Calithera BioSciences Nabs $35M for Cancer Drugs

Xconomy San Francisco — 

South San Francisco-based Calithera Biosciences has just raised a lot more money to add its name to the list of companies that hope to fight tumors by starving them to death.

The company said today it has raised $35 million in a Series D venture financing. Adage Capital Partners led the deal, and was joined by Longwood Fund and two other unnamed institutional investors who are new to the company. Existing investors Morgenthaler Ventures, Advanced Technology Ventures, and Delphi Ventures also joined the round. The company, which raised its Series A round in the summer of 2010, has now pulled in a total of about $117 million, according to a review of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Calithera, founded in 2010, traces its origins to work done at UC San Francisco by a research team led by Jim Wells. The company is led by CEO Susan Molineaux, who previously worked as the chief scientist and CEO at South San Francisco-based Proteolix, which was acquired by Onyx Pharmaceuticals in 2009 for up to $850 million. The new idea at Calithera is to develop a drug that fights cancer by interfering with a tumor cell’s ability to grow by metabolizing glutamine, a common amino acid. The latest shot of cash is supposed to help Calithera take its lead drug candidate, CB-839, through the first phase of clinical trials. The company said it also plans to keep investing in other experimental drugs.

Cancer metabolism is one of the hot ideas in oncology today. Cambridge, MA-based Agios Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: AGIO) ran one of the year’s most successful biotech IPOs on the promise of its pipeline of drugs that work to starve tumors through different metabolic pathways.

“The Calithera team possesses an impressive track record in discovering and developing successful oncology drugs,” said Christoph Westphal, the co-founder of Longwood Fund and a new board observer at Calithera. “Calithera’s drug, CB-839, is an important new therapeutic candidate that has the pharmacological characteristics necessary to compete as a successful commercial oncology product.”