With $42M, Ex-Ignyta CEO Aims At Cancer Again With Startup, Erasca

Xconomy San Diego — 

A year after steering cancer drug developer Ignyta into a $1.7 billion sale to Roche, Jonathan Lim is back at it again. Ignyta’s former co-founder and head executive has co-founded another biotech in San Diego, Erasca, which also wants to make new cancer therapies.

Erasca on Tuesday closed a $42 million Series A round led by Lim’s own investment firm, City Hill Ventures, and Boston-based Cormorant Asset Management. Other, unnamed institutional and individual investors also participated. The company quietly launched in July; Roche (NASDAQ: RXDX) closed the Ignya buyout in February.

Ignyta was best known as one of the companies trying to develop “tissue agnostic” cancer drugs; that is, drugs that home in on a tumor’s genetic fingerprint, regardless of where in the body it forms. Ignyta’s entrectinib, for instance, is being tested against a variety of different tumors with so-called NTRK fusions.

Erasca appears to have even bigger ambitions. Its name is a portmanteau of “erase” and “cancer.” And Lim, in prepared remarks, said the aim of the company is to develop drugs that can cure (or “erase”) cancer, rather than keep it at bay or manage it with chronic treatment.

That’s a lofty claim; cancer has frustrated scientists for years because of its ability to mutate, develop resistance to drugs, and evade our body’s defenses. And Erasca has yet to provide the key details underlying its approach, only saying in a statement that it has “multiple discovery programs underway for undisclosed targets that are biological drivers of cancer.” It’ll disclose those targets once they get to clinical testing, and also plans to add to its pipeline via deals with research institutions and biopharma.

Lim is the company’s co-founder and executive chairman. As of this month, he is also a venture partner at Arch Venture Partners.

Since 2003, when Lim—a physician by training—joined San Diego’s Halozyme Therapeutics (NASDAQ: HALO) as CEO, he has started or led a series of biotech companies in Southern California.

Lim headed Halozyme for seven years, then, in December of 2010, started City Hill.

In 2011, Lim teamed up with former employees of Biogen Idec (now, based in Cambridge, MA, called simply Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB)) to start Eclipse Therapeutics. Eclipse, which was developing drugs to target cancer stem cells, was acquired by Australia’s Bionomics for $10 million in 2012.

Lim also co-founded Ignyta, originally called NexDx, in 2011. It started out focusing on better diagnostics and drugs for autoimmune diseases. But it pivoted to precision cancer medicines later on. City Hill led Ignyta’s $6 million Series B financing round.

While at Ignyta, Lim also co-founded Bonti, a Newport Beach, CA-based company that Allergan (NYSE: AGN) snapped up in October. The Botox maker paid $195 million upfront, a deal which, among other pipeline products, scored it an investigational compound Bonti was testing as a faster acting, shorter-duration version of the Ireland-based biopharma company’s flagship facial injectable.

Lim started Erasca this year with Ignyta alum Robert Shoemaker and Gary Yeung, who has stints at cancer diagnostics company Guardant Health (NASDAQ: GH) and antibody startup Annexon Biosciences.

Shoemaker is Erasca’s vice president of biology; Yeung, who prior to his time at Guardant and Annexon spent 13 years at Genentech, is its chief business officer. Erasca, which is based in the San Diego community of La Jolla, employs about a dozen people.