Lassen Therapeutics, a biotech that is developing antibodies as potential treatments for fibrosis, rare diseases, and cancer, debuted Wednesday with $31 million in Series A financing.
The San Diego-based company says it will use the money to accelerate its antibody programs, including asking the FDA for the green light to move its lead drug candidate into the clinic sometime next year. Lassen was started last year within Frazier Healthcare Partners; Mark Barrett, an entrepreneur in residence at the venture capital firm since 2017, is its CEO.
Lassen—a name inspired by a 10,000-foot peak in Northern California, the southernmost major volcano in the Cascade Range—acquired the antibodies in its pipeline from Melbourne, Australia-based biotech CSL. As part of the deal Andrew Nash, a senior vice president of research at CSL, joins Lassen’s scientific advisory board.
The company’s lead drug candidate is LASN01, an antibody intended to block the immune system protein interleukin-11 (IL-11). The company says the targeted receptor plays a key role as a mediator in fibrosis and in the microenvironment of tumors. Lassen says hitting that target may prove more effective than inhibiting other proteins that also play roles in the fibrosis process, including TGF-beta and connective tissue growth factor, or CTGF, and that doing so in cancer indications could alter the structure of the tumor environment, improving therapies’ effectiveness.
A company spokesperson tells Xconomy that Lassen is on track to request the FDA clear LASN01 to start human testing in 2021. Lassen also has a discovery-stage program, LASN02, but it hasn’t disclosed the target of that antibody.
Barrett and David King, Lassen’s chief scientific officer, co-founded the company. Before joining Frazier Barrett was global head of strategy and development at Sanofi Genzyme. Prior he worked within the global development group at Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ).
King was most recently CSO of San Diego, CA-based aTyr Pharma (NASDAQ: LIFE), a role from which he resigned at the end of 2018 saying he planned to start a new biotech. Prior to aTyr he served in the same role at AnaptysBio (NASDAQ: ANAB), another San Diego company. Earlier in his career he worked at antibody developer Medarex as part of the team that developed therapies including the first approved anti-PD1 drug, the Bristol Myers Squibb (NYSE: BMY) therapy nivolumab (Opdivo). (Medarex was acquired by BMS in 2009.)
Lassen says the pair has collectively brought more than 20 antibody therapeutics into the clinic, some of which have reached the market as oncology and inflammation treatments. Currently the company has about 10 full-time employees and plans to hire more, although it isn’t saying exactly how many.
The biotech is the latest to emerge from Frazier’s life sciences arm, which has created or provided seed funding for nearly 25 new companies since 2005. Frazier, which has offices in Seattle and in Menlo Park, CA, in January closed its third life sciences fund, adding about $617 million in capital commitments. The firm led Lassen’s Series A round.
Alta Partners and Longwood Fund, VC firms based in San Francisco and in Boston, respectively, also invested.
Image: iStock/Wanda Jewell