolla, CA-based Intellikine, a company developing drugs against one of the hottest targets in cancer biology, has nailed down $16 million in venture capital out of a round that could be worth as much as $38.5 million, according to a regulatory filing.

Intellikine got the capital infusion from its founding crew of investors—Sofinnova Ventures, Abingworth Management, and CMEA Ventures—as well as four new investors, says David Kabakoff, an executive in residence with Sofinnova in San Diego.

The company, founded in September 2007, is developing drugs to block the PI3 kinase pathway, which controls critical cell processes like proliferation, migration, and cell survival. Evidence has been mounting for years that when these normal functions get flipped into an overactive mode, it’s a hallmark of cancer cells growing out of control as well as an immune system going haywire and attacking healthy tissue. Some of the world’s biggest drug companies, including GlaxoSmithKline, Novartis, and Roche are developing new cancer drugs to block this target, as well as smaller companies like South San Francisco-based Exelixis and Seattle-based Calistoga Pharmaceuticals.

Intellikine attracted the money to build up its pipeline of drug candidates, and move its lead contender to its first clinical trial, Kabakoff said in an e-mail. “The company has PI3 kinase inhibitors with an unprecedented range of specificities, which will be developed for cancer and inflammatory disease,” Kabakoff says.

Other companies appear to be further along in clinical trials than Intellikine in the pursuit to develop drugs against this target. Exelixis signed a partnership with Paris-based drug giant Sanofi-Aventis in May that could be worth more than $1 billion to further develop its drugs in clinical trials. That same month, Calistoga raised $30 million in venture capital, then released data at a pair of medical meetings that said its drug was able to shrink tumors in half of the patients in an initial clinical trial, at low doses, with minimal side effects.

Intellikine’s lead candidate is a highly potent small-molecule drug that’s actually made to block a pair of different targets called mTORC1 and mTORC2, Kabakoff says. The PI3 kinase inhibitors are actually a little further behind in animal tests, according to the company’s website.

Intellikine CEO Troy Wilson was out of the country and unavailable for comment.

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